Monday, January 10, 2011

Curing Myopic Voting

It was a snow day, so I had time to scour the net for -- to me -- obscure research.  This draft of a study examines how people consider the economy in their voting.  The research itself is a bit complicated, but basically the author argues people over place too much weight on recent economic information when voting and fail to consider the cumulative economic data.  No surprise there.  This "end bias" makes sense, a recency effect of sorts, but it is a bias -- a failure to consider everything and an over-reliance on what's most recent.

Or, as the author notes:
Using a three-year panel survey, I showed that citizens' memories of the past economy are inconsistent with their actual experience of the economy as they reported it in earlier panel waves. They fail to remember the past correctly in part because the present shapes their perceptions of the past.
How do you fix this?  Not easily.  News reports, obviously, could focus on the big picture and not the most recent data, but you can be damn sure partisans will focus on whatever numbers make their candidate look best, or the other candidate look worst. This seems to be the cure, says the author.
Presenting participants with cumulative information on performance (e.g., total income growth) cures myopia. On one hand, these results are troubling for democracy because they confirm citizens’ incompetence at retrospection. On the other hand, they point to a remedy, one that candidates and the news media could adopt.
Using this study, imagine the 2012 election.  Let's say unemployment is down a bit, but is still too high.  The economy is doing okay, but not great.  If journalists focus on the long-term picture, the improvement, that's a more reasonable economic approach and one less "myopic" -- to use his term.  That kinda helps Obama.  But I don't see Fox News playing it that way.  And you can certainly argue that it should be better than it is, even if there is a slight improvement.  So in this hyper-partisan times, I'm not sure the "cure" for myopic, short-term voting, will find its way to the public.

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