No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, you have seen, or even been responsible for, the spread of false information and emotionally charged rhetoric substituting for facts. Social media makes it especially easy to participate in this bad habit. A meme that’s critical of the candidate you don’t like or one that supports a particular narrative you believe in can serve as quick confirmation that you’re opinions are right. Like and Share! But the ability to lay hands and eyes on so much cheap information—aka: information you did not fact check but treat as though it’s factual—making you any smarter? More importantly, is it making you a more informed voter?
Admittedly, there are many voters who don’t care if they’re informed. Some folks don’t even consider whether or not the person they’re supporting is a good match for the job. As long as they’re not the other guy, right? You may have become a knee-jerk type of voter without even realizing it; it’s understandable. Partisan lines are creating deep divides in the country right now. If you’d like to finish out the last few days of this election cycle with the knowledge that you’ve come to your decisions with the help of some good old fashioned critical thinking, we’ve got a few points to ponder.
Are you a critical thinker or a biased thinker? For an honest assessment, answer these questions:
- Do you remain open to alternatives other than your own beliefs?
- Would you prefer to be “right” or be well-informed?
- Do you know how or take time to judge the credibility of a source?
- When presented with ideas you disagree with, do you ask appropriate questions to better understand the opposing view?
- When explaining your own opinion, do you present arguments based on reason, evidence and information from reputable sources?
- Are you willing to change your mind if presented with a sufficient number of facts?
No matter how you scored (it’s okay, we won’t tell) there’s always room to improve critical thinking skills. Start by deciding which key issues are most important to you. Is it global warming, social justice or maybe economics? Once you’ve identified your core issues, put your party allegiances (or disagreements) aside and research each candidate’s positions on those issues. Skip the middleman and go directly to the candidate’s website for this information. Do your own fact checking. Let’s say Candidate X says their fiscal plan will reduce your taxes by 50%. How might you confirm that? Google it, consult major and independent news sources and reputable fact-checking sites (those are sites that use multiple sources and non-partisan methods to measure information, not your friend’s blog). Don’t fall into the trap of confirmation bias—where you only value information that supports your current belief and dismiss any contrary evidence. Be on the alert for logical fallacies when reading or listening to a candidate. Remember those?
Slippery Slope—the idea that one action will automatically be followed by a series of other actions. Think “if, then.” If we elect him/her a certain set of disasters await.
Red Herring —a redirection or diversion. Example: “Candidate X, did you really close down all the ice cream shops in your state and put 1000 people out of work?” And the candidate answers with a speech about children’s healthcare.
Straw Man — a misrepresentation of an opponent’s argument. For example, if Candidate X laid out a complex multi-pointed plan to lower taxes and Candidate Y responded with “X wants to tax orphanages” that would be called a straw man.
Appeal to Probability —a technique often used as a scare tactic. It is possible Candidate X will make healthcare more expensive so his/her opponent speaks as though it’s inevitable that it will happen.
Hindsight Bias — the term “hindsight is 20/20” explains this tactic well. When a candidate claims they knew this or that was going to happen in order to make themselves look smarter, they are using hindsight bias.
Memes and social media and heated political debates can be fun, but they’re not always the best way to sharpen your decision-making skills. Make the effort to apply critical thinking to your ballot selections this year; whichever way the vote goes, you’ll have the solace of knowing you made informed decisions.