IT IS almost impossible to change people's opinions on divisive political issues by arguing with them. This is rather depressing for opinion journalists and others in the advocacy business, but the social-science research is fairly conclusive. There is even evidence of a "backfire effect" in which attempts to change people's minds only make them dig in deeper.
Last month, however, the radio programme This American Life reported on a technique that seemed to work. A gay-rights group in California had sent door-to-door canvassers to have open, non-confrontational conversations with opponents of gay marriage. A study by two political scientists found that after a single non-confrontational conversation with a gay canvasser, support for gay marriage among the 972 subjects rose several percentage points, and that this effect was lasting. The study was so striking that the journal Science immediately accepted it for...Continue reading