While all political candidates spin, U.S. Republican nominee John McCain's campaign has developed an unprecedented track record of distortions and outright lies. But some political science research indicates there may be method to his madness.
From The New Republic: (thanks, Harvey)
McCain does run some risk of a backlash. After years of portraying him as a uniquely honorable figure in American politics, the national press corps has started to take note of his brazen distortions, a development that may threaten his most precious asset. But we should consider an alternate possibility. Suppose that McCain has committed himself, with the Palin pick, to running a campaign centered around mobilizing the Republican base. He has enjoyed clear success with this since the Palin pick, attracting larger crowds, drawing higher fund-raising totals, and even seeing dramatically higher numbers of voters identifying themselves as Republicans in polls.
If this is McCain's strategy, then a bunch of news reports debunking his claims isn't going to hurt. Indeed it may even help. Last February, political scientists Brendan Nyhan of Duke and Jason Reifler of Georgia State published the results of an experiment designed to test the effects of political untruths. The results would unsettle any idealist. The first conclusion they found was that lies work. When subjects were confronted with an untrue political claim (President Bush banned stem-cell research; weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq) respondents naturally moved toward those positions. When the lie was corrected, however, the effect of the untruth in moving opinions largely remained. The truth, in other words, is no antidote for a lie.
Their second conclusion was even more disturbing. Subjects who identified as politically conservative were not only immune to the effects of having a lie corrected, the correction made them even more likely to believe a lie. So, for instance, one group of conservative subjects was presented with a news story that depicted President Bush claiming weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. A second group of conservatives was presented with the same thing, along with a paragraph noting that Bush's statement was untrue. The second group was more likely than the first to believe that Iraq possessed WMDs. The very fact of the press challenging their beliefs seems to have made conservatives more likely to embrace them. If this finding is broadly correct, then the media's newfound willingness to fact-check McCain will only succeed in rallying the GOP base to his side.
TNR senior editor Jonathan Chait, the article's author, noted that McCain now holds Democratic nominee Barack Obama in the same contempt that he once held Mitt Romney, his chief rival for the Republican nomination:
The pattern here is perfectly clear. McCain has contempt for anybody who stands between him and the presidency. McCain views himself as the ultimate patriot. He loves his country so much that he cannot let it fall into the hands of an unworthy rival. (They all turn out to be unworthy.) Viewed in this way, doing whatever it takes to win is not an act of selfishness but an act of patriotism. McCain tells lies every day and authorizes lying on his behalf, and he probably knows it. But I would guess–and, again, guessing is all we can do–that in his mind he is acting honorably. As he might put it, there is a bigger truth out there.