Kilroy Was Here
May 01, 2004
Cognititve Dissonance and Polls
Dave in The Cardinal Collective quotes a NY Times/CBS News poll statistic:

While 55 percent of Bush's supporters said they strongly favor the president, only 32 percent of Kerry's supporters strongly favor their candidate.

Now Dave posits that the difference in support between Bush and Kerry's numbers is caused by the difference in Bush and Kerry's ability to rally their base. Let me give you a different possibility.

In the 1950's Leon Festinger, a social psychologist, developed the theory of cognitive dissonance. Contrary to what common sense might have us believe, human beings don't abandon or weaken strongly held beliefs in the face of contrary objective evidence. Rather, when the beliefs are central to their identity, contrary objective evidence tends to strengthen those beliefs.

For example, when a central cult prophecy fails, rather than weakening the belief of the cult members, this failure results in a strengthening of belief and the rightness of their action.

Here's a quote from Festinger's famous article:

"A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.

We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.

But man's resourcefulness goes beyond simply protecting a belief. Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong: what will happen? The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before. Indeed, he may even show a new fervor about convincing and converting other people to his view. "

I would argue that this statistic show a similar event is happening right now with many conservatives and their attitudes toward Bush. When diehard conservatives are faced with so much evidence that the leader of his party is first, abandoning is small government views, and second, incompetently handling his leadership role, what are their options? To vote Democratic is so antithetical to thier sense of identity, that their only recourse is to redouble thier belief and provide ad-hoc hypothesis for this dissonance.

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