Will you be making a rational choice come election time? Probably notby Michael Bond / March 18, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
On the day of the general election, most of us will go to the polls thinking that we are making an informed choice based on a considered assessment of the candidates’ skills and policies. We will roll out arguments about why we are voting the way we are, convinced that we are exercising our democratic right with our wits about us.
But we will be deluding ourselves. Study after study has shown that our voting decisions are based not on rational deliberation, but on instinctive biases over which we have little control, such as whether or not we like a politician’s face. And the traditional theory about political leaders—that the best ones are defined by personality traits like confidence and decisiveness—is largely false. Social psychologists have shown that the leaders likely to achieve most in office are those who reflect the social identities of their followers: a very different notion to the one that guides most people’s hand in the voting booth.
Recent research is challenging many long-held views about political leadership. And if we want our votes to count, we had better take note. Politicians have been exploiting our suggestibility for decades with image consultants and spin doctors.