The Elusive Backfire Effect: Mass Attitudes' Steadfast Factual Adherence

Forthcoming, Political Behavior

68 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2016 Last revised: 2 Jan 2018

See all articles by Thomas Wood

Thomas Wood

Ohio State University (OSU)

Ethan Porter

George Washington University

Date Written: December 31, 2017

Abstract

Can citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their partisan and ideological attachments? The “backfire effect,” described by Nyhan and Reifler (2010), says no: rather than simply ignoring factual information, presenting respondents with facts can compound their ignorance. In their study, conservatives presented with factual information about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq became more convinced that such weapons had been found. The present paper presents results from five experiments in which we enrolled more than 10,100 subjects and tested 52 issues of potential backfire. Across all experiments, we found no corrections capable of triggering backfire, despite testing precisely the kinds of polarized issues where backfire should be expected. Evidence of factual backfire is far more tenuous than prior research suggests. By and large, citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their ideological commitments.

Keywords: Factual Corrections, Public Opinion

Suggested Citation

Wood, Thomas and Porter, Ethan, The Elusive Backfire Effect: Mass Attitudes' Steadfast Factual Adherence (December 31, 2017). Forthcoming, Political Behavior. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2819073 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2819073

Thomas Wood (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Ethan Porter

George Washington University ( email )

2121 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20052
United States

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