Belief-Overkill in Political Judgments

Jonathan Baron


When people tend toward a political decision, such as voting for the Republican Party, they are often attracted to this decision by one issue, such as the party’s stance on abortion, but then they come to see other issues, such as the party’s stand on taxes, as supporting their decision, even if they would not have thought so in the absence of the decision. I demonstrate this phenomenon with opinion poll data and with an experiment done on the World Wide Web using hypothetical candidates. For the hypothetical candidates, judgments about whether a candidate’s position on issue A favors the candidate or the opponent are correlated with judgments about other positions taken by the candidate (as determined from other hypothetical candidates). This effect is greater in those subjects who rarely make conflicting judgments, in which one issue favors a
candidate and another favors the opponent. In a few cases, judgments even reverse, so that a position that is counted as a minus for other candidates becomes a plus for a favored
candidate. Reversals in the direction of a candidate’s position are more likely when the candidate is otherwise favored. The experiment provides a new kind of demonstration of “belief
overkill,” the tendency to bring all arguments into line with a favored conclusion.


belief overkill, political judgment, myside bias, dominance structure, differentiationconsolidation theory, cognitive dissonance

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ISSN: 0824-2577