You might be swayed by the height of a politician as much as by the promises they makeby Julian Baggini / May 5, 2015 / Leave a comment
On Thursday the nation decides. Each one of us will be free to choose how or whether to vote. But if you’ve been paying any attention at all to the findings of modern psychology, you might doubt whether your vote is truly free at all.
There is a mass of compelling evidence that all our choices, including our electoral ones, are strongly affected by myriad unconscious and often irrational factors. For instance, you might think that stature in politics is moral rather than physical, but taller candidates consistently perform better than shorter ones in elections. One reason why David Cameron comes over as more prime ministerial in the opinion polls than Ed Miliband is that he is 6’1 while the Labour leader is 5’11.
And if you’re still undecided when you enter the polling station, you might be swayed by where it is housed. People are more likely to support conservative parties if voting in a church and more likely to swing left if it is in a school or public library.
You might think that you listen to the arguments about policy and weigh them up, but in fact what sticks most in voters’ minds are simple, emotional messages that are repeated and repeated. The Tories, for instance, are not so much trying to persuade people that voting Labour makes the “threat” of the SNP holding power more likely, as bashing people over the head with the idea so much that eventually it sticks and just seems like common sense.
These and many more research findings might make you despair. Hope, however, can be found lurking in one of the most dispiriting studies of all. Psychologists Petter Johansson and Lars Hall asked people for their views on a range of subjects and later asked to explain why they hold them. The trick is that when they were “reminded” of what they reported they believed, they were told the opposite of what they had actually said. An astonishingly high proportion then simply justified the opinion they were falsely told they held. Johansson and Hall call this effect “choice blindness.”