Status quo bias, politics and media

Status quo bias is a recognised human trait. From Wikipedia:

Status quo bias is an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.

Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo ante, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem. A large body of evidence, however, shows that status quo bias frequently affects human decision-making.

From Behavioural Economics:

Status quo bias is evident when people prefer things to stay the same by doing nothing (see also inertia) or by sticking with a decision made previously (Samuelson, & Zeckhauser, 1988). This may happen even when only small transition costs are involved and the importance of the decision is great.

Samuelson and Zeckhauser note that status quo bias is consistent with loss aversion, and that it could be psychologically explained by previously made commitments and sunk cost thinking, cognitive dissonance, a need to feel in control and regret avoidance.

The latter is based on Kahneman and Tversky’s observation that people feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982).

That may explain why many people choose not to vote.

Noam Chomsky talks about a status quo bias of media, largely driven by financial interests.

Chomsky’s Propaganda Model says American media have “filters” — ownership, advertising, news makers, news shapers — which together emphasize institutional memory, limited debate and media content emphasizing the interests of those in control.

Chomsky used a CASE STUDY of how American media covered two foreign atrocities, Cambodia and East Timor, to illustrate the propaganda model at work — mainstream media (New York Times was the example used) showed bias in favor of the status quo and power elites and did not covered both atrocities in the same manner, by paying extensive attention to the one (Cambodia 1975-79) and ignoring the other (East Timor 1975-79). If media were not an instrument of propaganda, they would have covered each equally.

When media news coverage of issues is bias in favor the status quo, these are the results:

  1. ownership of media is held by major corporations with interests and goals similar to power elite elements of society
  2. people with different views, “dissenting voices,” are not heard much
  3. the breadth of debate is limited
  4. the official stance and institutional memory prevail and become history
  5. people’s interest and attention are often diverted away from issues about which they could become concerned

These attributes come to limit a society in part because mainstream mass media play their part by imposing what Chomsky calls Necessary Illusions, which make certain the masses of the populace won’t become curious and involved in the political process and will continue submitting to the “civil rule” of the power elite (maintaining the status quo) — thus, the masses (80%) are marginalized and diverted while the political class(20% who vote and participate in democracy) are indoctrinated into the status quo.

This “system” is not a Conspiracy but is a HEGEMONIC system of sorts, working with propaganda, wherein people do not get all the important information that may arouse that curiosity and prompt them to get involved and create changes.

This has been challenged somewhat by the internet, social media, alternative media sources and the massive challenges facing traditional media and traditional media power.

Alternative media has had a large impact on politics in the US, being a significant factor in the success of Donald Trump to win last year’s presidential election.

Traditional media in New Zealand is struggling financially but still has a significant influence on politics and political outcomes.

Advocacy journalism is increasing, often on a rapid response time scale, but also often prompted and driven by political interests. Ex-journalists have become key members of political organisations.

But there are competing pressures.

Media owners have an interest in maintaining the status quo where their investments are protected.

But in conflict with this is a media moves towards more sensational headlines and reporting – in part what is called click-bait media.

To sell copies and advertising media needs challenges to the political status quo, they need dissent, they need scandal, they need disruption.

What media seem addicted to now is constant revolution on the surface, without affecting the status quo systems that they rely on for their profitability and existence.

The Internet has been established by revolutionaries that has seriously challenged the media status quo, and that is now having a profound effect on both media and on politics.

It will be interesting to see how the new  status quo in media, Google, Facebook, Twitter et al, with traditional media now in a fight for survival over the crumbs, lasts.

In rapidly changing media and political environments it is the people left with their status quo bias.

As posted in Revolt to change everything back to how it was this why we now have in France:

This is a country of people sick of the status quo, who feel the country has gone down a dark, depressing alley. They want everything to change, so things can go back to being the same.

They want a revolution. They want heads to roll. They’re angry, and they’re about to vote.

There are signs that some in New Zealand want a revolution to take things back to some imaginary time in history, perhaps when the status quo wasn’t under so much threat.

