John Stifler: Self-fulfilling predictions?

  • President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at Belmont University, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn., as moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News listens.   Jim Bourg/Pool via AP 

Published: 10/28/2020 2:09:20 PM

Self-fulfilling predictions?

In his column in Monday’s Gazette (“Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”), Richard Fein repeats some widespread views of the current election season. Yes, voter suppression is a real thing. Yes, too, many people think our erstwhile president’s thinking is skewed even worse than it used to be, on account of his having had COVID-19, and we’ve heard this president assert that voting fraud is rampant, any election he loses is rigged, the Proud Boys should “stand by,” etc. And yes, early voting numbers are up, encouragingly so.

But I’m troubled by Mr. Fein’s observation that, given the likelihood that a complete vote count will last for several days after Nov. 3 and will be contentious, “the probability of election-related violence is very high.”

I think such predictions — I have read this one elsewhere in the mainstream media several times now — are an unfortunate example of prophecies that risk becoming self-fulfilling. Many of us (including me, probably) tend to let the press tell us what we think, rather than actually find out what we think and report it. The more Trump supporters hear that elections are rigged, the more they’re likely to believe this allegation. The more we hear that the upcoming election will be marked by violence, the more the suggestion is planted in people’s minds, and the more likely that violence actually becomes.

I hope I am wrong.

John Stifler


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