February 22 2013

There Are Two Sides to Every Story

Sabrina Schaeffer

I appreciate that Andrew Stiles of National Review Online took the time to speak with me earlier this week about the so-called War on Women. As I told Stiles, conservatives have always been uncomfortable playing “gender politics,” but that doesn’t mean that they can’t talk to women. Too often conservatives – and by extension Republicans – have ignored women and tried to skirt around seemingly-tricky issues like the wage gap, Lilly Ledbetter, and VAWA.

This is a mistake.

An extensive literature in the field of political science suggests that mass opinion is largely influenced by elite discourse. Voters form opinions about everything from the president to health care from a narrow group of policy experts in the news and their communities.  

And the consensus among researchers is that most people rely on those beliefs that are most familiar – at “the top of the head.” What one heard most recently on the morning news or read on the train to work can entirely determine one’s opinion on complicated issues like the economy or a candidate.

At the center of this research is John Zaller, author of The Nature and Origin of Mass Opinion. He demonstrates that periodically the “flow of political communication really is… heavily one-sided.” By examining shifts in public opinion after the flow of political communication becomes two-sided, Zaller demonstrates that public opinion is the product of information flowing from elites to the masses. But it is during these times of two-sided information flows that the variable partisan dispositions and political awareness of individual people really matters. When the public receives competing arguments, liberals are more likely to latch onto the liberal-cued considerations and conservatives onto the conservative-cued considerations.

This may seem self-evident, but too often when it comes to women the flow of information has been almost entirely one-sided and directed by the Left. If conservatives want to impact women voters, they need to start by talking to them. They need to create a competing message – a competing viewpoint – and a two-sided flow of information.

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