Semantron 23 Summer 2023


maximized to some end. And so, far from being irrational, here heuristics are applied to the function of upholding a democracy in which voters’ voting habits reflects their political preferences, and p revents the risk of politics becoming a preserve of those who can afford to have an interest.

Of course, there are counterpoints to this. As (Dancey, 2013) demonstrates, partisan deviant behaviour from elected representatives can offer large information failures, leading to further irrational decision making. Additionally, this does not apply in referendum-style scenario, 17 where partisan representativeness heuristics cannot be drawn upon quite as effectively, given the lack of distinct political entities to attribute qualities. However, these rebuttals are somewhat limited; behaviour is classed as deviant as it is unusual and not the norm, and is therefore of lesser concern, given that it is by definition more likely to be rare. Similarly, referendum campaigns can equally have representative, party-style heuristics applied to them, as has proved in the case of the Brexit referendum. This has been most notable in the association of figures such as Farage and Johnson with the Leave campaign, which gained the status of a political institution (and a bona fide party) in its own right (think big red bus). Still, there remains weight to these claims, particularly on the issue of incorrect knowledge among the politically interested, and the emergence of the earlier mentioned ‘tribal’ tendencies, particularly so in the contribution of these factors to a concentration of partisanship to the point of breakdown of inter- party-political communication or compromise (see Trump’s America). However, it should be seen that the sheer numerical contribution in preference-reflective voting from use of the representativeness heuristic has presented perhaps the single greatest factor in allowing democracy to flourish. However, this use of heuristics in democratic process is by no means exclusive to the voter base, and can lead to an altogether different set of consequences when applied to a different group. Heuristics have been foun d to be equally, if not more, applicable to the policymakers and political ‘elite’ who are trusted with the process of instituting the reforms which they were elected or directed to undertake. Given that their role is not to represent their own opinions, but rather the opposite, to institute the opinions of others as accurately as possible, the use of rough approximations based on salient, memorable perceptions is unlikely to prove fruitful. (Miler, 2009) found that political elites were likely to remember on average only 24-28% of the relevant regions to the policies which they were working on at the time, in this case, energy and wetland policies. Further, no candidate was able to successfully identify over 75% of the relevant regions of an aggregate list of 16. Even more concerningly, the more involved candidates who sat on committees regarding the issues remembered even fewer relevant areas, and even fewer the longer they had been part of the committee. Furthermore, the order of significance in factors affecting information recall was headed by saliency, and then by frequency of reinforcement, this leading to a disproportionate leaning in memory towards wealthier or most vocal regions. This was as these regions contained those who were able to afford, or had time to, frequently mail the legislative staff, which was by far the most important action in influencing memory, far above even in-person visits.

The overall result of this is pretty damning. A legislative body unable to remember nearly 75% of the relevant constituencies is likely to be rather ineffective in instituting policy that reflects the preferences of all, or even many of these regions. As Miler comments in her abstract, the tendency towards

17 Harford (n. 15 above).


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