The Cognitive Power of Partisanship

As the current U.S. presidential campaign richly illustrates, “motivated reasoning” powerfully sways how we view reality.

Researchers have long known that people’s gut-level liking or disliking of a candidate channels their perceptions and beliefs. When a Democrat is President, Democrats have said presidents can’t do anything about high gas prices. Republicans have said the same when a Republican is president. But when the president is from the opposing party, both believe presidents can affect gas prices.

In the late 1980s, most Democrats believed inflation had risen under Republican president Ronald Reagan (it had dropped). In 2016, reports Public Policy Polling “Republicans claim by a 64/27 spread that [under Obama] unemployment has increased and by a 57/27 spread that the stock market has gone down.” Actually, the stock market has nearly tripled and unemployment (shown below) has plummeted. Alas, politics trumps facts. Big time. As an old Chinese proverb says, “Two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes.”