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Why Roy Blunt Needs a Psychologist

Senator Roy Blunt (HA-57) proposed that all Obamacare ads contain a disclaimer: “Paid for by the American Taxpayer.”

I get the idea. I can’t stand it when my tax dollars buy ads intended to raise my taxes. It means I’m fighting against myself.

Still, I don’t like Senator Blunt’s plan because I think it could backfire.

The Psychology of Ownership

Right now, few people have a sense of ownership of Obamacare. Most taxpayers view the law as belonging to Obama and the Democrats. After all, not a single Republican voted for the law.

Ownership is a big deal, psychologically speaking. “Ownership” is “the possessive feeling that some object is ‘MINE’ or ‘OURS’ (Van Dyke and Pierce, 2002),” including both tangible (a house) and intangible (an idea) objects.

What’s more, when people develop a feeling of ownership of something, including an intangible object like Obamacare, they become protective of that object, and they value it more (Van Dyke and Pierce, 2002):

In sum, theory and research on the psychology of possession link feelings of ownership with positive attitudes about the target of ownership, the self-concept, and sense of responsibility for the target.

In this case. the “target” is Obamacare.

Will Blunt’s Disclaimer Cause People to Defend Obamacare?

I see a risk in Senator Blunt’s proposal to add a “paid for by taxpayers” disclaimer onto Obamacare commercials. As people absorb the message that they own Obamacare, they are less likely to reject the law as being someone else’s responsibility, and more likely to view the law, with all its fatal flaws, as a possession for which they are responsible.

Before jumping on-board Blunt’s plan, we need to ask: will telling people that they own the Obamacare ads–and, by association, Obamacare itself–create possessive feelings in people who currently feel antipathy or hostility toward the law?

Republicans Need to Study Psychology

The whole thing points to a bigger problem with conservative messaging.  Blunt’s disclaimer is just one manifestation of the aversion many conservatives and Republicans hold toward psychology.

Get over it.

Politics is all about psychology, especially the psychology of persuasion, irrationality, game theory, and behavioral economics–all subjects that tend to scare away the right.

But our aversion to the science of human emotion and behavior is killing us. By ignoring the effects on the human brain of messaging, color, images, shapes, voice, tone, sequence, and other factors, the right psychologically ignores a large swath of population.

The disclaimer idea feels good to us. It satisfies our emotions. But before we implement feel-good solutions, we need to consider what science tells us might be the relult.

In the case of Senator Blunt’s disclaimer on Obamacare ads, the  result could save the law from its current path to destruction.

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