With Indonesia’s political year (2024) being less than six months away, the atmosphere in the society has taken on a political tinge as political parties declared support to their respective presidential candidates. The public’s response to this development is worth our further observation and analysis.
Though we hope for a peaceful democratic process until the election concludes next year, we cannot deny that the potential for intergroup conflict will continue to hang over us. This is sadly a curse from our past history as a democratic nation.
It is still fresh in everyone’s mind how the 2019 political contestation instigated a public spat between supporters of both presidential candidates, giving birth to derogatory terms cebong (tadpoles) and kampret (small bats) as each camp tried to denigrate the other. The digital trail of both camps is well documented online for everyone to observe and it is very clear how firm each was in defending their argument and support to their candidate.
To me, this is a political behaviour that warrants further discussion, which we may begin by asking: how could it happen in the first place?
In the United States, the public’s political attitude can be observed through their professed ideology, such as liberal, conservative, left or right wings, among others. Their political behaviour also transcends directly to their respective political ideologies, such as their voting behaviour and loyalty to a political party.
In contrast, Indonesia lacks that element of ideology which can distinguish supporter of one political party from another, making the task of mapping political behaviour more challenging.
However, if we consider the polarization during the 2019 election, we could see how a candidate’s charisma factored more significantly than the parties that support him. This phenomenon – whereby the public was more enthralled by a candidate’s leadership and individual style rather than his policies or party ideology – is an instance of political partisan in the world’s third largest democracy.
Basically, partisanship can be interpreted as a tendency of an individual or a group to side with a certain political party or figure. Simply siding or supporting is not enough – the key ingredient is strong conviction in one’s perception or opinion and firm rejection of any alternative viewpoints.
In the Indonesian context, political ideology usually has a minimum impact in shaping one’s political behaviour while partisanship tends to be temporary, but its effects continue to have a great influence in shaping the public’s political attitude.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect vs Partisanship
Someone with a limited knowledge has a tendency to overstate their capability beyond what they could realistically attain.
This condition is defined by two psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger through their publication in 1999 as the Dunning-Kruger effect. In other words, they are prone to overinflate their competence, not realizing their own limitations. On the flipside, a person with vast knowledge may be inclined to understate their capability.
The question now is this: can we observe this phenomenon in the context of political dynamics? The answer is absolutely.
In a socio-political setting, less competent people have great conviction in themselves, often emerging as their group’s representatives who voice out their concern and believes. They also have a tendency to make bad decisions due to their lack of acknowledgement of their personal limitations.
Unfortunately, Indonesians’ limited political knowledge trap all of us in this situation. The public’s political literacy is left wanting, leaving the people with a limited ability to determine their political standing and make political decision. Ultimately, these decisions made are based on emotional drive and not a sound cognitive process. Such a situation has pushed for the emergence of people’s partisan behaviour towards certain figures or parties that they support. We could see during the 2019 election hype how sympathizers of various political camps utilised irrational arguments to promote or defend their position.
Partisanship can be considered as “perceptual screen” that allows any individual to build their own understanding and framework regarding anything, including political matters. Such a screen could be based on one’s information regarding a leader’s character or parties they support. Someone in this situation would develop their own belief system that consolidates his relationship with others who share the same conviction, while barring them from interacting with those with contradicting views.
There are some observable implications of this phenomenon. Endless unproductive debates between supporters of the 2019 presidential election candidates are well documented on TV. Though appear convincing, such debates only focused on emotional rhetoric with dubious basis, aimed at undermining the other camp.
Such emotional discourse could easily facilitate the spread of fake news, which would only exacerbate the situation and discourage the people from accepting other people’s views without being sufficiently critical of their own.
Perhaps, such a phenomenon could demonstrate our society’s lack of political education, which renders our political dialectic, conversation and debate to be far from ideal. The way we signify politics in our lives, thus, tend to be hollow with no base to develop novel ideas. The political stage is thus populated by empty stratagems churned out by politicians and partisan supporters alike while critical-minded individuals lose faith in system altogether. The public is simply served with political promises that do not only fail to address the nation’s problems but also educate the people in politics and nation-building.
Therefore, it is not a surprise when political parties increasingly rely on individuals with strong personality pull such as celebrities, who may lack policy platform and breakthrough ideas but possess tremendous fan base and are widely popular.
Likewise, the upcoming 2024 presidential election may see a repeat of polarization akin to the cebong vs kampret dispute with a new flavour. Our political state today hardly differs from the one in 2019 when the election took place.
The combination of Dunning-Kruger effect and partisan behaviour in a person could lead them to reach a suboptimum political decision. One with an overinflated confidence tend to ignore contradiction information and dismiss alternative viewpoints. This could impede a comprehensive and objective understanding of a complex political issue, which ultimately lead them to assume an irrational position in their political attitude.
In the United States, the combined effects of these two concepts have only polarized the society towards the extremes of the political spectrum. Individuals develop differing, sometimes extreme, views, attitudes and behavior as inspired by their political conviction, such as the decision to wear masks or not during the pandemic. The American society is still grappling from such polarization with no clear endpoint, even as the country dives headfirst into its own contentious presidential election next year.
Partisanship paves the way for a sharp political polarization within a society. On individual level partisanship becomes the political capital for parties or candidates to gain votes or support. Undeniably, partisanship could be a thorny presence that erodes the social cohesion in our society.
It could lead towards the creation of a social identity which heavily influences the way one processes information and take action. This could also affect one’s reasoning process that drive them to develop excessive loyalty or support towards a certain figure or party. This attitude then encourages a person to value their position excessively, but treats alternative viewpoints unfairly.
We need to be aware of the negative implication that partisan behaviour breeds, such as the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation as well as the tendency of the people to develop selective perception (a tendency to dismiss information that contradicts one’s own). It influences the way people consume political information daily, leading people to access only information that conforms to their belief system.
The Dunning-Kruger effect reinforces this tendency by making a partisan person to be convinced that they have all the information needed to form their worldviews, even if their knowledge on the matter is incomplete or biased. Trust in information will always be tied to one’s position on a certain context (such as politics), which could lead towards intolerance against an out-group. This would disable the formulation of a constructive political dialogue and stimulate tension between political parties and candidates.
This is not to mention social media disputes that often bleed into the real world. Many conflicts that occurred during the 2019 elections involved supporters of different political camps. To prevent this condition from happening again, measures must be taken to address it.
We could start by introducing more political education to the people, enabling them to have a more holistic understanding of various political issues as well as developing their critical thinking in approaching political figures or parties. Additionally, constructive dialogues must be fostered among different political perspectives. This last measure could also improve tolerance among opposing groups by letting them listen to each other’s viewpoints and understand different perspectives.
Apart from that, the media has a responsibility in shaping fair political opinion and perception among the people while presenting a balanced news which focus on facts, not speculations that can exacerbate intergroup divisions. These steps do not guarantee that the problem will be ameliorated, but they can be the first steps towards meaningful change.
Failure to take the steps will be worse, inflicting significant impacts in various sectors.
In the social sector, the Dunning-Kruger effect and partisanship could incite further social division and increase intergroup tensions. The lack of understanding of other groups’ perspectives and needs could further erode social cohesion.
In the security sector, the implications could disintegrate intergroup tolerance which breeds an atmosphere of fear and insecurity. We hope that Indonesia’s internal situation would not devolve into such a state. It is imperative that Indonesians develop a more analytical approach to complex issues such as politics, instead of relying on our emotions and prejudices in developing our political attitude. Otherwise, shall we continue to be trapped in the endless loop of the Dunning-Kruger effect?