Bias

A great article over at Economics of Contempt tackles the media bias issues. The basic argument is:

1) Scientific experiment have shown that people tend to form their political opinions emotionally and then reason backward to support their pre-conceived notions.

2) The media vote overwhelming Democrat.

3) Therefore, they support liberal ideas. QED

My one problem with this is that the scientific experiments show a snapshot in time. While most people’s instantaneous reaction to political events is emotional, the can demonstrably change their opinions over a long enough timescale. This is exemplified by patterns in voting with age and wealth, for example.

But it also applies independent of this. I recently was reading Team of Rivals which demonstrated how individuals such as Lincoln, states such as Maryland and indeed the entire nation changed their opinions on slavery. People’s reaction to their beliefs being challenged is emotional — at first. But over time, reason can wear down most people’s pre-conceived notions.

2 Responses to “Bias”

  1. rpl says:

    Mike,

    You attribute people’s beliefs changing with time to the influence of reason. How do you know that they aren’t simply exchanging one set of prejudices for another or accumulating new prejudices? If your hypothesis is correct, then we should see a trend with age toward more reason-based political beliefs. The oldest among us should therefore be among the best articulators of the reasons behind their political thinking. Is this the case in your experience?

  2. Mike says:

    No. I don’t believe it’s entirely reason. And I didn’t make this clear in my original posting. My oblique statement about “patterns in voting with age and wealth” was supposed to reference how people’s notions change based ons tatus.

    But I *do* think the shorter-term examples, such as the sea change in the nation’s attitude toward slavery or civil rights (or capitalism in the 80′s), does show that people’s minds can be changed. It takes oceans of patience and hard work. But it can be done. We’re seeing that now as the nations rapidly shifts its attitudes on gays. It’s happening far too quickly to represent a swap of prejudices.

    But the broader point is correct. Once people shift their attitudes, they then become very stubborn in their holding onto the new ones.