How Did Trump Win the Election? [INFOGRAPHIC]

American cognitive bias and preconceptions led to one of the most controversial and divisive elections in recent history but is this how Trump really won?


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American cognitive bias and preconceptions led to one of the most controversial and divisive elections in recent history

  • What is Cognitive Bias?
    • Innate flaws in human judgment that affect how we make everyday decisions
      • Our personal filters cause errors in reasoning, though we attempt to logically evaluate the world around us
      • These “mental stumbling blocks” can lead us down the path of bad decision making
    • What Causes Cognitive Bias?
      • Decision heuristics, a.k.a., mental shortcuts
        • Sometimes our mental shortcuts get in the way of rationality as we attempt to use our brain power more efficiently
        • Social pressures, emotions, and personal motivations also factor in

Being human means we interpret the world through our own likes, dislikes, and experiences, but sometimes our cognitive biases make us highly illogical

  • Superficial Characteristics and Split-second Judgments Can Affect Voters’ Decisions
    • 67% of all U.S. presidential elections have been won by the taller candidate
    • One study asked participants to compare photos of congressional candidates and then choose which one looked more “competent”
      • 2 out of 3 of participants were able to pick the winner solely by how “competent” he/she looked
    • 3% of Presidential candidates receive more votes on average when listed first on the ballot rather than farther down
  • How Did Cognitive Biases Help Trump Win?
    • Playing on Emotional Appeals
      • Affect Heuristic: Tendency to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts
        • Trump spoke to Americans about things they felt were true
        • Capitalized on fear of U.S. economic collapse, unemployment, etc.
        • “Make America great again!”
    • Unbiased Is in the Eye of the Beholder
      • Confirmation Bias: Searching for info that confirms our preexisting beliefs, rather than info that contradicts them
        • Media on both sides interpreted the same events in different ways
        • Journalists believed they reported the election in an unbiased manner but weren’t accurately reflecting the country’s views
      • Many Americans Didn’t Believe Trump Could Win
        • Overconfidence Bias: Predisposition to be more confident in one’s reasoning than is justified
          • Personal views got in the way of the truth
          • Journalists didn’t question the polling data when it confirmed Trump was falling behind
          • Reporters didn’t talk to enough red state voters
      • Flawed Polling Data Misrepresented National Sentiments
        • Social Desirable Bias: Over-reporting one’s desirable behaviors while underreporting one’s negative behaviors
          • Women could have been reluctant to report they were voting for Trump after misogynistic footage of Trump was revealed
      • Americans Were Ready for a Political Outsider
        • Halo Effect: Overall impression of someone’s positive or negative traits colors our perception their
          • Many Americans believed that Trump’s business knowledge would make him a competent President
          • Trump associated himself with the common man, rather than with other politicians
      • Preserving Freedom is Paramount
        • Psychological Reactance: When someone tells us what to do, we react in the opposite manner
          • Voting against Clinton (instead of for Trump) because she would take away personal freedoms (e.g., gun laws, religious liberty)
          • When the media pointed out Trump’s inconsistencies, it ignited passions even more

Is Donald Trump’s Presidency the outcome of cognitive bias? You decide.


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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.


Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.