Ya think? ‘Unconscious bias’ favors Biden’s ‘likability’

By and bias: A simple online test designed by an Adelphi University professor to measure unconscious biases suggests American voters on both sides of the aisle find former Vice President Joe Biden a more likable and empathetic leader than President Donald Trump.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

An Adelphi University psychology professor who’s deep into unconscious processes has gone where few election polls dare to tread – calculating not just what people think, but why they think their thinking makes them think that way.

Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology Professor Joel Weinberger predicted President Donald Trump’s 2016 upset win not based on polls or positions, he says, but on the voter mindset.

Specifically: How unconscious thoughts have influenced voter behavior over the past several presidential elections, which according to Weinberg is less about asking them whom they plan to vote for (or did) than “assess(ing) their reactions to attributes of the candidates.”

For this two-part study, Weinberger et al first showed participants photos of Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden with words representing various positive and negative attributes – “inspiring,” “scary,” “likeable” – flashing on the screen.

Here’s the rub: The attributes appeared in different colors, and respondents were asked to ignore the word and select what the professor called “the correct color” – that is, the color of the attribute they more closely associated with Trump or Biden.

Joel Weinberger: But what do you REALLY think?

“If the word is relevant to them, they take longer to click the color,” Weinberger said – mere milliseconds in difference, he noted, but “the longer the time, the more the word or attribute related to the candidate in their unconscious mind.”

The online test was followed by a “conscious assessment,” in which participants rated each candidate on the same list of attributes.

Based on a “nationally representative sample” of 669 voters – including an “oversampling” in swing states, according to Adelphi – both the unconscious and conscious surveys put Biden way ahead in the 2020 presidential race, at least on matters of personal character.

Republicans and Democrats, predictably, formed partisan lines straight down the conscious and unconscious assessments. But independent voters in both assessments leaned heavily in Biden’s direction when it came to positive attributes – and in the unconscious assessment, voters on both sides of the aisle rated the former vice president a more inspiring and likable leader.

Trump did score in the unconscious assessment; respondents from the left and right associated the president more strongly with “competent” and “cares about me.” And Biden didn’t enjoy total support from independent voters in the unconscious assessment, who associated him more with poor judgment and less with attributes such as “cares about me” and “keeps us safe.”

However, independent voters in the unconscious assessment found Biden to be more “likable,” “empathetic” and “inspiring” – while Trump was more strongly associated with attributes like “scary” and “bigot.”

Even combined with the conscious assessment, the simple online test – which is designed to measure implicit biases – is not a lock-down prediction on the 2020 election.

But when you drill down into what makes people think the way they think, and apply that to the assessments, a likely election scenario forms, according to Weinberger, a subliminal messaging expert who as an example points to those independent voters in the unconscious assessment who more strongly associated Trump with “cares about me.”

“But who is ’me’?” the professor said. “That result may be influenced by white participants who fear the Black Lives Matter movement and other so-called left-wing dangers.”