Saturday, October 07, 2006

How opinions change

As the Foley sex-page scandal works its way through the national consciousness, we are beginning to see the opinion expressed that it is all quite unfortunate that this scandal is taking attention away from the "important issues", the War in Iraq, the National Intelligence Estimate, Bob Woodward's book, the torture and warrantless wiretapping, the slow pace of Katrina recovery.

Yet, it appears that it is against the war in Iraq that the public has turned, and that turning includes turning toward electing Democrats to Congress.

All this turning has apparently gone on with fairly weak Democratic Party messaging against the war and the Administration, and without a public anti-war movement with a strong voice.

It raises the question of how do people change their minds in this political and information environment.

Maybe active argumentation, and the political rhetoric of persuasion, does not work anymore? The powerful speech against the war made by a politician, the leaflet decrying the War and urging mobilization for a demonstration, the ad in the New York Times signed by hundreds of opinion leaders, may not be persuasive anymore.

Maybe people change their minds in private, and through a process of seeking out the information that they want, and on their own timetable and schedule. They go to the Net and read the sites that give them the info that they want. I wonder if people don't resist "being sold" or "being propagandized" -- information and argument that is being directed at them. Instead, they prefer to actively seek the information that they want when they want it.

I also suspect, and I think that this has always been true, is that people don't actually read or listen to arguments in which opposing points of view clash in one setting. Instead, that clash of opinions occurs over time in their own minds, and that they usually seek out sources of information that confirm where they are all ready intuitively heading. The question is "is this where I really want to be?"

If the data about how many people are reading Daily Kos and other liberal blogs is at all true, then it is clear that strong antiwar sources of information have been consulted by many people over this period of massive public opinion shifting.

What this means for the church is this: we have to get better at providing sources of information that can be consulted at people's own schedule.