Skeptical decision making

What’s wrong with this picture?

For those who wonder why skepchickism (and skepticism in general) is important, I think this picture clearly shows the answer:

voting choices

This is slide 15 from a tutorial put out by

In other words, 45% of Americans think a candidate’s perceived persona is more important than their voting record. Or, as I’ve read elsewhere, many Americans vote for the candidate they’d most like to have a beer with. Although I tend to find religious dogma to be more disturbing than belief in big-foot or homeopathy, when push comes to shove, all irrationality leads to poor decision making for individuals and for society.

What do you think? How do you decide who to vote for?

(I personally believe that there is only ONE important issue in the 2008 presidential race, and that is to keep a Republican out of the White House in order to prevent the Supreme Court from becoming completely stacked with theocrats. So I stick my tongue out at Ellen Johnson.)


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

Related Articles


  1. I loved Jon Stewart, who said in an interview, "What's up with this 'guy you'd like to have a beer with' stuff? 'The voters want a candidate who is like them.' How about this instead: I'd like a candidate who is better than me. Way, WAY better than me."

  2. I'm basing my vote this year on character. I'm supporting Obama not because I agree with his policies (He's a little too fiscally liberal for my taste), but because I think he's the only one of the serious candidates who will try to do what's right for the country rather than what's right for himself or herself or the party.

    More than the others, I think he will listen to those who don't agree with him, and take their views into account when making decisions. I think that's more important in a President than whether or not he agrees with me on the issues. I'm not always going to be right about what's best for the country, and neither will he. But if he listens to both sides, and makes a decision based on all input, I think the country will be better off.

  3. I wonder if they actually worded the questions that way. There's a big difference between asking someone if they support a candidate based on their leadership abilities, character, values, and experience, and asking if they support them based on the PERCEPTION of said qualities. I doubt the average person would pick up on the distinction when polled.

  4. Hahaha on the 101%.

    I also wondered about how the questions were worded.

    However, I don't think there's any real difference between persona or perceived persona in this case. Since very few voters actually know the candidates personally, it's entirely about perceived persona.

    Politicians are all the same. Their persona in the campaign is just an act, no different than if they were a talk radio host. Am I jaded? You bet! But I still think I'm right about that.

    The only way to tell what a politician will do in office is to look at what they've already done in office.

  5. I'm not sure this poll really shows what it implies. While I don't have any actual evidence for this, it seems to me that the issues are more important than the poll suggests. The problem lies in that politician, especially those from the same party who are running for the nomination, like Obama and Clinton, have very similar stances on issues. Of course there are some differences, but if you are honest with yourself, you don't care passionately about every single issue. So when people look broadly at the issues, there isn't that much of a difference between the candidates. So the only thing that is left to help you decide who you will vote for is their character and persona. So I am going to take the optimistic view that it isn't that people don't look at the issues, but rather that they are mostly deadlocked after looking at them and therefore need another variable.

  6. Electing a leader is about more than competence. Policies, plans, and ideas are the starting point, but leadership ability is probably more important because without this even the best ideas won't go very far. I think this is what the poll is picking up.

    I am now supporting Obama because I think the leadership he shows (the way the campaign is being run, the emphasis on building aliances which seems to come from his community organizer past, his grassroots approach) will give his ideas more force as president. The fact that he can inspire people is the step before getting people to follow your lead and after the past 8 (25) yrs we need a good leader, with good ideas. Even if one doesn't support all of Obama's ideas and policies, you know he is more likely to have good advisors and more open to evolving his positions than a Republican candidate given recent experience.

  7. Heh. The 101% is likely due to rounding.

    I think the problem with the poll is that the questions aren't equal.

    Stand on issues is one thing. Leadership is another. Experience is another. Character is another. And so on. Yet all but one of those have been lumped together. So you might be answering 'yes' to experience, but it looks like you answered yes to 'values' as well.

    It's lazy polling. Or, polling by design.

