PS 473, Public Opinion

Lecture Outline: Political Persuasion & Propaganda


I.   Age of Propaganda (Skip the following chs in Pratkanis & Aronson: chs. 12-16, 22, 26-27, 29-32, 34-35, 39-40)

A.  The Essential Modern Dilemma. 

B.  Why mindless propaganda?

C.  Propaganda examples.

D.  Propaganda defined

1.   Propaganda is…

2.   All persuasion not propaganda.

E.  Page and Shapiro: Educating, Misleading and Manipulating Public Opinion

1.   Educating: Individuals or institutions (schools, elected officials, media, experts), that influence public opinion by providing correct, helpful information, can be said to educate the public

2.   Misleading: Individuals or institutions that influence public opinion by providing incorrect, biased, or selective information, or erroneous interpretations can be said to mislead the public.

3.   Manipulating:  If government officials or others mislead the public consciously and deliberately, by means of lies, falsehoods, deception, or concealment, they manipulate public opinion

II.   Theories of Attitude Change

A.  Carl Hovland's Message-Learning Approach to Attitude Change (Note: Pratkanis and Aronson rename this the Information Processing Approach).

1.   Who says What to Whom and How and with What Effect? Persuasion is complex and conditional. Depends on source, message, and audience characteristics, and these only have an effect if the following learning conditions are met: exposure, attention, interest, comprehension, and acquisition.

2.   Characteristics of the source of communication

a)   Credibility, trust, attractiveness and when they are important (note: we don’t read the P&A chs on source characteristics, so will summarize this topic in class).

3.   Characteristics of the message (various characteristics are covered in P&A; we discuss only a few in class).

a)   Visual images

b)   Fear arousal

4.   Characteristics of the audience (see relevant chs in P&A, as well)

a)   What the audience is thinking: forewarning

b)   Prior Predispositions (e.g., ideology, partisanship)

c)   Political Awareness and Opinion Leadership: the impact of awareness (reception or resistance) depends on prior predispositions and whether the message is one-sided or two-sided (i.e., elite consensus or elite conflict). "Mainstream" and "polarization" effects models. (From John Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion)

5.   Implications of Message-Learning Approach to Persuasion

6.   Problems with the Message-Learning Approach to Persuasion


B.  Cognitive Response Approach (e.g., Greenwald): The impact of a message depends how individuals think about the information presented (e.g., do they think favorable or unfavorable thoughts about the message?) because people are active participants in the persuasion process.


C.  Elaboration-Likelihood Model of Persuasion (Petty and Cacciopo):

1.   Persuasion can occur when thinking is high or low but the consequences of persuasion are different in each situation.

2.   Central and peripheral routes to persuasion.

3.   The type of persuasion (and the likelihood of elaboration or thinking) depends on people’s motivation and ability to process (i.e., elaborate, or think about) the message.

4.   Evidence for the ELM: Andrews & Shimp (1990) experiment had Ss read beer ads

5.   Example of how persuasion might differ in response to the 1988 Willie Horton ad


III. Motivated Reasoning, Cognitive Dissonance, and Resistance to Persuasion

A.  Cognitive dissonance theory: “hot” cognitions charged with affect and containing motivational properties.

B.  Motivated reasoning as the rationalizing voter: how receptive are we to information that is inconsistent with our prior beliefs?  

1.   Normative (e.g., Bayesian) models of belief updating:  assume that the collection and integration of new information relevant to our prior beliefs is independent of one’s prior judgments, so that there should be some updating or belief revision when we encounter new information inconsistent with our prior beliefs.

2.   Disconfirmation biases: the tendency to counter-argue or discount information with which we disagree. We are very responsive to information that supports our prior beliefs while dismissing out-of-hand evidence that challenges our prior attitudes. Who and when are citizens “motivated skeptics”?

C.  Political examples

1.   Gun control & affirmative action (Taber and Lodge)

2.   Death penalty support (Peffley & Hurwitz)

3.   WMD in Iraq, welfare beliefs (Kuklinski et al).