The Backfire Effect on Conservative Reaction to the Affordable Health Care Act’s CBO Score

Ezra Klein can’t believe that Republican conservative hit men can lie so obnoxiously about the budgetary estimates of the Affordable Health Care Act’s CBO score.

You could spend all day knocking these arguments around (against the Affordable Health Care Act’s budgetary effects by conservative economic hitmen). Trust me: I’ve done it. But the point isn’t the arguments themselves, but their cumulative effect. If you’re a conservative and you consume conservative media, you now live in a world where it’s simultaneously preposterous to believe that the health-care law saves money and commonly asserted that it cuts Medicare to the bone and raises taxes all across the country. You live in a world so different from the one that Democrats share with the CBO that no argument is really possible. Democrats say the bill reduces the deficit. Republicans say that the bill explodes the deficit. And when the scorekeeper tries to intervene, Republicans take aim at the scorekeeper.

Real debate isn’t possible under those circumstances. But that’s not the only danger here: When you have a scorekeeper respected by all sides, legislation ends up being more fiscally responsible. Fear of a bad score is why Democrats, though they disagreed with the CBO’s modeling and thought their reforms would save more money with less pain, went back to the drawing board and include cost-saving provisions that they didn’t like and that they knew might hurt them in the polls. The end result? A vastly more fiscally responsible bill. The process worked.

So why would Republicans dismiss the best nonpartisan estimate, the same nonpartisan organization that forced the Democrats to install cost cutting measures into government-delivered health care, a tenant of Republican ideology?

It could be because conservatives and liberals analyze information differently.

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler found that conservatives will double-down, more firmly believing their opinions, when confronted with refuting evidence. Among liberals, it had no effect. Does this surprise anyone who has objectively been following modern American politics?

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration’s prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation — the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration’s claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

A similar “backfire effect” also influenced conservatives told about Bush administration assertions that tax cuts increase federal revenue. One group was offered a refutation by prominent economists that included current and former Bush administration officials. About 35 percent of conservatives told about the Bush claim believed it; 67 percent of those provided with both assertion and refutation believed that tax cuts increase revenue. Mother Jones

Amazingly stupid.

Conservatives are not engaged in a logical enterprise. Mr. Klein, that is why Republicans hop up and down making no sense about the CBO estimate. They’ll take their preformed opinions only thank you very much.

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