Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Political scientists have discovered that many individuals will dig in their heels when presented with facts contradicting their opinions. They call this backfire. That is when those who have entrenched beliefes and are given facts that say their beliefs are "objectively, provably false" they will entrench themselves even deeper. NPR Talk of the Nation just discussed this last Tuesday on 2011 and discussed various conspiracy theories and "Voodoo History" such as 9/11 or OBama was not legally born in the United States as is required for the United States Presidency.

Now, the question for this blog is whether backfire creates more of a problem for representative democracy or participatory democracy. Mr. Milbank suggests that many voters view democracy as a team sport--they want their team to win regardless of the facts. This is different from buying a refrigerator. If Mr. Milbank is correct, perhaps people will not think that they want the health reform to succeed or fail because they are democrats or republicans, they just want America to have the best health plan. That would mean that putting the health care plans up for referendum would do better than letting the representatives hash it out. Although backfire was a problem for both self-identified liberals and conservatives, the conservatives had more problems adjusting their beliefs after a correction.

Mr. Milbank pointed out that we have wonderful services like FactCheck and PolitFact, but people who are shown up by one of these services just attack the service.

For future Thoughtful Thursdays:

Brendan Nyhan, "When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions" June 2010 issue of Journal of Political Behavior

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