Backfire and Backlash: Mike Pence and Republican Reality

April 1, 2015 Gay and Lesbian, In The News, Politics / Religion Comments (2) 888

110126_pence_oped_ap_328Three days ago, Indiana governor Mike Pence admitted that he “didn’t anticipate the hostility” that would result from passing the state’s new anti-gay “Religious Freedom” law. Speaking to the press on Sunday and Monday, he emphatically denied that the new law was about anti-gay discrimination. All this, despite abundant warnings from legal experts about the nature of the law, warnings and examples from gay rights groups about the potential backlash, and the fact that three professional homophobes stood behind the governor when he signed the bill.

How could this be?

There are those who assume Pence is being obtuse, that he’s adopting ignorance as a defense against the “unforeseen” backlash, but there is another possibility: The governor of Indiana might honestly have been this out of touch with reality–as out of touch as Mitt Romney before the 2012 election, when he ordered celebratory fireworks and neglected to write a concession speech.

Cognitive dissonance is a fascinating thing, and April 1 is the perfect day to discuss it. As companies across the Internet post their best April Fools joke–from Southwest’s crazy new bag fee system to CERN’s announcement that the Force really is with you–they rely on cognitive dissonance to help you get the joke. When the human mind is confronted with new information that conflicts with what previous experience would lead it to expect, one way to reconcile that conflict is to recognize humor.

There are other responses to cognitive dissonance, however. One of the most fascinating is what researchers Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler termed the backfire effect: the tendency of a person to reject new information when it contradicts that person’s belief or understanding, and double-down on that commitment. Continue Reading

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