It’s election season and you’re ready to vote. You’ve carefully researched the candidates and their platforms, so you’re pretty certain your vote will be an informed one.
But before you cast your vote at the polls, take some time to reflect on these four cognitive biases, or traps, and how they impact your voting decisions.
Optimism Bias
Have you ever gone on a backpacking trip without planning properly? If so, you’ve probably had optimism bias—the assumption that you are less at risk for something going wrong than you really are. It happens all the time in public policy—someone proposes a “brilliant” solution, and everyone overlooks the problems with that course of action.
So how do you know you’re not looking at public policy through rose-colored glasses? Professor Jason Brennan suggests that you double the expected costs and halve the benefits to develop a more realistic vision of what a plan or a policy would actually do. Then vote accordingly.
Confirmation Bias
What news sources do you read? Do you rely on a wide variety of opinions to challenge your way of thinking, or do you stick to the sources that align with your perspective? If you have confirmation bias, you tend to pay more attention to information that confirms your assumptions while ignoring information that makes you examine those assumptions more critically.  
The solution here involves three steps:

  • Understand what your assumptions are.
  • Identify the weak points of those assumptions.
  • Step back and carefully analyze all of your options, being careful to challenge your preconceived ideas.

In-Group Bias
This is the classic “good versus evil” trap, wanting to pick sides and then back those sides up—no matter what. Whether you feel loyal to a particular candidate or party or idea, are you quick to condemn the other side?
Don’t let other groups dictate what you think: Learn the social sciences for yourself so that you aren’t blindly swayed by the opinions of others. And rather than clinging to a certain candidate or party, acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of both.
Action Bias
There’s a saying that goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” But whether you’ve prematurely switched jobs or have supported public policy that promised but never delivered, you know that just doing something without putting the proper thought behind it is unwise.
Yes, you want change to happen fast, and you don’t want stagnant public policy to stand in your way. But don’t fall for “magical” quick fixes that detract from real change. Instead, pursue policies that could offer long-term solutions to the problems we face—solutions that are heavily informed by solid research from economics and the social sciences.
Given all of the thought that goes into voting well, how do you know when to vote in the first place? Check out the video below for to learn more.

Related: Will You Vote Well? by Art Carden