MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Monday, October 31, 2022

Optimism bias in GE15


Over the last couple of weeks there has been an increase in optimism about a Pakatan Harapan victory in the coming general election. This can be sensed through much of social media, where positive stories and expectations about the coming results are reiterated by users.

Many pundits now say that there is a strong possibility that PH could achieve victory. This of course resonates very well with those chat groups which are predominantly made up of members who support PH.

However, in a country where there is very limited polling, and where any polls that polling political parties undertake is kept confidential, the only real evidence there is to base any predictions on is past performance, and the potential influence of current events.

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Learning to gauge the past

The results of past by-elections, state elections and historical evidence points to a thorough trouncing of PH by Umno. This is especially so with the results of the Johor state elections.

The jailing of Najib Razak and conviction of his wife Rosmah Mansor heightened rage over corruption once again. This is so, particularly in the non-Umno chat groups, where moral outrage is seen as a game changer in the coming election.

This will certainly be the case in the densely populated urban electorates, which are already held by PH parties.

However, this is unlikely to have any effect within the Malay heartlands, which are made up of around 90 seats. Position bias is at play here.

There is a danger of optimism bias setting in during this early stage, before any election campaign has officially started.

This optimism is made up of a number of cognitive biases, heuristics, and fallacies.

This is well known in cognitive science, where cognitive traps allow for the processing of incoming information and its interpretation. These heuristics affect the way we see, feel, and think about things.

This could become an issue that plays a role in the coming general election.

Cognitive traps

This current optimism bias that is prevailing through urban communities is made up of a number of cognitive traps.

The first is ‘cherry picking’, a fallacy based upon selective events that confirm a particular slant on events, i.e., the hope that PH will win. This is part of a greater heuristic, ‘input bias’, where only selective data due to availability is cognitively processed to support the belief that Pakatan will do very well.

This is ‘selective perception’, where expectations influence perceptions.

This is all reinforced by ‘recency effect’, a cognitive bias that puts weight to recent events, rather than past election results.

This creates the fallacy that the perceptions appeal to emotions, prejudice and desirable expectations in the beholders’ minds.

Through chat groups, ‘affect infusion’ is occurring, where information coming to a group over-proportionally influences judgements, cascading in a ‘bandwagon effect’, where others start to believe in a Pakatan win, simply because others do.

Thus, the belief that PH will be able to win the coming election is based upon cognitive premises, rather than hard facts or data. This is reinforced by a ‘selective bias’, where those who believe in a Pakatan victory are only cognitively selecting information that confirms their expectations. This is ‘confirmation bias’.

Perception v reality

This occurred during the 2013 general election where PH held massive ceramahs in places they were to win, preaching to the converted. This gave an overall expectation PH could win the election, which was not the case.

As we are all aware, perception and reality are not the same thing, and the actual election result may or may not equate to these perceptions, held by urbanites, who over-proportionally comprise the set of users in chat groups.

However, these perceptions could be very damaging. The opposition has fallen for the fallacy that corruption will win votes in the Malay heartlands. Campaign on this issue and it will not win votes where they are needed.

For Pakatan, the great danger of optimistic bias is that the Umno forces will use these perceptions against PH. They will demonise the DAP as the enemy.

Thus, ‘optimism bias’ becomes Umno’s greatest weapon on the hustings.

Optimism brings complacency

This optimistic bias could also lure potential Pakatan voters into complacency from the misconception their vote won’t count, as there is overwhelming support out there voting for them.

Counterintuitively, Umno voters may be encouraged to come out to vote, in fear of the opposition winning.

This all falls right into the hands of the Barisan Nasional.

It’s best to look at the stark realities on the ground now. PH is the underdog. Based upon previous elections, Umno swept to victory, where it counted. Muda and Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s GTA performed poorly in Johor. Bersatu could be potentially wiped out. What realities have changed to influence the vote towards PH?

Out in the media and social media there is currently a lot of misinformation and disinformation. Some of it is just misconceived, while some is very deliberate, aimed at playing to peoples’ cognitive biases for the reasons explained above. That’s cyber warfare as we’ve seen in the US elections, and here in Malaysia as well.

PH must do its best not to fall into this trap. Leaders must keep reminding their followers they are the underdogs. Being the underdog is the best position to be.

Don’t let optimistic bias turn into arrogance and complacency. That will turn it into a loss for the opposition forces. - FMT

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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