The Elusive Backfire Effect: Mass Attitudes' Steadfast Factual Adherence
Forthcoming, Political Behavior
68 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2016 Last revised: 2 Jan 2018
Date Written: December 31, 2017
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
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