Saturday, September 20, 2008

Save My Sanity

Do you hate slanted, biased, and freaking annoying political ads? Are you sick of the election and the mudslinging? Do you want to help me regain my sanity? There is a solution, brought to you by the good folks at the Volokh Conspiracy.

The problem:
[M]ost people either don't follow political news at all, or prefer outlets that are biased in favor of their own preferred party or ideology. . . . Social science research going back to the 1940s shows that Republicans tend to prefer Republican-leaning media and Democrats the opposite.

. . . .

People also tend to discount political information that goes against their prior views and overvalue anything that seems to reinforce them. Economist Bryan Caplan calls this phenomenon "rational irrationality."

. . . .

Political fans often avoid opposing points of view for much the same reasons that most of my fellow Red Sox fans prefer to listen to pro-Red Sox sports radio rather than pro-Yankees shows.

. . .

Surveys show that most citizens are ignorant of many very basic facts about politics - such as the very existence of major programs (e.g. - Bush's massive prescription drug benefit, the largest new government program since the 1960s, which 70% of the public was not aware of).

Knowing that most of the public is rationally ignorant, highly biased in its evaluation of political information or both, candidates take these realities into account. They can see that lies, deception, and unfair charges will often increase their chances of winning, and act accordingly. Indeed, even an altruistic, public-spirited candidate might adopt such tactics, so long as he genuinely believes that his victory will benefit the nation. After all, abjuring them would likely ensure the victory of his more unscrupulous opponents whose policies - the principled candidate believes - would be worse for the country than his own. Media outlets face similar incentives. Those who don't cater to the prejudices of one or another side of the political spectrum are at a competitive disadvantage relative to their rivals. The same goes for those who emphasize in-depth news analysis at the expense of entertainment value.

The Solution:
[T]he media are not completely autonomous; if they want to stay in business, they have to give viewers and readers what they want. If the public wanted unbiased and accurate coverage and was willing to reject outlets that turned out to be biased and inaccurate, the media would have strong incentives to comply. Newspapers and TV news stations that continued to be biased or inaccurate would lose market share.

In other words, stop being a fan and start listening, reading, and studying the boring policy stuff. It will hurt in the short run, but really help the long-term. It will also do wonders for my mental health.

Pretty please?

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