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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.

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