Media coverage of political campaigns tends to focus on the horserace—the reporting of public opinion results on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. They also tend to focus on the attempts by candidates and their managers to craft images and messages to suit particular blocks of voters. Unfortunately, only scant reporting is made of the conflicting and sometimes contradictory opinions and perceptions held among a candidate’s supporters. Comments made by people in the crowd, the “man-in-the-street,” are reported without filter and as matters-of-fact, with little or no attempt to probe or challenge their assertions. A more critical ear would likely provide an important opportunity to explore the role of selective perception among the voting public.
Selective perception is a concept taken from the study of public opinion (with a background in the field of psychology) that describes the influence of our biases and prejudices on our interpretations of various forms of information and experiences. The literature on selective perception suggests that certain predispositions filter our perspectives and attitudes, especially in the context of supporting or not supporting a particular candidate. Just think of the role that ideology and partisanship play as filters at work in the minds of potential voters. Understanding how selective perception works helps us understand why so many voters accept or ignore the mistakes, miscues, and waffling of candidates over the course of an election—when it’s their candidate. When it’s another candidate, the same lens that is used to forgive is now turned into a magnifying glass that is used to scorch the opposition. What do you think? Should reporters do more to explore the role of selective perception when on the campaign trail? How might more critical reporting of the voting public affect election coverage?
- After victories, Santorum has more work to do (philly.com)
- Makeover Meter: Selective perception (thehindu.com)