Tarring Opponents as Extremists Really Can Work - Miller-McCune
Back in 2002, when the male-only, members-only Augusta National golf club was picked to host the Masters Tournament, advocates of equality for women were taken aback. They wanted the tournament moved or the storied golf club opened to women. And their cause resonated with many Americans in an age when the public supports little outright gender discrimination.
The campaign ran into a hitch, though: for many people, it became synonymous with Martha Burk, a feminist leader whose name frequently appeared in the national press alongside words like “radical,” “extreme,” and “dogmatic.”
That story is a classic example of a tactic prevalent in politics. Tar a policy’s proponents as “extreme,” and maybe the policy will start to look that way, too. Political strategists clearly bank on this idea. And new political science research reveals that it works on many of us.
Researchers Thomas Nelson, Gregory Gwiasda, and Joseph Lyons studied the strategy in a paper published in the journal Political Psychology. To understand their findings, it’s helpful to view political disputes — even the Augusta National story — as a clash of conflicting values, in this case gender equality and the rights of private organizations to determine their own rules.
Most values are generally thought to be positive, although people may rank them with different priorities. Most of us are on the same page about freedom, security, equality, and even the environment. No one dislikes those things.
“We think of [values] as kind of rules that can never be violated, sacred rules that must be protected,” Nelson said. “The problem, of course, is you can’t have everything. Sooner or later those things are going to come into conflict. This happens in our everyday lives.”
And it happens constantly in politics.