Posted on December 2, 2011

Want to Defeat a Proposed Public Policy? Just Label Supporters as ‘Extreme’

Jeff Grabmeier, PhysOrg, November 29, 2011

New research shows how support for a generally liked policy can be significantly lowered, simply by associating it with a group seen as “radical” or “extreme.”

In one experiment, researchers found that people expressed higher levels of support for a gender equality policy when the supporters were not specified than when the exact same policy was attributed to “radical feminist” supporters.

These findings show why attacking political opponents as “extremists” is so popular–and so effective, said Thomas Nelson, co-author of the study and associate professor of political science at Ohio State University.

“The beauty of using this ‘extremism’ tactic is that you don’t have to attack a popular value that you know most people support,” Nelson said.

“You just have to say that, in this particular case, the supporters are going too far or are too extreme.”


In one experiment, 233 undergraduate students were asked to read and comment on an essay that they were told appeared on a blog. The blog entry discussed the controversy concerning the Augusta National Golf Club’s “men only” membership policy. The policy caused a controversy in 2003 before the club hosted the Masters Tournament.

Participants read one of three versions of an essay which argued that the PGA Tour should move the Masters Tournament if the club refused to change this policy.

One group read that the proposal to move the tournament was led simply by “people” and “citizens.” Another group read that the proposal was led by “feminists.” The third group read that the proposal was led by “radical feminists,” “militant feminists,” and “extremists.” Additional language reinforced the extremist portrayals by describing extreme positions that the groups allegedly held on other issues, such as getting rid of separate locker room and restroom facilities for men and women.

Participants were then asked to rate how much they supported Augusta changing its membership rules to allow women members, whether they supported the Masters tournament changing its location, and whether, if they were a member, they would vote to support female membership at the club.

The findings showed that participants were more supportive of the golf club and its rules banning women when the proposal to move the tournament was attributed to “radical feminists.” They were also less likely to support moving the tournament, and less likely to support female membership.


13 responses to “Want to Defeat a Proposed Public Policy? Just Label Supporters as ‘Extreme’”

  1. BO_Bill says:

    The Spartans considered the Athenians to be ‘extreme’, as Athens extended voting rights to all male military members and veterans who were Citizens in good standing.

    Just saying.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There was a time Martin Luther King was proud of being an extremist. At least he said ‘maybe what we need right now is an extremist’. Barry Goldwater once said ‘Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’. Now everyone runs from the word. There’s little danger, however, someone on the far liberal left will ever be labeled an extremist in the news.

  3. Question Diversity says:

    I don’t do it as much here on AR as I do it on the few other forums and blogs on which I am a regular, and my own soapbox. But we really ought to haul out the “extreme” label more often when we write and speak about the left wing and the lamestream right.

  4. sbuffalonative says:

    I believe the left gets around this by invoking Jesus. If you question their extremism, they’ll ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ or say ‘Jesus was arrested’ to prove that sometimes, extremists or extremism is a good thing.

    This also reminds me of Godwin’s Law which says that in any discussion on any topic, someone will eventually make a comparison or reference to Hitler or Nazis:'s_law

  5. Anonymous says:

    The third group read that the proposal was led by “radical feminists,” “militant feminists,” and “extremists.”

    I never met a non radical Feminist.

    If the idea that men and women are just socially constructed isn’t radical, I don’t know what is.

    Interesting article though.

  6. Mr.White says:

    Every notice how only those positions adopted by White Americans are labeled “extreme?” When we demand our immigration laws simply be enforced, we are vilified as “extreme.”

    When we try to pass laws to combat this illegal invasion being waged by mexico,- by simply implementing common sense solutions such as checking identifications during traffic stops- we are demonized as “extreme.”

    If we even dare question out of control legal and illegal immigration, which is dispossessing White Americans before our very eyes, we are taunted as “racists and extremists!”

    Why does the establishment never consider hispanic supremacy groups like La Raza, “extreme” in their quest for hispanic supremacy in this country and desire to erode our sovereignty though complete disregard of law in this country?

    Those who want the law enforced are “extreme,” while those who invade are referred to as “advocates.” I see how it works….

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m sure these findings about the negative psychological effects of the word “extremist” are true.

    I’m also sure it’s the reason why the leftstream media labels Geert Wilders, Nick Griffin, and American Renaissance as “extremist” — but would NEVER apply the same smear to Michael Moore, Jane Fonda, or Occupy Wall Street.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Among the many manifestations of decadence and corruption (breakdown of serviceable distinctions ) is the pervasive

    assumption in America that reality and wisdom are necessarily

    manifested by a “show of hands”. If history were actually taught

    in the “pubik skool sistum”, students would realize that labels like “extreme” and “mainstream” are determined, if legitimately,

    only over time–if indicated earlier on to our see-ers by observable trend lines. It isn’t. They don’t. And the seers are reduced to whispering mostly to each other these days.

  9. John Engelman says:

    This is only likely to work when people do not already have strong opinions. Ronald Reagan was called an extremist, but he won two presidential elections. Rush Limbaugh is called an extremist, but he has a large following. Also, in this case being labeled as an extreme leftist caused one’s arguments to be rejected.

    It would be interesting to show groups of people arguments in favor of allowing those without felony convictions who can pass a test to get permits to carry concealed hand guns, and then describe the authors as crime victims, National Rifle Association members, and “pro gun extremists.”

  10. Anonymous says:

    #3: You mean use the appropriate tag, “Extreme Left” when dealing with the mindless Liberals, and Socialists in our midsts?

    I just call them exactly what they are: Communists.

  11. Anonymous says:

    #9-John: The Founding Fathers were all pro-gun extremists. That’s why they wrote the Second Amendment.

    What part of “shall not be infringed” don’t the Liberals understand?

  12. science impact says:

    hopefully now, people will see that labels are meant to mislead them; and when they hear someone being smeared, they will know it is a campaign to control their opinions. once they “red flag” every label as mind-control propaganda, then the media will have to come up with a new tactic.

    the media has worked very hard to make you equate the word “conspiracy” with the word “crazy”.

  13. sedonaman says:

    Words have meaning. So what else is new?