OPINION: How not to be fooled by the wrong candidate again

Robert Labayen

Posted at Sep 16 2020 06:04 AM

Why do many politicians who appeared to be messiahs end up to be false prophets?

To be fair, some of us contribute to such tragedy when we get carried away by superficial attributes of candidates, instead of thoroughly checking their background.

Confidence can fool

In buying products, evaluating a business proposal, and choosing a date, people often go for the one who looks confident. We equate confidence with competence. Many times, it is good proof. At times, it’s also a sign of the opposite.

The Dunning-Kruger effect has been proven among thousands of subjects in studies by Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It has been shown that many incompetent people are confident because they don’t even have the competence to know why they are wrong. They know very little and they think that’s all there is to know.

We may see this kind of self-assurance in some salesmen brainwashed about the qualities of their product, or in politicians who believe their own lies and delusions. 

Many really smart people may not appear confident. That’s because smart people have the capacity for self-appraisal. They constantly check themselves for accuracy. In my opinion, really smart people can look tentative because they know that any fact or idea can be seen from many perspectives. Smart people may sometimes not give a final answer because they know there is always something more they need to know. (What did I say again?)

There was also a study by the University of Ohio concluding that narcissists appear leader-like because they have the confidence to take charge. People trust them. The problem: many narcissists are actually incompetent, and the world’s worst dictators were narcissists.

Oversimplification can impress 

The average voter does not like to digest the details of issues. Even learned people like you and me don’t have the time to follow the news and to read enough. Many politicians know they can connect better by oversimplifying issues and make it sound emotional. For example, a politician who says “I will personally plant our flag on the disputed territory” or “I will personally press the button to fire that missile,” can receive thunderous applause.

Populists can follow the simplification approach. Populists are those politicians who appeal to ordinary citizens who feel left out by the elite. They create hate for the “oligarchy”. They make it as simple as “us versus them.” But The Atlantic writer Uri Friedman commented, “The notion of one virtuous people and one vile elite is a fiction, even if it does reflect real divisions and power dynamics in a given society.”

Life is never perfect for the majority and it can be easy to resent the more comfortable lives of the elite. That’s why it’s easy for politicians to tap into such bitterness.

Similar to populists are the charmers. They tell people what they want to hear. Talking to the business community, they will say “business is the backbone of the nation.” Speaking to the factory workers, they will say “labor is the backbone of the nation.”

Check the facts 

A recent study in the United States revealed what is not necessarily surprising: corrupt politicians get reelected because of the voters’ “lack of attention.” It said that in the past decades, more than 60 percent of the members of Congress who have been implicated in a corruption scandal were able to retain their seats.

Although I warned you about confident leaders, populists, and charmers, I don’t intend to say that candidates with such traits are automatically deceitful. Many good people are confident and charming, too.

While we have two years before the next big election, we can use the time to dig deep into the past of possible candidates. If we can have the patience to separate the true facts from the fake news, no one should be fooled anymore in the age of the all-knowing internet. Buyer’s remorse is often hard to admit.

Read:

Democracy v. Psychology: why people keep electing idiots by Dean Burnett in The Guardian website

Narcissistic People More Likely to Emerge as Leaders by the Ohio State University in the Science Daily website

Populism: A Very Short Introduction by Cas Mudde and Cristoval Rovira Kaltwasser

The Dunning-Kruger Effect Shows Why Some People Think They’re Great Even When Their Work is Terrible by Mark Murphy in the Forbes website

What Is a Populist and is Donald Trump One? by Uri Friedman in The Atlantic website

Why do voters allow corrupt politicians to stay in office in the Open Learn website

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.