How Politicians Deceive With Statistics

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There is a war on for your mind.

There are those who share information without prejudice (few) and there are those who share information to mold your mind to their personal benefit (many).

Today’s article will show how to spot deceit and trickery meant to mold your mind to someone else’s benefit using the power of numbers.

Numbers can be one of the most powerful methods of persuading others, for good or bad, due to their ease of understanding and creating pictures.

But what happens when the numbers are skewed, while still true, in order to mold rather than inform?

Here is an example.

I was listening to a politician speak the other night (your first clue you are being deceived) and the subject of tax cuts in the United States came up. Specifically, whether or not the wealthy were the main beneficiaries of these tax cuts instead of the middle class.

For those outside the United States, the Republican party championed tax cuts that they say benefited the middle class. The Democrat party claims they only benefited the wealthy.

This particular politician made the claim that 83 percent of the tax cuts went to the wealthy, implying the Republicans used the tax cuts to benefit wealthy people rather than middle class people.

Pretty persuasive stuff. 83 percent is a huge majority.

I don’t know if this statistic is accurate or not. I will assume it is, based on my understanding of these types of statistics.

So then, if it is true, how can it also be deceiving?

Let’s do a simple experiment showing how this can be deceiving using an imaginary tax law that best shows how extremely misleading an overall percentage like that can be.

Let’s take a look at Joe.

Joe makes an adjusted taxable income of $40,000 per year.

Joe used to pay taxes of $6,000 in taxes on his income but a new law has wiped that away.

Hooray for Joe! He’s $6,000 richer. This is the most he could possibly have his taxes reduced by.

100 percent.

Now let’s take a look at Karen.

Karen makes five million dollars a year and pays 50 percent of that in taxes, or 2.5 million dollars.

In the new tax law, Karen is given just a one percent reduction in her taxes, or $25,000.

Joe saw 100 percent of his taxes wiped away while Karen saw only one percent of hers wiped away.

So who got the greater benefit?

Karen, of course!

You see, Karen received a whopping 81 percent of the tax benefits! ($25,000 out of $31,000)

Poor Joe.

According to this true statistic, Joe, who had his entire tax liability wiped away, was the big loser.

If Joe didn’t know any better, he might be easily persuaded to oppose tax legislation that would wipe away his taxes entirely, being convinced it is only for the wealthy and against people like him.

Fortunately for Joe, he does his own taxes and looked into the facts before believing the figures, so he was not deceived.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same time and access Joe has to look into these things, so plenty would have been persuaded to act against their own interests.

And just about anyone can use a true statistic to influence you in a way you might not agree with otherwise. This is not a partisan issue.

Virtually every political ideology does it.

And they do it using true statistics, mind you.

Now, this is not to say that the real-life tax bill was a success or failure nor is it to take a side at all in that debate.

The point is to provide some tools to recognize when information is being shared with you for you to use, versus when information is being shared to mold you for someone else’s benefit. And to recognize when true information that would clear every fact-check is the method chosen to do so.

In this case, we find that it is utterly useless to use an overall percentage combining extremely large figures with small figures, then trying to apply the results to the individual data points (you and I) used to create the statistic. It is programmed to come out skewed and paint an inaccurate picture that does not relate to the individuals involved.

Now, a statistic like this may point to a large income gap within the population, but that is another story altogether.


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