More Talking Doesn’t Change Opinion

Ever feel like telling the folks on cable news shows to stop talking? Perhaps it’s because despite heated debates, guests rarely change their opinion on the issue.

New research considers how debates over controversial science move opinion and found that more talking does not create consensus.  In fact, the researchers found that the more talking, the harder it is to reach an agreement.

The primary author of the study, North Carolina State assistant professor of communication Andrew Binder, explains that there’s “almost this deterministic notion that if you build it, they will come; if you give them the information, their eyes will be open and they’ll see it for all its glory, which doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Of course, political scientists have been saying this for years.  John Zaller, the father of public opinion research, explains in his pivotal work The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinions that elite communication is the lifeblood of mass public opinion.  And public opinion moves in response to the consistency and intensity of elite messages.  So when elites are divided – whether it’s related to health care or climate change – the public follows suit based on varying levels of political awareness and values.

So now that we know that more talking doesn’t actually change opinion, what should we do?  Binder suggests reframing the issue. If repeating the same debate over and over again doesn’t achieve the desired outcome, policy experts and opinion makers need to figure out how to make old issues new again.