Most of us have thought, at some point, that we could sway someone with different political views to our side if we just presented them with cold, hard facts showing that our view was correct.
Turns out even when the numbers support your argument, you are unlikely to change the opinion of someone from the other side.
Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.
Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart.
This is a really interesting article, and I recommend reading it even if you don’t give a damn about politics. For those who are into politics, it is even more illuminating. It goes to show how so many folks in Washington, elected or otherwise, can go to the “They’re just making the numbers up” argument and get so many people to believe them. As always, math is hard. And when it challenges our core beliefs it’s easier to believe the fuzzy math than it is to accept the real numbers and adjust our world view.
I found this tidbit about Congress interesting as well.
In the mid-20th century, the two major political parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats in the South were often more conservative than Republicans in the North. The strange jumble in political coalitions made disagreement easier. The other party wasn’t so threatening because it included lots of people you agreed with. Today, however, the parties have sorted by ideology, and now neither the House nor the Senate has any Democrats who are more conservative than any Republicans, or vice versa. This sorting has made the tribal pull of the two parties much more powerful because the other party now exists as a clear enemy.