I have long wondered whether facts could change the mind of a die-hard liberal, or conservative for that matter. I read an article in the CS Monitor earlier today by Jonathan Zimmerman which brought the question to mind again.
He referenced a study by Drew Westen from Emory University (but didn't provide a link). I did a search and found a couple of studies by Westen on the subject (releases included below). I also found that Westen had released a book in 2007, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation”.
In making the search I ended up on a much broader road than I'd intended. It led me to articles on why Obama attracted the minds of the masses. It took me on side paths on how the media influences the public.
It took me all over the place, but I ultimately found an answer of sorts. It was the answer I expected.
The answer is usually no, emotions overrule factual evidence by a huge margin.
As conservatives, we typically work with facts and try to convince others with rational arguments. We decry the fact that we don't seem to be able to change the minds of our left-learning friends with logic.
Facts definitely don't seem to sway the opinion of Bush-haters and Palin-haters!
One thing that I did find comforting in reading the study and the Zimmerman article, is that some minds can be changed. If I read my numbers correctly, about 15% read, study and make judgements based on facts (on the left and right!). Zimmerman says he occasionally changes a mind here and there. I've heard callers on Sean Hannity and other talk shows say they tuned in and ultimately changed their minds.
As I read articles and studies, I realized that the question asked by Westen and Zimmerman was secondary to a much bigger question we as conservatives need to answer. How do we even get the facts to liberals to change the small percentage of minds that could possibly be changed?
How many of your liberal friends would ever listen to Rush Limbaugh? watch Fox News? subscribe to a conservative magazine?
If they simply listen to the mainstream media, how are they going to hear the facts that might change their minds? If all they read is the Daily Kos or Huffington Post, how can we reach them?
For every blog a conservative turns out there's at least one being churned out by a left-leaning blogger.
Conservatives don't own many, if any, large mainstream media outlets. Even Fox News, which is routinely lambasted by the left, has a regular station with loads of liberal shows.
We have very few ways to really reach out and touch the minds of "progressives".
They think we're wrong, we think they're wrong.
I don't know the answer. How do you change someone's mind if you can't use facts? Even if facts DID work, we still have to address the question of how to get them in front of large groups of the population, Independents, Conservatives and Dems.
We can appeal on an emotional level, assuming we can infiltrate the media! But what's sexy about doing what's right? About being responsible?
How do you get conservatives to "stoop" to using emotions? It just isn't in the overall makeup of most on the right to try and package principles in a pretty package. Right is right and wrong is wrong.
Yes, I know you thought I'd come up with something profound by the time you wandered through this article! Hate to disappoint.
If anything, I suppose my "profound" suggestion would be that we keep on plugging along. We keep writing, we keep putting out the fact and we find ways to get a whole lot better at getting our side into the media.
We are making inroads via the Internet. More and more websites and blogs are popping up that promote conservative views. Twitter is becoming "the" conservative place to be thanks in large part to www.TopConservativesOnTwitter.com. More and more conservative bloggers are partnering. Emails are flying and conservative social networks are flourishing.
My final suggestion? Go forth and conquer the media before it's too late.
Do opinion pieces ever change your opinion?
Given the fixity of our partisan beliefs, it's a rare occurrence. Yet history shows that reason and rhetoric can win converts.
by Jonathan Zimmerman
Right on, Professor Zimmerman! Keep up the great work!
Wrong again, Professor Zimmerman! Get a real job!
Welcome to the wacky and wonderful world of op-ed writing. For the past decade, I've published two opinion pieces a month in newspapers around the country. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, meanwhile, I've received thousands of e-mail responses from my readers. And here's what I've learned: Opinion pieces rarely change opinions.
2005 - Emotions, Not Facts, Form Basis of Political Opinion
An Emory University study has found that when it comes to forming opinions and making judgments on hot political issues, most people don't let facts get in the way of their decision-making. The research, led by Emory psychology professor Drew Westen, tested whether people make decisions based on emotional bias or fact, and emotions won by a landslide.
"In high-stakes, emotionally charged political situations, people respond to ambiguity not by consulting the data but by consulting their emotional preferences, prejudices and predilections," Westen says. "The data suggests that perhaps the only way for any of us to make reasoned judgments about political matters is to identify and admit our own biases, maintain constant vigilance to detect and counteract them, and be particularly vigilant and circumspect when we find that ''voting our conscience' just happens to coincide with voting along party lines."
The research involved five studies that covered American political crises during the past six years. Westen looked at how people judged the issues based on both the relevant facts (cognitive constraints) and also how the subjects felt about the issues and the people involved, such as Presidents Clinton and Bush (emotional constraints).
In all five, cognitive and emotional constraints contributed in predicted ways to people's judgments. However, competing emotional pulls (such as toward the two parties, human rights and the military) accounted for much of the variance in seemingly "cold" cognitive judgments. Examples include whether or not Clinton should have been impeached, or whether the evidence produced by a soldier charged with abuses at Abu Ghraib prison crossed the threshold for allowing his lawyers to interrogate senior civilian officials.
Although about 15 percent of respondents were found to have primarily considered evidence and fact when forming their opinions, researchers could correctly predict 80 percent of the time how a person would view an issue based on their opinions of the Bush administration, the Republican or Democratic parties, the military and human-rights groups.
"If a person is paying attention enough to think about something, he or she usually has some motivational or emotional interest in it. In this sense, every act of cognition is simultaneously an act of emotion regulation. The more ambiguous the data, and the more emotionally significant the outcome, the more one can expect emotion regulation to trump information processing," Westen says.
2004 Political Forecasting Looks at Minds of Voters
Instead of relying on factors such as history, polling and approval ratings to forecast voter behavior, Emory psychologist Drew Westen developed a political forecasting model that looks at the role of emotions in how people make decisions about political issues and candidates.
2006 - Emory study lights up the political brain
When it comes to forming opinions and making judgments on hot political issues, partisans of both parties don't let facts get in the way of their decision-making, according to a new Emory University study. The research sheds light on why staunch Democrats and Republicans can hear the same information, but walk away with opposite conclusions.
Drew Westen Opinion piece in CNN:
Commentary: Obama thinks like a professor, inspires like a preacher
A single factor never produces a complex event like the historic election of Barack Obama. But when the final post-mortem on the election of 2008 is someday written, it will no doubt include at least three.
First, John McCain started with three strikes against him. Those strikes happen to be the three strongest predictors that enter into the equations used by political scientists to predict who will win an election: an unpopular incumbent president (in this case, the most unpopular in the history of polling), an economic downturn (in this case an understatement), and an unpopular war.
(Westen wrote a piece for the Huffington Post also, I decided not to give them any more publicity ;-)