Recently, as I was scrolling through my social media feed, I saw multiple posts from the presidential candidates I follow, one of which was a post by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, promising to begin the process of cancelling student loan debt on day one of the presidency. As a college student, it’s easy to see claims like this and get really excited — after all, who doesn’t want student loan debt canceled?
However, as a political science student, I have learned to remain skeptical of broad, sweeping claims like Warren’s, regardless of how great they may seem. Recently in one of my classes, we read an article from Vox which describes people’s tendency to look for candidates who support their own values, even if this means disregarding common sense in favor of strengthening their own political ideologies.
In a study administered by a Yale law professor, researchers found that people tend to make choices based on their own preexisting ideologies — essentially using confirmation bias. The study found that instead of reasoning “to get the right answer,” people were “reasoning to get the answer they wanted to be right.”
As college students as well as informed citizens, we need to ensure that ideology does not skew our viewpoints. Even if we agree with someone, when we automatically take claims as fact without taking the time to examine the evidence, it can be dangerous. We could easily end up voting for someone who is unable to follow through on the claims they propose. According to Steven Greene, a professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at NC State, it is important to be skeptical of all claims, especially those which seem too good to be true.
“I don’t want to say, ‘Take it with a grain of salt,’” said Greene. “Take it with a shaker of salt. For something like that to come to fruition via an executive order from Elizabeth Warren strikes me as highly unlikely. It’s such a radical use of executive authority that I find it hard to imagine her even having support from her own party.”
In recent elections, candidates have increasingly used social media to convey ideas as well as to reach younger voters, who have historically had the lowest voter turnout of any age demographic. Just as I can scroll through my Instagram feed and see pictures of Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders holding up a sign promising universal healthcare or an end to student loan debt, social media allows candidates to directly convey a message to an audience via a platform that is used on a daily basis by many younger voters.
However, as someone who will be voting in a presidential election for the first time, I want to make sure to be as thorough as possible when evaluating candidates and to remember not to take everything at face value. Just because a candidate posts a picture or sound bite of them speaking to cheering audience does not necessarily mean their message is valid. On the flip side, a candidate who has very little presence on social media or who may get fewer “likes” and not have as many followers could also have a strong message and valuable ideas.
When it comes to big ideas, whether that is canceling student loan debt or funding universal healthcare, it’s easy to get caught up in the implications of these claims, but as students and as voters, we should try to take a step back before letting these claims influence our opinions.