For politicians, the more data, the more they ignore

Enlarge / Assessing data on schools doesn’t always have much to do with numbers. (credit: Jonathan Ernst/World Bank)

There are few types of people we like to complain about more than politicians. They’re often painted as two-faced, blockheaded liars—with the possible exception of the ones you voted for. But politicians’ views are typically in line with the bulk of the people who identify with their party, and it’s not always clear whether the politicians are driving their party or if everyone’s just marching to the beat of the same drum.

After all, politicians’ thought processes shouldn’t be much different from those of voters. All of us are subject to biases and cognitive cheats that block out information we don’t like. Is it fair to hold politicians to a higher standard, given that they’re the people we elect to process decisions carefully for the rest of us?

Ask a Dane

Politicians aren’t the easiest group to study, but a group of researchers at Aarhus University, led by Martin Baekgaard, gave it a shot by sending surveys to Danish city councilors—a large enough group (950 people) for a meaningful study. The surveys (which were also filled out by a representative group of about 1,000 Danish citizens) were aimed at evaluating the subjects’ tendency toward motivated reasoning.

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