What makes a good president?
Was your answer specific or vague?
Have you ever tried to define a good president precisely?
These questions might seem unimportant, but they aren’t. Without a somewhat precise definition, it is impossible to answer the question objectively.
If you can’t objectively answer the question, then you’re vulnerable to confirmation bias. If both sides of the political aisle fall victim to confirmation bias, it will be darn near impossible for our bitterly divided country to come together.
Why Specific and Measurable
When you ask the average voter what political issues are important to them, you get very generic answers. Things like freedom, a strong economy, equality, less racism, immigration reform, prison reform, protecting the environment, and much more.
The problem with generic goals is that they are impossible to measure. How do people measure freedom? Are people judging the economy by GDP, unemployment rate, trade deficits, median salary, or some other metric? What metric is measuring the fight on climate change accurately?
If you don’t choose a metric and measure it, you guess whether it was successful at the end of a presidency.
Measuring political issues is complicated and difficult. However, it is worth the effort if your goal is to form an unbiased opinion.
According to the American Psychological Association:
Confirmation Bias is the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data.
Confirmation Bias has taken a firm grip on America’s political system.
If you hate a president before the inauguration, the things you don’t like about him will stand out.
If you love a president before he is in office, you will cling to the things you like and ignore or minimize everything else.
This issue is precisely why people have radically different opinions of the same presidency. And that difference of opinions is often along party lines.
Take a look at the approval ratings of President Trump and President Obama when they were facing reelection. (according to Gallup polls)
Trump Approval Ratings:
Obama Approval Ratings:
These poll numbers suggest that Trump and Obama were both great and terrible at the same time. At the end of the day, Obama and Trump were either good or they were not. It is impossible for them to be both.
Whether you like it or not, the nation is bitterly divided when it comes to politics. The close result in the 2020 Presidential Election illustrates this perfectly.
Sometimes division is real and necessary. We sometimes have different views about what is best for the country.
However, sometimes we are actually talking about the same thing in different ways. For example, if one person judges the economy based on GDP growth and the other based on Median income, they could have different views of the same president's success.
A division that is based on different goals or different ways of measuring those goals is perfectly reasonable.
However, what typically happens is that Confirmation Bias causes us to measure success based on whatever metric makes our political party look good.
If we continue to fall victim to Confirmation Bias, the division in America will not heal.
How to Avoid Confirmation Bias
1. Pick specific metrics to measure BEFORE a president takes office.
This is not a foolproof plan. For example, if you picked the unemployment rate to measure the health of the economy, you would need to take into account an unforeseen global pandemic.
Even though this plan is not foolproof, it does lower the chances of you latching onto whatever metric fits the story you wish was real.
If you decide later to change the metrics you use, it forces you to have an actual reason for doing so.
Note: The metric you chose, making your preferred party look bad, is not a good reason to change how you measure success.
2. Be careful about how you search for information.
Are cats better than dogs?
Are dogs better than cats?
The two questions above yield significantly different results on Google.
When searching for information, try your best to eliminate bias from your questions.
It can also be useful to gather information from multiple biased sources. For example, if you read something on Fox News, you might want to research what CNN says about the same issue.
Note: I would suggest you read an unbiased source; however, I am not sure that exists at the moment.
3. Actively try to prove the opposite.
This is my personal favorite. Whatever you believe, try to prove the opposite. For example, if you think a particular president was bad, actively search for information that paints the president in a good light.
The results may or may not change your mind. However, at the very least, you will have a better understanding of why people who disagree with you think the way they do.
Note: This only works if you are honest with yourself. You know in your heart whether or not you tried your best to prove the opposite.
4. Write down things that go against your belief.
One textbook result of Confirmation Bias is quickly dismissing information that goes against your current beliefs.
Writing down that information makes it a little harder to dismiss entirely.
Was Obama a good president? How about Trump? What about Clinton?
I honestly have no idea. I did not bother to think about what makes a good president before they took office. Because of that, my opinions about those presidencies are biased.
Confirmation Bias is just one of many biases we face. Don’t even get me started on how biased the media is (on all sides).
However, Confirmation Bias is one bias that we can easily fight against. It might not be possible to eliminate it, but we can definitely reduce it significantly.
Define what is important to you and how to measure it. That way, your vote in 2024 will be based on logic, not Confirmation Bias.