Takeaways: March 2021

18 Mar, 2021



March 2021

POLLS, POLICY AND PRESIDENTS: While the November election results showed polls underestimated Donald Trump’s support with voters, a new study from the Pew Research Center says this doesn’t mean those polls underestimated the strength of his issue positions.

“Opinions on issues and government policies are strongly, but not perfectly, correlated with partisanship and candidate preference,” reports Pew. “A minority of people who support each candidate do not hold views that are consistent with what their candidate or party favors.” Other variations occur because political polls examine the opinions of voters, but many issue polls solicit the views of all Americans.

Pew concludes that issue polling results last year may have been off by 0.5 to 3 percentage points, less than the spread between presidential race polling and the final count. Issues on the high side of that spectrum were contentious ones such as immigration, the size of government and climate change.

FEWER FACTS PLEASE: Marshaling facts and data points may not be the best way to persuade people to agree with you. This is especially the case when issues involve a moral dimension. In fact, a review of 15 studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that “in moral disagreements, subjective experiences seem truer (i.e., are doubted less) than objective facts.”

Results of the studies, which involved interview transcripts from CNN and Fox News and issues as controversial as gun control, abortion and immigration, “provide a concrete demonstration of how to bridge moral divides.” When people talk about subjective personal experiences and how they inform their beliefs, they are credited with a rational basis for those beliefs, when a recitation of “objective” facts supposedly grounded in “rationality” yields no such benefit. And when experiences involve harm, the credibility of the account goes way up.

LAUGH OUT LOUD: It turns out that laughter is not only the best medicine; it may also be the best way to get people to retain political information.

A paper in the February Journal of Communication reports that the use of humor helps people remember political information and makes them more likely to share that information. Across two studies using behavioral experiments and neuroimaging of the brain, the authors learned that a person’s interest in following the “thread” of a joke improved their understanding of the subject and made the details easier to recall. Assuming the joke was actually funny, people also felt motivated to tell others. Perhaps this explains why Americans turn to late-night comics for political news — and why politicians try so hard to be funny.

CONFIDENCE CHECK: One upshot of the COVID-19 pandemic is that employers are paying more attention to the people who work for them. The Worldcom Confidence Index, which surveyed the attitudes of 54,000 global business leaders, finds that “business leaders’ engagement with employee-related issues” is up 160% from April to December 2020. Upskilling and reskilling are occupying more of executives’ energies, with retaining talent, up 124%, right behind.

Roger Hurni, Worldcom PR’s chair, says leaders are concluding that their future success “will be based on an employee base that has the skills to work effectively in the post-pandemic world.” But attention to media relations has fallen, and there has been a drop of confidence in companies’ ability to handle the media.

“As media attention shifts from how governments are responding to the pandemic,” says Todd Lynch, Worldcom’s managing director, business leaders must be prepared for “increased levels of scrutiny by the media.”

HIGH TIMES: It looks like all that money spent lobbying for the decriminalization of marijuana is paying off. By late February, 15 states and the District of Columbia had either legalized or decriminalized simple possession, with an additional 33 states permitting marijuana’s medicinal use. And now the Office of Personnel Management has announced that past marijuana use is no longer an automatic disqualifier from federal jobs.

“As more state laws have changed, federal agencies are increasingly encountering individuals whose knowledge, skills and abilities make them well-qualified for a position, but whose marijuana use may or may not be of concern when considering the suitability or fitness of the individual for the position,” Acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan says. In some cases, a “commitment to not using marijuana going forward” may be enough to get such a well-qualified candidate hired.

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