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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