EU Science Hub

What really drives political decision-making

Understanding our Political Nature - new report looks at the factors influencing political decision-making
New JRC report looks at the factors influencing political decision-making
Jul 17 2019

Sixty international experts working in the fields of behavioural and social sciences as well as the humanities, have contributed to the analysis of how and why emotions, values, identity and reason affect how we think, talk and take political decisions. 

The report "Understanding our political nature" highlights the need for evidence-informed policymaking as a precondition for well-functioning democracies.

Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Youth, Culture and Sport, responsible for the Joint Research Centre, said: "Simply making more information available to citizens or decision makers is not enough to guarantee more informed or better decision-making. If we want political decision-making to bring about positive social change, we need to better understand how emotions, values, identity and reason affect how we think, talk and take decisions on political issues."

The report looks at some of the most pressing political issues, such as disinformation, different views on values and identity, and tries to understand the underlying behavioural and social processes. It highlights in particular how our thinking is challenged by today's information environment, which also makes us vulnerable to being misled by disinformation.

The key findings from the report in detail are:

  • Misperception and Disinformation: Our thinking skills are challenged by today's information environment and make us vulnerable to disinformation. We need to think more about how we think.
  • Collective Intelligence: Science can help us re-design the way policymakers work together to take better decisions and prevent policy mistakes.
  • Emotions: We can't separate emotion from reason. Better information about citizens' emotions and greater emotional literacy could improve policymaking.
  • Values and Identities drive political behaviour but are not properly understood or debated
  • Framing, Metaphor and Narrative: Facts don't speak for themselves. Framing, metaphors and narratives need to be used responsibly if evidence is to be heard and understood.
  • Trust and Openness: The erosion of trust in experts and in government can only be addressed by greater honesty and public deliberation about interests and values.
  • Evidence-informed policymaking: The principle that policy should be informed by evidence is under serious attack. Politicians, scientists and civil society need to defend this cornerstone of liberal democracy.

There is a chapter dedicated to each key finding which outlines the latest scientific thinking as well as an overview of the possible implications for policymaking.

The report also argues that the ways in which values and identity influence political behaviour are not yet properly understood.

In order to fill some of the knowledge gaps, the JRC is launching today a call for experts to work on a state-of-the-science report on values and identity in the political process. This study should lead to the development of a practical analytical framework for policymakers to support their political choices by clarifying the values behind each policy issue and the trade-offs inevitable in the process.

The report, like other JRC publications, will inform the Commission’s policy-making. 

To help fight disinformation, the Commission, together with the High Representative, launched an Action Plan in December 2018, and has recently presented a Joint Communication on the progress achieved.

The report is presented during a launch event in Brussels today and is available for download online.