I don’t claim to have the secret to knowing the truth. But I do know one of the secrets to not knowing the truth. That would be to look at all the facts, and only believe the ones that tell you that the truth is what you wish the truth was.
This is sometimes called “motivated reasoning,” which is a method by which a person can believe that what they wish were true is actually true, basically by accepting only evidence that supports the truth of what one wishes were true, and disregarding evidence to the contrary.
Motivated reasoning is a close cousin of the twin demons of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias.” All these are enemies of clear thinking.
The current occupant of the Oval Office gave a master class in all of the above with a tweet this morning celebrating a poll result. It reads:
Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.
It’s true. The latest Rasmussen poll on approval/disapproval of President Trump’s performance of his job as president shows him with 50 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval in the three-day period ending April 1.
It’s also true that Rasmussen is the only reputable pollster who shows Trump’s approval rating that high. Gallup, by contrast, in its latest weekly result completed on Saturday, showed Trump with 55 percent disapproval and 39 percent approval.
Despite its long history and prestige, I don’t swear by Gallup. And, despite the suspicions of some liberals, I view Rasmussen as reputable, although something about their methodology seems to lead to them often reaching results that Republicans like.
Many other reputable pollsters, in fact, all reputable pollsters other than Rasmussen, show the president with a rating that is below water, meaning more disapprovers than approvers.
Through the miracle of “selective perception” and “confirmation bias,” the current incumbent is able to convince himself (and perhaps convince many of his Twitter followers) that his approval rating is doing well, especially compared to his despised predecessor, whose first name is actually “Barack” and not “Cheatin’.”
Maybe Rasmussen is the only major pollster that knows how to measure approval. There’s not really any way to know.
But it strikes me as more likely that Trump has a problem with selective perception/motivated reasoning, or at least thinks his base does.
Here’s a paragraph from the Wikipedia article on motivated reasoning:
The processes of motivated reasoning are a type of inferred justification strategy which is used to mitigate cognitive dissonance. When people form and cling to false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence, the phenomenon is labeled “motivated reasoning”. In other words, “rather than search rationally for information that either confirms or disconfirms a particular belief, people actually seek out information that confirms what they already believe”. This is “a form of implicit emotion regulation in which the brain converges on judgments that minimize negative and maximize positive affect states associated with threat to or attainment of motives.
And here’s Phillip Bump of the Washington Post’s reaction to Trump’s Rasmussen tweet, which puts it into the larger context of Trump’s selective perception habits. It’s headlined: “The only information Trump supports is information that makes him look good.”