A new study suggests that automatic associations, lurking outside of awareness, are a better indicator of an “undecided” voter’s actual position than his or her conscious response. Here’s an article about the study in Science News. This study seems to confirm what I think most of us intuitively know – that claims of indecision often veil an unconscious embrace of a given position. This isn’t, of course, the same as overtly lying about a stance on a position. The study suggests that the respondents who claim to be undecided certainly believe themselves to be just that. But, what’s at play in the black box of the unconscious may be hinting at a different stance, one already colored by influences the respondent may not be in touch with.
What’s interesting about this to me are the implications going the other way — claims of rationally “knowing” a position to be the correct one. To take a line from Robert Burton’s book On Being Certain, “knowing what we know” is not necessarily a rational business. More on that in future posts. Below is a an excerpt from the Science News article:
“Political pollsters might learn that there are some questions better left unasked,” remarks psychologist Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The new findings suggest that pollsters should be skeptical of voters who label themselves as undecided because those voters’ unconscious minds may have other ideas. The conscious answers these people give could be misleading.
Here’s a great post at The Frontal Cortex about this study as well.