  8. I actually think that's not a result that one should be bemoaning, necessarily.

    Part of being President is dealing with specific issues, but a very large part of being President is things like negotiating with foreign leaders and other politicians, inspiring confidence in people, and picking good people for the vast array of governmental offices. A President's stance on issues is obviously important, but for many people, being able to negotiate international treaties is at least as important.

    As well, I'd say that the creationism versus evolution question is more about values (are they a person who understands and trusts science) rather than about the specific issue of whether creationism should be taught in schools. Someone who believes in creationism personally, but has no interest in teaching it in schools, is still not the candidate for me, even though he agrees on the specific issue.

  9. Well, as I've said, in this election I'm definitely a one-issue voter. If another Republican gets elected, I don't see how I can continue to live in this country. I don't really want to leave, nor do I think I can afford to leave — especially with the dollar in the toilet — so….

    At any rate, I agree that there is validity to the arguments about not solely voting on issues that have been presented here, particularly when choosing between one candidate or another in a primary. I'm not sure the arguments hold water when discussing the general election, however.

  10. It also depends on the election. For the general election, I will vote for a Democrat for President because I will align more closely with their values and stances on almost all of the issues; for the Democratic primaries, on the other hand, the two main candidates have essentially the same positions when it comes to the issues, and so I am forced to choose Obama based on my perceptions of his "leadership abilities, character, values, and experience."

  11. For lack of any or information, I vote by party as it indicates the general philosophy. I generally vote by policies with additional information. I NEVER vote by promises because there are 435 Congressfolks and 100 Sentors that will have their say. In fact, promises are a negative.

    I switched from Hillary as she seemed too cold and calculating. I considered everything she said to be calculated for effect.

    Barak has been a feel-good kind of guy, and I don't know much about his intentions, but at least he is inspiring a lot of folks to get involved.

    Considering the apparent mental health of some of our past presidents, I am seriously considering not voting for anyone in an executive position. who does not publish a recent psychological inventory (Such as the MMPI).

    Best wishes to all,


  12. Is perceived just thrown in there to cover the possiblity that a politician might be lying?

  13. One of things about the system in the U.S. is that the head of government and the head of state are the same position. There are good things about this, but unfortunately, they are two different jobs which require very different skill-sets. (I personally don't think our current President does either especially well, but that is orthog0nal to my point.)

    So voting on persona is actually not entirely bad. We are electing a head of state as well as a head of government. In fact, the President's job as head of state is much more clear cut than it is as head of government since the government doesn't really have a head at all…in spite of what the current administration seems to think.

    So I fully admit that personality is a factor in my decision, and I believe appropriately so. It doesn't matter if it is "real" or not…whatever that means. Private persona doesn't matter. It is the public persona that will be the leader.

    Issue voting doesn't work all that well for me anyway. I almost never find candidates that matches me on that level. I tend to have some pretty iconoclastic views on some issues. (For example, I think pretty much all the current talk about health care is a bunch of reality-denying crap, so no view that would appeal to me would be allowed in this political climate.)

    So I am willing to support candidates with plans that do not align with what I would do if I believe they are competent and not *too* far out there. After all, I'm a skeptic…I might be wrong.

  14. This is slightly off topic, but I can't resist:

    By now you probably know that John McCain has been endorsed by John Hagee, one of the looniest of the religious right televangelists. And unlike Obama, who explicitly disavowed the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, McCain is basking in the glow of Hagee's endorsement, saying he is "very honored" to have it. Hagee is one of those ultra-nutty Protestants who thinks that the Catholic Church is the "whore of Babylon" (see him say so in this Youtube video).

    Hagee has all kinds of bizarre views. He claims, for example, that George Washington hid a menorah in the tailfeathers of the eagle on a dollar bill (seriously). He said that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment on New Orleans. He claims that a US invasion of Iran is foretold in the Bible (I love claims like that, as if the US is mentioned anywhere in a book written 2500 years before the US existed).

    From <a href = "; rel="nofollow">Ed Brayton over at

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button