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Science discovers ‘magic trick’ that causes partisan voters to switch parties

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 11, 2013 15:05 EDT
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A voter casts a ballot in a U.S. election. Photo: Shutterstock.com.
 
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Researchers in Sweden have discovered a clever way to trick partisan voters into switching parties, through the application of a simple survey and some slight of hand.

Exploiting a known defect in human psychology called “choice blindness,” researchers writing for the journal PLoS One got 162 voters to fill out surveys pinpointing their views on key issues like taxes and energy, then covertly switched the survey with one created to show the exact opposite answers. Participants were then confronted on why they gave the faux responses.

What the researchers found is astonishing: A whopping 92 percent of respondents did not catch that their answers were manipulated, and only 22 percent of the switched answers were noticed by participants. During questioning after the survey, 10 percent of the subjects actually switched their preference in political party, while another 19 percent of previously partisan voters said they’d become undecided.

Since 18 percent of the participants went into the study saying they were undecided to begin with, researchers noted that their findings suggest a full 47 percent were open to changing their vote. They also noted their findings seem to run contrary to the political wisdom of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who suggested months before election day that 47 percent of the country had already ruled him out.

Researchers added that they found “no connection between gender, age, level of political engagement, overall political certainty, or initial political affiliation, in relation to magnitude of change in voting intention.”

“It’s a dramatic demonstration of the potential flexibility that is there,” lead researcher Lars Hall, from Lund University, told the scientific publication Nature. “Unfortunately I don’t know how to tap into that flexibility without the magic trick. If I did I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’d be selling my secret to Hillary Clinton or [Republican New Jersey governor] Chris Christie. Or both.”

Hall’s previous research into choice blindness has revealed that the flaw can lead to many inconsistencies in what humans say they find attractive in mates, what moral values people think they hold most dear, and which products people believe they prefer at the supermarket. A similar “magic trick” was employed in all three scenarios, finding less than one third of participants in each study realized their stated preferences were manipulated to reflect something else entirely.

This video is from the Lund University Choice Blindness Lab, published on Wednesday, April 10, 2013.


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Photo: Shutterstock.com.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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