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You’re Only Lying to Yourself ... and the Voters: The Politics of Self-Deception

Monday, March 17, 2014 8:08 am EDT
"Political competition to get into power is quite a different matter from decision making and policy planning"

WMD in Iraq. Watergate. The Lewinski affair. Some of the most famous moments in political history have deception, be it through honest mistakes or blatant lying, at their heart. New research in Political Studies considers a third option, arguing that the self-deception of politicians, who in turn mislead the public, may be a more common factor in political life than we realize.

Writing from the University of Eastern Piedmont, Dr Anna Galeotti argues that self-deception is a type of motivated irrationality; the art of believing something simply because it is desired to be true when evidence points to the very opposite. Such an ability may have flaws in the real world, but politically, a charismatic leader is often more persuasive in proportion to his convictions, whereas a cynical liar is more easily detected.

Dr. Galeotti explores how during an election campaign self-deception is detrimental to a political career. During an election there is no benefit to clouding a candidate’s self-assessment of their chances of victory. However, when in office this dynamic changes.

“Political competition to get into power is quite a different matter from decision making and policy planning,” said Dr. Galeotti. “Examples of decision making based on insufficient or deceptive information, shaped by illusions of invulnerability and obstacle denial, and by failure to reconsider assumptions or to discount negative data, are countless, especially in the area of international relations.”

From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Vietnam War, Dr. Galeotti considers examples where replacing charges of ‘lies’ or ‘conspiracy’ with an understanding of self-deception can help give a more realistic picture of political motivations.

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