“Want to Defeat a Proposed Public Policy? Just Label its Supporters as ‘Extreme’”
Language matters. Who knew?
New research shows how support for a generally liked policy can be significantly lowered, simply by associating it with a group seen as “radical” or “extreme.”
In one experiment, researchers found that people expressed higher levels of support for a gender equality policy when the supporters were not specified than when the exact same policy was attributed to “radical feminist” supporters.
These findings show why attacking political opponents as “extremists” is so popular – and so effective, said Thomas Nelson, co-author of the study and associate professor of political science at Ohio State University.
“The beauty of using this ‘extremism’ tactic is that you don’t have to attack a popular value that you know most people support,” Nelson said.
“You just have to say that, in this particular case, the supporters are going too far or are too extreme.”
For the study, the researchers did several related experiments.
In one experiment, 233 undergraduate students were asked to read and comment on an essay that they were told appeared on a blog. The blog entry discussed the controversy concerning the Augusta National Golf Club’s “men only” membership policy. The policy caused a controversy in 2003 before the club hosted the Masters Tournament.
Participants read one of three versions of an essay which argued that the PGA Tour should move the Masters Tournament if the club refused to change this policy.
One group read that the proposal to move the tournament was led simply by “people” and “citizens.” Another group read that the proposal was led by “feminists.” The third group read that the proposal was led by “radical feminists,” “militant feminists,” and “extremists.” Additional language reinforced the extremist portrayals by describing extreme positions that the groups allegedly held on other issues, such as getting rid of separate locker room and restroom facilities for men and women.
Participants were then asked to rate how much they supported Augusta changing its membership rules to allow women members, whether they supported the Masters tournament changing its location, and whether, if they were a member, they would vote to support female membership at the club.
The findings showed that participants were more supportive of the golf club and its rules banning women when the proposal to move the tournament was attributed to “radical feminists.” They were also less likely to support moving the tournament, and less likely to support female membership.
“All three groups in the study read the exact same policy proposals. But those who read that the policy was supported by ‘radical feminists’ were significantly less likely to support it than those who read it was supported by ‘feminists’ or just ‘citizens,’” Nelson said.
By associating a policy with unpopular groups, opponents are able to get people to lose some respect for the value it represents, like feminism or environmentalism, Nelson said.
The researchers were able to show that in a separate experiment. In this case, 116 participants read the same blog entry used in the previous experiment. Again, the blog entry supported proposals to allow women to join the golf club. One version simply attributed the proposal to citizens, while the other two attributed them to feminists or radical feminists.
Next, the subjects ranked four values in order of their importance as they thought about the issue of allowing women to join the club: upholding the honor and prestige of the Masters golf tournament; freedom of private groups to set up their own rules; equal opportunities for both men and women; and maintaining high standards of service for members of private clubs.
How people felt about the relative importance of these values depended on what version of the essay they read.
Of those participants who read the proposal attributed simply to citizens, 42 percent rated equality above the other three values. But only 32 percent who read the same proposal attributed to extremists thought equality was the top value.
On the other hand, 41 percent rated group freedom as the top value when they read the proposal attributed to citizens. But 52 percent gave freedom the top ranking when they read the proposal attributed to extremists.
“Tying the proposal to feminist extremists directly affected the relative priority people put on gender equality vs. group freedom, which in turn affected how they felt about this specific policy,” Nelson said.
For the moment, ignore the rather blatant attempt in the article and by the researchers to paint the political right as the prime users of such a strategy — the article goes on to decry the use of “socialist” attached to ObamaCare as an example, foregoing the actual use of “extremist” relentlessly attached to the TEA Party, for example, by both political parties. Then there’s the recent spate of referring to gun rights advocates as extremists complicit in the mass murder of children.
What’s important here is the ostensible point: that the relatively uninformed (not to be confused necessarily with the unintelligent) can and are swayed by the framing of a policy proposal — or the objection to a policy proposal. Which is something we all pretty much knew already.
Still, what’s important here is that we now have a study providing evidence for such rhetorical behavior — which if used correctly could provide us leverage to bring pressure on the mainstream press to cease such usages, lest they risk being themselves identified as definitive partisan activists, forever destroying their already phony cover of “neutrality” and “objectivity.”
The press — essentially the propaganda arm of a progressive government, and a weapon deployed against constitutionalists or their like — needs to be destroyed and remade, even as it aids the left in helping to destroy and remake us into a democratic socialist country ruled by a permanent leadership class and an army of bureaucrats, our natural rights having been replaced with whim and privilege.
How we go about doing that is another question entirely — but one that I believe must begin with a refusal by conservatives and constitutionalists to appear on “news shows” dedicated to ambush and orchestrated misinformation campaigns.
Even the most incurious low information voter is bound to wonder, after a time, why in each and every news story on policy, only one side’s position is represented.
Anyway, I’m up for suggestions.