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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Cognitive Dissonance

posted by Jazz at 10/22/2004 01:28:00 PM

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You hear it all the time... when the left and the right begin spewing venom at each other across the fence, one of the first comments out of a Kerry supporter's mouth will be that the Bush supporters "must be stupid." There's also a wide perception among Democrats that Bush himself is not exactly the brightest bulb on the tree. Is there anything to these generalizations?

According to a just released study by the public policy group at the University of Maryland, it's not a matter of Bush supporters being inherently stupid - they're just uninformed. On a variety of major news items regarding foreign affairs, the majority of Bush supporters were not only unable to recognize some important facts, but they were also unable to identify the President's stand on a number of issues, believing that Bush supports a number of things which he does not. (All emphasis mine.)

Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.

Steven Kull, director of PIPA, comments, "One of the reasons that Bush supporters have these beliefs is that they perceive the Bush administration confirming them. Interestingly, this is one point on which Bush and Kerry supporters agree." Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63%) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19%). Likewise, 75% say that the Bush administration is saying Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda. Equally large majorities of Kerry supporters hear the Bush administration expressing these views--73% say the Bush administration is saying Iraq had WMD (11% a major program) and 74% that Iraq was substantially supporting al Qaeda.

Bush supporters also have numerous misperceptions about Bush's international policy positions. Majorities incorrectly assume that Bush supports multilateral approaches to various international issues--the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the treaty banning land mines (72%)--and for addressing the problem of global warming: 51% incorrectly assume he favors US participation in the Kyoto treaty. After he denounced the International Criminal Court in the debates, the perception that he favored it dropped from 66%, but still 53% continue to believe that he favors it. An overwhelming 74% incorrectly assumes that he favors including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements. In all these cases, majorities of Bush supporters favor the positions they impute to Bush. Kerry supporters are much more accurate in their perceptions of his positions on these issues.

There is a real jaw dropper that comes at the end of the portion of the questions dealing with Iraq. The majority of Bush supporters said that it would have been wrong to invade Iraq if there were no WMD and that Bush would not have done so had he known.

Steven Kull adds, "Another reason that Bush supporters may hold to these beliefs is that they have not accepted the idea that it does not matter whether Iraq had WMD or supported al Qaeda. Here too they are in agreement with Kerry supporters." Asked whether the US should have gone to war with Iraq if US intelligence had concluded that Iraq was not making WMD or providing support to al Qaeda, 58% of Bush supporters said the US should not have, and 61% assume that in this case the President would not have. Kull continues, "To support the president and to accept that he took the US to war based on mistaken assumptions likely creates substantial cognitive dissonance, and leads Bush supporters to suppress awareness of unsettling information about prewar Iraq."

This begs the question, what else could possibly have been done by the media to get this information out? How can so many people remain so confused about things which are plastered all over the newspapers, magazines, television and the internet? There were some other intriguing areas of confusion highligted in this study.

This tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information extends to other realms as well. Despite an abundance of evidence--including polls conducted by Gallup International in 38 countries, and more recently by a consortium of leading newspapers in 10 major countries--only 31% of Bush supporters recognize that the majority of people in the world oppose the US having gone to war with Iraq. Forty-two percent assume that views are evenly divided, and 26% assume that the majority approves. Among Kerry supporters, 74% assume that the majority of the world is opposed.

Similarly, 57% of Bush supporters assume that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection; 33% assumed that views are evenly divided and only 9% assumed that Kerry would be preferred. A recent poll by GlobeScan and PIPA of 35 of the major countries around the world found that in 30, a majority or plurality favored Kerry, while in just 3 Bush was favored. On average, Kerry was preferred more than two to one.

There you have it. It's hard to come up with very much as a summary. This is just staggering. The mind reels. This is not a result of stupidity, people. And it is not the result of one demographic being somehow mentally inferior to another. This is the result of isolation, or "cocooning" if you will, by both sides. When we only listen to, watch, or read news sources that are partisan in nature and agree with what we want to hear, it's no surprise that we'll only see the spin from one side. All of the above information is freely available to everyone. However, we see from those numbers that a frighteningly large percentage of the population is simply tuning it out and plunging ahead, "staying the course" to the end.