Why people vote for politicians they know are liars



‘I can’t believe I’m still here, either.’
Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock

Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol

Britain recently elected a prime minister who unlawfully shut down parliament to escape democratic scrutiny and who tells blatant falsehoods whenever it suits him. Boris Johnson casually denies the presence of media in front of TV cameras and he denies core elements of his Brexit deal, such as the need for customs checks between Britain and Northern Ireland.

In 2016, US voters faced a choice between a presidential candidate whose campaign statements were accurate 75% of the time and another whose claims were false 70% of the time, according to one factchecking outlet. Americans chose Donald Trump, who has made more than 13,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office.

Trump’s approval ratings have remained largely stable for two years and 77% of Republicans consider him to be honest. Johnson was elected by a landslide and more than half the British public was unconcerned by his shutting down parliament.

How is this possible? How can lying demagogues find traction in societies with proud histories of democracy and empiricism?

Are people insensitive to falsehoods? Do they not know whether things are true or false? Do people no longer care about truth?

The answers are nuanced and rest on the distinction between our conventional understanding of honesty and the notion of “authenticity”. The main element of honesty is factual accuracy whereas the main element of authenticity is an alignment between the public and private persona of a politician.

Research by my team has shown that American voters — including Trump supporters — are responsive to corrections of Trump’s falsehoods. That is, when people learn that a specific claim is false, they reduce their belief in that claim. However, in our results, there was no association between updating of beliefs and feelings towards Trump among his supporters. That is, support remained stable no matter how much people realised that Trump’s statements were inaccurate.

Voters may therefore understand perfectly well that a politician is lying, and they may discount falsehoods when they are pointed out. But the same voters seemingly tolerate being lied to without holding it against their favoured candidate. This disconnect between perceived accuracy and support for a politician has now been shown repeatedly by our team and also by other researchers using a different methodology.

But it does not follow that people have given up on truth and honesty in politics altogether.

Research led by Oliver Hahl of Carnegie Mellon University has identified the specific circumstances in which people accept politicians who lie. It is only when people feel disenfranchised and excluded from a political system that they accept lies from a politician who claims to be a champion of the “people” against the “establishment” or “elite”. Under those specific circumstances, flagrant violations of behaviour that is championed by this elite – such as honesty or fairness — can become a signal that a politician is an authentic champion of the “people” against the “establishment”.

For populist politicians, such as Trump and Johnson, who explicitly pit a mythical people against an equally mythical elite, blatant disregard for facts only underscores their authenticity in the eyes of supporters.

No amount of factchecking will reduce the appeal of Trump, Johnson, Duterte, Bolsonaro or any other populist demagogue around the world.

To defang demagogues, and to make lying unacceptable again, requires that voters regain trust in the political system. The research by Hahl and his colleagues also showed that when people consider a political system to be legitimate and fair, they reject politicians who tell untruths and they resent being lied to. So the key to moving on involves pursuing politics that reduce the appeal of populist demagogues and that create incentives for politicians to be more honest.

There is no quick and easy recipe for this process. But it is clear that we need to have a political conversation about income inequality. In 2015, two dozen hedge fund managers made more money than all the kindergarten teachers in the US combined, and billionaires now pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us. It is unsurprising that inequality has been identified as one of the variables that has compromised the legitimacy of democracy in the eyes of so many people.

Johnson refused to look at the snapshot of a little boy with pneumonia who was forced to sleep on a hospital floor. Once that has become unacceptable, and once sick children find a bed in hospital, Johnson’s falsehoods will also no longer find traction.

Another way is possible

It is encouraging to note that in other countries with different political structures and policies, voters do not tolerate politicians’ lies. Research by my team conducted in Australia has shown that Australian voters reduce their endorsement of politicians if they are revealed to be dishonest.

Using a methodology that exactly paralleled our study with American voters, we found that, unlike in the US, corrections of Australian politicians’ falsehoods made participants much less inclined to support those candidates. This effect occurred irrespective of partisanship, meaning voters were intolerant of lies even if they came from their own side of politics.

In Australia, voting is mandatory and preferential. Everyone must vote or risk being fined, and voters rank their preferences among all parties. These measures help contain political polarisation, underscoring how the design of a political system can determine a country’s welfare.




Read more:
What would the British parliament look like under proportional representation?


