Opinion Articles Can Have a Lasting Impact

Op-eds are an effective way to influence people's thinking, a study suggests.

Posted Apr 26, 2018

Are you skeptical that opinion pieces change anyone's mind?

Democrats may assume that Republicans are too close-minded to be swayed by the facts or arguments in an op-ed, and Republicans may say the same of Democrats. But there's some new evidence that they're wrong.

According to a study co-authored by Yale political scientist Alexander Coppock and two colleagues associated with the libertarian Cato Institute, Democrats, Republicans, and independents were about equally likely to be swayed by a libertarian op-ed piece. 

“The time and energy it takes to produce an op-ed pieces raises a question: Are people persuaded by op-eds?” Coppock said. “We found that op-ed pieces have a lasting effect on people’s views regardless of their political affiliation or their initial stance on an issue. People read an argument and were persuaded by it. It’s that simple.”

More than 3,500 participants read one of five op-eds that had appeared in a major news outlet espousing libertarian views—or were randomly assigned into a control group that didn't get an op-ed to read.

The researchers tested their immediate reactions and surveyed them again 10 and 30 days later, comparing their responses to those of people who didn't read an op-ed. 

The team repeated the process with a group of nearly 2,200 people in the business of having opinions—journalists, law professors, policy-focused academics, think tank scholars, bankers, and congressional staffers. 

It turned out that 65 to 70 percent of people who read an op-ed agreed with the viewpoint it presented immediately after reading it, compared to only half of the control group. 

The general public was a bit more likely to be persuaded than the professionals, but not by much. 

After 10 days, op-ed readers tended to shift away from the opinion it expressed but still were more likely to agree with it than the controls. Little changed between 10 and 30 days—suggesting an effect that lasted at least a month.

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