Confirmation Bias in Politics

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Confirmation bias is when someone takes more notice of data or results that support their preconceived notions, and less notice of data or results that cut against what they want to believe. This is one of the big no-no’s of the hard sciences, and a great way to get your research results blown out of the water when your experiments are peer reviewed.

I bring it up today thanks to our dear friend politics.

Flawed election polls graphicLast night, in Denver, the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election was held. Most media outlets and political pundits are saying that Mitt Romney won the debate handily. Whether or not this actually helps his chances at being elected will be determined, in the short-term, by new polls of voters. Here is where confirmation bias almost turns into irony.

For weeks, now, Republicans and their followers have been complaining that the polls are not reliable. The truth is that statistics is a pretty tricky beast and that sampling can be wrong. Therefore, a valid claim can be made that polling, in and of itself, is not accurate enough in close situations such as this election. There are more spurious claims that there is somehow a bias or poor methodology causing the polls to be wrong. The fact is that math is math and that the methodology of various voter polls is disclosed and known, and no legitimate statistician finds the sampling and extraction to be incorrect.

However, since the polls have been showing Romney losing the election, Republicans have trotted out their confirmation bias to deny and ignore this data. But, assuming the pundits are correct, and furthermore assuming that the polls do move in Romney’s direction, you can expect an overwhelming outpouring of sentiment that these new polls show the race is getting closer.

The. Same. Polls. that were utterly unreliable when they were pointing in the other direction.

There is nothing to be done, no outrage to be had, just a chuckle that NOW the polls, which will be conducted and analyzed in the exact same manner as before, are an accurate measure of how the tide has turned to our guy.

The only thing left to see is if the polls move enough that the Democrats begin to claim that, you know those polls aren’t really very accurate after all.

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