The Conversation


Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair of Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Muslim Mob Kills Wife, Children of Christian in Pakistan


Fearing local religious leader, area police refuse to file murder complaint.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 8 (CDN) — A Muslim mob in Jhelum, Pakistan murdered the wife and four children of a Christian last month, but local authorities are too afraid of the local Muslim leader to file charges, according to area Muslim and Christian sources.

Jamshed Masih, a police officer who was transferred 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Gujrat to Jhelum, Punjab Province, said a mob led by Muslim religious leader Maulana Mahfooz Khan killed his family on June 21 after Khan called him to the local mosque and told him to leave the predominantly Muslim colony. Jhelum is 85 kilometers (53 miles) south of Islamabad.

“You must leave with your family, no non-Muslim has ever been allowed to live in this colony – we want to keep our colony safe from scum,” Khan told Masih, the bereaved Christian told Compass.

Masih had moved to Mustafa Colony in Jhelum with his wife, two sons and two daughters and were living in a rented house. Masih said that a Muslim neighbor, Ali Murtaza, told him that area Muslims notified Khan, telling the religious leader, “We cannot allow these non-Muslims to live here, they will be a bad influence on our children.”

An anxious Masih told his wife Razia Jamshed about the local Muslim response, and they decided to bring their concern to the pastor of a local Presbyterian church, Saleem Mall.

“Pastor Saleem said, ‘I will also advise you to vacate the house, as it can be dangerous living there – these people can harm your family,” Masih said.

Masih’s neighbor, Murtaza, confirmed to Compass the response of the local Muslims and related incidents that led up to the murders. Murtaza told Compass that after Masih went to work at 7 a.m. on June 21, his children could be heard singing hymns before breakfast.

“Razia sent their eldest son to buy a packet of Surf [detergent], and he was singing a hymn on his way to buy the Surf,” Murtaza said.

Neighbors saw Masih’s s 11-year-old son come into the store, he said. The shopkeeper asked him if he was a Christian; the child responded that he was.

“The shopkeeper refused to give him the packet of Surf and spoke very harshly to him, ‘I don’t sell to any non-Muslim, you are not welcome here, don’t you dare ever come to my shop again,’” Murtaza said.

The boy went home, upset, and told his mother about the encounter; she grew worried and called her husband, saying, “Jamshed, please come home quickly, the kids and I are very worried, we must leave this house today,” Masih said.

His neighbor, Murtaza, said that shortly afterward some area residents came to the door with the Muslim religious leader, Khan.

“Your son has committed blasphemy against Muhammad, our beloved prophet – we can’t allow him to live, he should be punished,” Khan told Razia Masih, Murtaza said. “Razia got scared and said, ‘My son couldn’t do such a thing, he is only 11 years old.’”

Khan became furious and said, “Are we lying to you? You call us liars, how dare you insult us,” Murtaza said. “Someone from the crowd hit something hard on her head, and she started bleeding. The children started crying and shouted for help. Razia kept shouting for help, ‘Please have mercy on us, please let my husband come, then we can talk.’”

Jamshed Masih said his daughter telephoned police as the mob attacked his wife and children. He said he later learned that “the people kept shouting, ‘This family has committed blasphemy, they should be killed.”

Before police arrived, his family was murdered, he said.

Murtaza said Masih rushed home and was devastated to find the dead bodies of his wife and four children.

When Masih tried to file a complaint against Khan for the murder, Station House Officer (SHO) Ramzan Mumtaz refused to do so, according to Murtaza and Mall, the Presbyterian clergyman.

“He said, ‘Khan is an influential man, and he said your son has committed blasphemy – we cannot do anything against him,’” Mall said.

Murtaza added, “The SHO just said, ‘I am a poor man, I have a family, and I was pressured by higher authorities not to register the FIR [First Information Report] as Khan is a very influential man. I am sorry, I don’t have anything in my hands.’”

Contacted by Compass, SHO Mumtaz confirmed that he responded to the request to file the complaint against Khan in these exact words.

Masih has filed a complaint with the chief minister of Punjab Province begging him for justice, Mall told Compass.

“We condemn this brutal murder of innocent children in the name of Islam,” Mall said. “This has to stop now. We appeal to the government to let us live in peace.”

Report from Compass Direct News