Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How politicians lie

We all know politicians lie, no surprise here. What we do not quite know is how and why they lie. Indeed, they generally do not tell outright lies. They exaggerate or add some "extra spice" to their statements. How badly they lie likely depends on the political context.

Alessandro Bucciol and Luca Zarri, from a country long lead by a professional liar, decide to focus on politicians from the United States. They use data from PolitiFact.com about 7000 claims by 1000 national politicians from 2007 to 2012. They determine that Republications lie more than Democrats, which should not surprise given the influence of the Tea Party on Republicans. I am thus not sure this ranking will last once the Republican Party gets back to its roots. More interesting are variations across party lines. Politicians lie less in battleground states (when the stakes, or scrutiny, are higher), in more educated states, and in the South. And health-related issues are the subject of the most lies.

I am not quite sure how to generalize these results. As mentioned, the current context for the Republican Party is out of the ordinary. Also, health care has been a central issue on the national political agenda over these years. All this can change, and it may be different in other countries. But it is interesting to see that definite patterns are emerging. If we can rationalize them, maybe we can then think about policies that would minimize lying. And hope for politicians to adopt them. A good resolution for the new year.

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