Daily Archives: November 25, 2009

Persuasion, Ambiguity, and the Health Care Debate

We have a long way to go before the healthcare debate is over. In a tight vote last week the Democrats in the Senate managed to avoid a Republican filibuster. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be waging two wars: one on the floor of the Senate and the other over the airwaves. The battle to win the health care debate will all be for naught if public opinion isn’t also won in the process. Whether it be via television, radio, or the internet politicians are going all out to reach as many voters as possible. Are these attempts to persuade the public successful? Recent work by Ziegler & Diehl (2003) has shown that people are more persuaded by unambiguous strong positions relative to unambiguous weak messages. More interestingly, when messages were ambiguous participants relied on their source preferences to determine their endorsement of the message. Ultimately it appears that those who already like and support you don’t need to hear much of substance to be persuaded by you. Those against you or your position aren’t likely to be persuaded at all, but the only chance you’ve got is to state your message in unequivocal terms and hope that it gets through. In the current political climate this seems to indicate only a greater and more extreme level of polarization without much real or significant debate.

Ziegler & Diehl (2003)

After the Health Vote, Republicans Plot Attack Strategy

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Opting out of fatherhood

Some courts have been ruling against evolutionary biology. A recent story in the New York Times Magazine tells of husbands who suspected and later discovered they were not biological fathers after all.

In one case, with the help of a do-it-yourself DNA test kit, Mike found out after almost nine years of parenting a girl, L., that his wife had been keeping the secret from him. He filed for divorce, but said of his relationship with his daughter, “Just because our relationship started because of someone else’s lie doesn’t mean the bond that developed isn’t real.”

So Mike continues to see L., though she lives with her mother. Since Mike has been paying child support, it was perhaps doubly offensive when his ex-wife began seeing L.’s biological father. Even though he has filed to end his paternal rights, hoping to encourage the biological father to contribute some of the financial burden, the courts have ruled against him, maintaining that he is the legal father.

When asked about Mike, L. told the New York Times, “I want him always to be my real dad. Because if he’s not my dad, then who is he?”