This article is co-authored by Hadley Heath Manning
People of all political persuasions lament that politics often devolves into a personality contest and the trading of cheap shots. Yet few can resist focusing on these political food fights, which they presume determine the outcome of any political contest.
Yet new research suggests that conservatives truly can benefit from taking the high road and by simply informing Americans of facts that speak to the challenges facing the country and the benefits of conservative policy solutions. This research also found that the health-care issue — which conventional political wisdom has dismissed as no longer a priority for the American people — has great resonance, and when people know key facts about our health-care system, many will on their own and without prodding reconsider their political preferences, including which candidates to support.
Those are among the takeaways from new research undertaken by the Independent Women’s Voice. IWV conducted a test in Wisconsin to see whether by providing fact-based information on health care we could increase knowledge of the issue, and, if so, whether that would translate into a greater desire to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. As a way to test how serious people might be about wanting that change, IWV — in its post-exposure survey, but not in the presentation of fact-based information itself — also asked whether a desire to change the health-care law increased the likelihood that a respondent would vote for a president and senator who promised to effect that change. IWV worked with Dave Carney and Professor Daron Shaw of the University of Texas (both of whom were initially skeptical of, but fascinated by, our unconventional approach) to design the test to ensure accuracy and to examine the data to assess its efficacy in helping people come to their own conclusions based on the facts.
IWV knew that having such academic rigor was critical: Our unconventional methods of sharing straight policy facts with people have been dismissed by many political professionals, even when survey work revealed that more knowledge genuinely changed political preferences. It seemed that only academic-grade review by those who were highly regarded had a prayer of convincing those who hope to persuade voters that non-biased information was more persuasive than hectoring and fear-mongering. Additionally, IWV truly wanted to test our method as carefully as possible because we have no interest in wasting time and resources on educational efforts that have no impact. If our approach really wasn’t effective, we’d want to focus our efforts elsewhere.
Yet this latest round of rigorous testing not only confirmed that this method is effective, it found that it was more compelling than we’d previously thought. First, a baseline survey was used to assess policy knowledge and political preferences. Then, a treatment group of 7,500 independents (male and female) and GOP women received our materials, including several educational mailers, online quizzes, and interactive phone calls. Each of these communications presented key facts about the state of our health-care system using a quiz format. People were invited to test what they know about how our health-care system is working, and then were given the correct answers, drawn from respected, unbiased, and recognizable sources. After the treatment group received this information, another survey was conducted and compared to a control group that received nothing.
Professor Shaw and the research team concluded that our semi-Socratic method (unlike Socrates, we just ask questions, we don’t argue), increased knowledge of facts related to the health-care issue hugely, up to a net plus-30 and even plus-40 points on certain facts over the control group. This engagement also increased the percentage of people saying they were more likely to vote for candidates who favored repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act by a net 32 points over the control group. It also significantly changed people’s preferences for specific repeal-associated candidates over the control group. Those who had received our fact-based information supported Senator Johnson over Russ Feingold by 18 percentage points and Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by 21 percentage points. Note: We had not mentioned any candidates or even remotely referred to them in the informational materials we provided.
One other takeaway: Because we noticed in many focus groups that people have a deep suspicion about the validity of any information they are given, IWV tested two treatments, one of which was entirely neutral, while the other had just the slightest hint of an opinionated point of view. We found that the “biased” treatment did not perform nearly as well (which may explain why so many political ads don’t seem to be working this year).
This should be heartening news for conservatives. Facts work, and the American people tend to embrace conservative solutions and representatives when they are given actual data and solid information. We can break through the clutter by putting facts forward and trusting people to reach their own conclusions about the best path to take from there. Anyone who wants to help change someone’s mind can make use of our materials. The facts are on our side; now it’s time to make use of them.
— Heather Higgins is the president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice, and Hadley Manning is the health policy director at Independent Women’s Voice. For more information about their research, please contact Heather Madden at [email protected].