Why do people change their minds on political issues?

I was reading an interesting article in The Economist about the ending of corn ethanol subsidies in the US:

Three years ago, corn-ethanol subsidies appeared to be one of those common things in politics, an indefensible policy that was completely sacrosanct. It had, as many such policies do, a fiercely committed natural consistency, corn farmers, who enjoy a somewhat privileged political position due to their all-Americanness and the importance of the Iowa presidential caucuses. Corn ethanol is environmentally damaging; it puts more carbon emissions into the atmosphere over the course of its production and consumption cycle than it takes out, and it uses up cropland that would otherwise be producing food for human or animal consumption. But this point was generally too complicated for environmentalists to make to the general public. And while conservatives are usually theoretically opposed to subsidies, in practice they’ve either actively backed them for carbon fuel industries, or never done anything to stop them. It just seemed as though corn-ethanol subsidies were the kind of policy that wonks all agree is terrible but that continues forever because of political realities.

But if the old saying goes that a week is a long time in politics then 3 years is an eternity:

Sometime in the past three years this all changed. The rise of the tea-party movement forced conservative politicians to take principled opposition to subsidies far more seriously. The budget-cutting frenzy in Washington made the subsidies a target. And the strange high-beta situation of Midwestern farmers, who are enjoying high corn prices and rising land prices while the rest of the country is seeing stagnant income and declining real-estate values, has muted their fervour for subsidies too. The speed with which this has happened puts me in mind of the country’s startling attitude shift on gay marriage. I have absolutely no idea how things like this come to pass, and I don’t think anyone could hope to predict them. But I think it serves as a somewhat hopeful close to a mostly horrible year to observe that in politics, solutions to problems often seem to be completely impossible, until all of a sudden they’re not.

Which is all very interesting but the original question remains un-answered. Why do people change their minds on political issues? Is it incremental? Or evidence based?


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  • Anonymous

    People don’t like change. What’s more, once they have taken the leap and made a change, they don’t like being told they’re wrong.

    Then, with familiarisation of the change over time, any new evidence produced or old evidence that was overlooked is more likely to be viewed more rationally rather than a challenge to their initial decision.

  • MrV

    I think it is largely evidenced based, but operates with such a lag owing to the slow nature of the political process.

  • David

    I don’t think change is as traumatic as the media would have us believe. Like asset sales I have yet to find anyone who really cares one way or the other.
    We all went through massive changes in the 80s and it has made all politicians nervous where as modifying things like WFF, state house for life, partial asset sales, abandoning the ETS, reforming the RMA, charter school trials, changes to welfare are things that most kiwis realize need to be changed. Be nice to have conviction politicians to drive the changes and lets face it most of us under 50 live through huge changes every year in our lives and environment so we ain’t as resistant to changes as the press gallery.

    • Alex

      That’s where the Left have been so damaging — their approach is to sow seeds of doubt and convince people that they should be afraid of change, whether it be charter schools, asset sales or any other “convenient monster”.  The Right need to get smart and start selling these policies so that people want to embrace them.  Unfortunately, many of the really vocal Right supporters (as with their kin on the Left) are social retards who have little understanding of how people think, and dismiss the idea of trying to convince and persuade is beneath them.

  • Graeme

    Why do people change their minds on political issues? Is it incremental? Or evidence based?

    Probably neither. New political reality. Tea Party becomes big news, Don Brash has a big success with a speech at Orewa, the economy tanks, whatever, and policies change.

  • Pauleastbay

    David is correct,there is actually very litle legislation that Parliament passes that has dramtic impact  on our lives.
    What the media reports on is what gets the publicity, there is a lot of un sexy legislation that gets through that should have public debate, but doesn’t because it does not sell papers.

      If same sex marriage was passed thias afternoon and wasn’t reported on until next week, no one would give a flying fuck.

    Most over 35 ‘s will remember Fran Wilde’s legalizing homsexual acts, at the time the world was going to end and we were all going to be turned into pillars of salt, but talk about that with a 20 year old today and they would look at you like you were a martian.

  • Mooloo

    The corn subsidise have been postive for Kiwi beef farmers. As cheap corn usually used to finish feed lot cattle has not been available pushing up the demand for imported beef .
    A move away from subsidised corn for ethanol although practical  , could spell the end of the golden commodity years for NZ beef into the US .

    • kehua

      Wrong, wrong, wrong Mooloo those hardassed old Ranchers hate the Warmests/Greenies with a vengeance and all the associated bullshit including `corn methanol production` but are tickled pink to pick up and utilise the residue matter to feed in the Feedlots often but not always being paid to remove it.

  • JC

    “Why do people change their minds on political issues? Is it incremental? Or evidence based?”

    As the Instapundit says.. “Things that can’t go on forever.. wont”.

    Thats not a bad philosophy.. it takes time for reality to seep through the cracks in bullshit spun by special interests and politicians.. aided of course by hardship where people concentrate on the essentials.

    NGOs, the Arts, special interests, Green fads, quasi religions etc are all products, not of essentials, but a rising tide of discretionary income, ie, in good times we can personally afford to support Save the Whales, but as things turn to shit we change the philosophy to “We’ve saved a lot of whales that we can now eat”.


  • Peter Wilson

    “Why do people change their minds on political issues? Is it incremental? Or evidence based?”

    What does that statement even mean? Incremental, meaning a gradual changing of mind?

    In my view nothing is absolute in politics. Nothing is right or wrong, but, rather, how might it affect my priorities?

    A carbon tax would be okay, so long as it didn’t make an industry uncompetitive.
    Selling assets is a wonderful idea, so long as the money was invested elsewhere.
    It’s great to measure success by how much income is generated, so long as our quality of life is enhanced.

    It’s the impact of policies that is in question, and often a matter of opinion; is it any wonder we are constantly changing our minds?

  • Peter

    People promoting Climate Change fear, especially the uninformed from the left like media, blogs and their ilk are like Kapo’s in WW2.

    Kapos carried out the will of the Nazi camp commandants and
    guards, and were often as brutal as their SS counterparts and often Jewish.

    Nazi camp commanders/guards = Political Masters such as Key, Gillard etc.

    • kehua

      yeah riggggght      twat.

  • Stanley

    Three years ago, it was almost a hanging offence to criticise anything which was vaguely intended to combat global warming. Once the climate fad fell out of favour, this was seen to be a straight subsidy for farmers. One that obviously couldn’t be justified for any reason at all.