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The Dunning-Kruger Effect May Help Explain Trump's Support

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The Dunning-Kruger Effect May Help Explain Trump's Support

A new study suggests some people grossly overestimate their political knowledge.

Posted Aug 22, 2018

Elvert Barnes Photography/Flickr
Source: Elvert Barnes Photography/Flickr

In the past, some prominent psychologists have explained President Donald Trump’s unwavering support by alluding to a well-established psychological phenomenon known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect.”

The effect is a type of cognitive bias, where people with little expertise or ability assume they have superior expertise or ability. This overestimation occurs as a result of the fact that they don’t have enough knowledge to know they don’t have enough knowledge. This simple but loopy concept has been demonstrated dozens of times in well-controlled psychology studies and in a variety of contexts. However, until now, the effect had not been studied in one of the most obvious and important realms: political knowledge.


new study published in the journal Political Psychology carried out by the political scientist Ian Anson at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, not only found that the Dunning-Kruger effect applies to politics, but it also appears to be exacerbated when partisan identities are made more salient. In other words, those who score low on political knowledge tend to overestimate their expertise even more when greater emphasis is placed on political affiliation.


Anson told PsyPost that he became increasingly interested in the effect after other academics were discussing its potential role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on social media. “I follow a number of political scientists who marveled at the social media pundit class’s seeming display of ‘Dunning-Kruger-ish tendencies’ in their bombastic coverage of the election.” However, speculation by scientists does not always translate into statistically-significant findings, so Anson began thinking of ways to experimentally test what he described as a “very serious accusation.”


In order to have a large and representative sample of subjects, Dr. Anson administered online surveys to over 2,600 Americans. The first survey was designed to assess political knowledge, while the second was used to examine how confident they were in their knowledge. Questions quizzed participants on topics like names of cabinet members, the length of term limits for members of Congress, and the names of programs that the U.S. government spends the least on.


As predicted, the results showed that those who scored low on political knowledge were also the ones who overestimated their level of knowledge. But that wasn’t all. When participants were given cues that made them engage in partisan thought, the Dunning-Kruger effect was made even stronger. This occurred with both Republicans and Democrats, but only in those who scored low on political knowledge to begin with.


These findings are fascinating but also troubling. How do you combat ignorance when the ignorant believe themselves to be knowledgeable? Even worse, how do you fight it when America is becoming increasingly polarized, which certainly increases the salience of partisan identities?

While the results of Anson’s study suggest that being uninformed leads to overconfidence across the political spectrum, studies have shown that Democrats now tend to be more educated than Republicans, possibly making the latter more vulnerable to the Dunning-Kruger effect. In fact, a Pew Research Center poll released in March of this year found that 54 percent of college graduates identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 39 percent who identified or leaned Republican.

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5 minutes ago, impartialobserver said:

Honestly, this could be said about a variety of things. A lot of so-called sports experts have not played the game in 20,30 years, if ever, and yet are experts whose expertise is untouchable/unquestionable. 

I don't think it's a very good analogy. Pete Carroll never played football.

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Just now, slideman said:

I don't think it's a very good analogy. Pete Carroll never played football.


He was a multi-sport star in football (playing quarterback, wide receiver, and defensive back), basketball, and baseball, earning the school's Athlete of the Year honors as a senior in 1969. He was inducted into the charter class of the Redwood High School Athletic Hall of Fame in April 2009.[5] Carroll has stated that one of his favorite players growing up was LSU defensive back Tommy Casanova, and that LSU was a place that he always wanted to coach.[6]


After high school, Carroll attended junior college at the nearby College of Marin, where he played football for two years (lettering in his second year) before transferring to the University of the Pacific,[7] where he was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.[8] At Pacific, Carroll played free safety for two years for the Tigers, earning All-Pacific Coast Athletic Conference honors both years (1971–72) and earning his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1973.[7]

After graduation, Carroll tried out for the Honolulu Hawaiians of the World Football League at their training camp in Riverside but did not make the team due to shoulder problems combined with his small size.[9][10] To make ends meet, he found a job selling roofing materials in the Bay Area, but he found he was not good at it and soon moved on; it would be his only non-football-related job.[10"


Yes, he did just not major college or Pro

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