Thursday, April 26, 2018

Evidence that op-eds do change minds

Through two randomized experiments, researchers found that op-ed pieces had large and long-lasting effects on people’s views among both the general public and policy experts. The study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, also found that Democrats and Republicans altered their views in the direction of the op-ed piece in roughly equal measure. ...

The researchers enrolled 3,567 people into the study through an online tool. ... They were randomly assigned into a control group or one of five “treatment” groups. Participants in the treatment groups were shown one of five op-eds that had been published in a major news outlet by a writer affiliated with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, or U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Participants in the control group were not given an op-ed to read.

The op-eds, which had appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, or Newsweek, advocated libertarian policy positions on issues such as climate change, federal spending on transportation and infrastructure, and instituting a federal flat tax on income. The researchers gauged participants’ immediate reactions to the op-ed pieces and surveyed them again 10 and 30 days later, comparing their responses to those of participants in the control group.

The researchers performed the same experiment on a group of 2,169 “elites,” including journalists, law professors, policy-focused academics, think tank scholars, bankers, and congressional staffers.

In both experiments, people exposed to op-eds shifted their views to support the argument presented in the piece, with the general public being marginally more persuaded than the elites.

While 50% of people in the control group agreed with the views expressed in a given op-ed, 65%–70% of the people in the treatment groups expressed agreement with the op-eds’ authors immediately after reading the pieces, [study author Alexander] Coppock said. ...

The gap between the control and treatment groups closed by about half after 10 days, but remained substantial, Coppock noted. Participants’ views changed little between 10 and 30 days after reading the op-eds, demonstrating a lasting effect, he said.

The researchers concluded that op-eds are a cost effective way to influence people’s views. Based on the cost of producing an op-ed, the number of people likely to read it, and its ability to sway a reader’s opinion, the researchers estimated that an op-ed costs from about 50 cents to $3 per mind changed.
--Mike Cummings, YaleNews, on hope for civil discourse