Posted in: The Short List

Are You Really Your Party?

By | April 12, 2013

Swedish cognitive scientist Lars Hall has discovered that telling voters that they are classified as a different party according to a survey causes them to change their minds, sometimes drastically. The study results, published in PLoS ONE and mentioned in Nature, indicate that political “loyalty was malleable: nearly half of all voters [in the 2010 Swedish general elections] were open to changing their minds.”

The person conducting the experiment secretly filled in an identical survey with the reverse of the voter’s answers, and used sleight-of-hand to exchange the answer sheets, placing the voter in the opposite political camp (see video above). The researcher invited the voter to give reasons for their manipulated opinions, then summarized their score to give a probable political affiliation and asked again who they intended to vote for.

No more than 22% of the manipulated answers were detected, and 92% of the study participants accepted the manipulated summary score as their own. This did not surprise Hall, who has previously demonstrated similar reversal effects, known as choice blindness, in people’s aesthetic preferences and moral attitudes.

Though Hall isn’t sure how one could employ a tactic of changing a voter’s mind in an election, the possibility isn’t too distant. That being said, other academics and political psychologists have reservations: telling a conservative she is a liberal or vice versa might have only a short-term and superficial effect. My question about the study is whether the results would hold up with an American electorate rather than a Swedish one. It would certainly be interesting to find out.

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