There are probably much bigger numbers who seek the status quo via “people feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction” – that is, by not voting.

This gives more voting power for those who do want revolution.

But there are minorities on the left and on the right who seek the same ‘good old days’ but have very different ideas about what they were. They may largely balance each other out.

Now we have traditional media and new media activism that wants to influence elections to their own advantage, but has been seen in the US people, voters, are as likely to ignore or revolt against media as follow their propaganda.

There has also been signs of this in New Zealand, with Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ launched during the 2014 election campaign, and Kim Dotcom’s media ‘moment of truth’ extravaganza apparently backfiring. Both failed to change the government.

Maintaining or going back to the status quo is a tricky thing.

In fact maintaining the status quo is impossible, things always evolve and change. The rate of change may be slowed, but the only real status quo is change.

Change in New Zealand largely chugs along beneath an umbrella of media mayhem – short term headlines and clicks dominating while their status quo crumbles.

Unusual in the turbulent political world status quo National has plodded away for nearly nine years. And even if they are replaced by Labour+Greens those two parties seem to be moving more towards status quo economics with a few social tweaks.

Beyond the frantic political fringes there seems little public pressure to challenge the status quo – slow and careful change, despite media bias towards sensation and change of everything but themselves.



  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 16, 2017

    The proportion of risk takers in society is small. In building our companies there were big opportunities given to people if they were prepared to move out of their rut but they were not able to summon the courage or optimism to do it. There is a huge gulf between those who want to do something different for themselves and the rest which became very evident when the original founders retired. The personal attributes I listed yesterday are vital for success:
    emotional stability, determination, control, optimism and conscientiousness. Optimism is a big one for risk taking but has to be moderated by good judgement.

    • Blazer

       /  April 16, 2017

      luck and capital,trump any of those imo.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  April 16, 2017

        To a considerable extent you make your own luck through good judgement. Capital is an optional extra. We didn’t have any. Someone like Trump has more options because of it but that doesn’t stop you doing stuff.

        • Blazer

           /  April 16, 2017

          pleased to learn that capital is an ‘optional extra’….in a Capitalist society….Al.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  April 16, 2017

            Yes it is because you can make your own through investing your time and effort initially unpaid. Then you can build your business by reinvesting the profits while you live frugally. That is where the willingness to take risks comes to the fore.

            • Blazer

               /  April 16, 2017

              ‘initially unpaid’….what do you on in this..phase..Al?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 16, 2017

              You work fourteen hours a day and hopefully get paid for 8, B. To keep your family sane I advise my rule – either you work evenings all week or you work weekends but not both.

            • Blazer

               /  April 16, 2017

              is this the secret of your……..excess?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 16, 2017

              It’s not secret and it’s just a part of living a good and happy life, B.

      • Corky

         /  April 16, 2017

        You need to listen to John Banks, Blazer. He said ”the harder I work, the luckier I become.”
        Pity socialists didn’t take that on board on stop living off others hard work,.

        • Blazer

           /  April 16, 2017

          you are hot on plagiarism..Corky…I can assure you Banks is not being..original,in fact I would be surprised if he had one original his life.I will always remember him as the man who could not recall going for a ride in a helicopter to NZ’s biggest mansion.

          • Coleman Cox is credited with “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” – Listen to this (1922).

            I doubt if that’s the first.

          • Gezza

             /  April 16, 2017

            Blazer’s right though. Banksy will always be credited with not being able to recall going in a helicopter to a mansion in Auckland.

          • Corky

             /  April 16, 2017

            Quite true, but I was stating what Banks said. He must have had some original thoughts though, Bazer….because he’s worth over 30 million. Or do you think he stole that off the working class?

            I will remember him as the man worked over by that lying dotcom. A man laughed at by you, your chums and the liberal media as a liar and dishonest.
            As usual he was proven right by the judicial system. With Lefties snivelling off into the sunset content with at least destroying his marriage.

            • Blazer

               /  April 16, 2017

              don’t care what Banks net worth is….a very unusual specimen,is he …content?