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Belief Perseverance and its Role in Divisive Politics

Belief perseverance is the psychological phenomenon that causes humans to hold onto established beliefs, even when the beliefs are proven wrong. This can cloud judgment and lead to ineffective decision-making. Holding disproved beliefs can also contribute to missing out on opportunities and new advancements. This phenomenon helps explain the divisive nature of American politics. After “picking a side", supporters often refuse to concede their beliefs when others prove them wrong. In the two-party system, supporters on both ends are strongly passionate about their party’s stances and practice confirmation bias. This makes it very difficult to cultivate compromise and hurts the American government and the citizens. 

Confirmation bias goes hand in hand with belief perseverance, causing humans to seek information that validates their opinions. It is very important to listen to various news sources for this reason. In the modern-day, it is common for people to primarily seek out news channels and Facebook groups that align with their opinions. The issue is that these news sources are not dumb; News channels buy into this. Framing, strategically choosing what information to display and how to display it, contributes to bias in the news. Viewers who do not listen to or read anything that contradicts their opinions, develop tunnel vision. In contrast, by following both liberal and more conservative accounts and channels, viewers can recognize their true opinions on certain issues and be more aware of all current events (Salisbury). It is healthy to have constructive arguments with others, without immediately shutting down when introduced to an opposing opinion. Not everyone is going to agree, and that is okay. Political ideologies should not allow for the villainization of others. In recent years, this is evident not only in citizens but legislators as well. It seems like it is almost a crime to promote bi-partisan legislation and support. Specific issues are deadlocked in the two parties, and moderate legislators are criminalized in the media if they agree with the other side on an issue. The 115th Congress Report revealed that bi-partisanship in Congress has declined 30% in the last 29 years (Bipartisanship down 30% since 1989).  All humans seek out information to confirm what we already believe. Once society acknowledges this, we will be able to work towards becoming less biased and open to recognizing the perspectives of others. 

Since people seek information that validates their opinions, it is extremely difficult to change those opinions, even when there is sufficient evidence. For example, the issue of climate change. It doesn’t make sense why that is a debated issue at all. There are endless scientific studies and visible changes in the Earth’s landscape that prove climate change is real. However, it became stigmatized as a “liberal issue”, so some conservatives continue to believe it is a “hoax”.  No studies, statistics, or images will be able to change their minds. Even if they were taken to see the glaciers melting in front of their eyes, they would still refuse to change sides. Why does this happen? The Decision Lab explains this process in four steps (“Belief Perseverance -the Backfire Effect-). “First, causal thinking encourages us to hold onto our initial explanations for beliefs in our memory.” Once we hold on to a concept in our minds, it is very hard to change it. “Second, cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable when we encounter evidence contradicting our beliefs.” This can explain why people get so upset when another person challenges their beliefs, even if they have a valid reason to do so. “Third, confirmation bias propels us to dismiss any contrary evidence to preserve our initial ideas. Finally, our ego defense mechanisms sustain our instinct to be correct since we attach our beliefs to our self-identity.” Humans hate to be wrong, and even more so, to be proven wrong. 

As the 2024 Presidential election comes near, many political scientists and moderate voters beg the question, Why are people still backing Trump? In theory, 91 felony charges and allegedly causing an insurrection would cause a politician to lose support and credibility. However, former President Donald Trump is leading the Republican Primary by a record margin as of January 2024. MAGA supporters claim that the felony charges and indictments are insignificant and that Trump did no wrong. Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that the 2020 election was stolen and a fraud. In consequence, most MAGA supporters have adopted the belief and no longer believe in the federal government. This is very dangerous. It is instrumental that citizens believe in the legitimacy of elections to maintain democracy. Although it has been proven that the 2020 election was not fraudulent, right-wingers refuse to accept it (Ajluni). This is a perfect example of belief perseverance in the political sphere. It’s the reason that right-wing spokesmen like Tucker Carlson favor MAGA policies in public, but in Tucker’s case on his phone, admit to not supporting Donald Trump. It is almost a shameful act to not fully agree with one’s affiliated party, both Democrat and Republican. Once people make a claim early on, pride prevents them from conceding their initial opinions, even when presented with credible evidence.

For voters and legislators alike, it is in society’s best interest to actively work to set aside belief perseverance, including confirmation bias. Although it may sound like a beaten record, society must learn to put aside differences to work towards a productive future. Political parties are not personality traits. Additionally, they are not a reason to ridicule someone. Acknowledging and truly listening to other people’s opinions, including multiple news sources, provides a better-crafted perspective that can be used to form logical decisions and opinions. Maybe then people will be able to walk to the other side, long enough to understand the other person’s perspective. 



References 


Ajluni, Zach. 2023. “Why Do People Still Listen to Trump?” The Michigan Daily. October 4, 2023. https://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/the-psychology-behind-the-donald/.

“Belief Perseverance (the Backfire Effect).” n.d. The Decision Lab. Accessed January 29, 2024. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases/belief-perseverance.

Salisbury, Fiona. 2020. “The Importance of Reading from a Variety of News Sources.” The Wrangler. December 11, 2020. https://ylhsthewrangler.com/22390/features/the-importance-of-reading-from-a-variety-of-news-sources/.




Anna Claire Carter, Jonesboro, 12th, @annaclairecarter


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