As you watch the McCain campaign's late push to tie Barack Obama to William Ayers, and the Obama camp's response, and sundry attempts to say whether the charge is true or false, here's something to keep in mind: among conservatives, McCain and his surrogates may actually benefit from leveling charges that are promptly deemd false. From the October 8 New Republic:
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.
Depressing/fascinating. Here's Nyhan's blog entry on the study in question.