Bubbles of bias cloud perceptions

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • November 10, 2016

Four years ago, in a conservative household in New Hampshire, my stomach dropped as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gave his concession speech. At the time, I believed that another term with Barack Obama would bring danger to the sanctity of marriage, would tank the healthcare industry, and would unnecessarily raise taxes. I had not been exposed to any other way of thinking, and Obama’s re-election was detrimental to my mental health in ways I couldn’t understand. I didn’t yet have the tools to understand and accept my own identity as an LGBTQ woman. 

As internet advocacy expanded and I began to form thoughts and opinions based on sources outside of my mostly conservative family and town, my political ideology began to shift. I entered Emerson a moderate, but was soon forced to accept the privilege that came with my white skin. When I was presented with unbiased information, my understanding of the world was overhauled. And the situation that brought Trump to the presidency is not so different from that of my upbringing.

Our top polls told us that Clinton would be our next president. FiveThirtyEight, which perfectly predicted the results of the 2012 election, said Hillary had a 71.4 percent chance of winning. The New York Times gave her an 85 percent chance. Some of the most respected politicians in our country backed her, and our most trusted news sources endorsed her. So, how did the electoral map come up so red?

A population—large, opinionated, and powerful—made their voices heard in this election. The largest group of Trump voters was white, working-class men from rural areas who think the country is “seriously off track,” according to exit polls from the New York Times. And thanks to Facebook’s new algorithm, people only see posts and articles that fit their political tastes. 

Somehow, we got lost in a liberal bubble that blocked out their sound. We weren’t able to predict the anger of these people because we weren’t listening. We dismissed their cries as backwards, bigoted, and deplorable—which perhaps, in language, they were.  

But we did not listen to the underlying message in their words, that the current administration does not listen, but Trump says he will. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin—who all unexpectedly went red on Tuesday—have all been stunted by the sharp decline in manufacturing job opportunities. Trump’s pledge to bring those jobs back by pulling out of trade agreements and treaties infers a return of those jobs—and with it, the perceived “greatness” of the United States’ manufacturing era for this white population. 

In January, Trump will take office with a GOP congress—and with it, control of our country’s image, Supreme Court nomination, and nuclear codes. Personally, that’s terrifying. But it also drives me to ensure it does not happen again. We must be more aware of the varying mindsets in our nation. 

Surely, that proposal is intimidating. But we can start right here at Emerson. As with many college campuses, we have created a center for liberal education and acceptance. This is not a bad thing—minority students have a space where they can feel more comfortable voicing their concerns, learning about the world, and preparing to make real change in the world. But in order to use this knowledge, we have to be aware of the bubble we live in—and how it clouds our judgment of this group of people. We can’t let our comfort hinder our understanding of the horrors of the world. We can’t let something like this happen again.  

Today, I can look back at 16-year-old me and scoff at the disappointment I thought I was feeling. The election of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton is more painful and more meaningful than I ever could have imagined then.