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Rumors and Health Care Reform: Experiments in Political Misinformation


This article explores belief in political rumors surrounding the health care reforms enacted by Congress in 2010. Refuting rumors with statements from unlikely sources can, under certain circumstances, increase the willingness of citizens to reject rumors regardless of their own political predilections. Such source credibility effects, while well known in the political persuasion literature, have not been applied to the study of rumor. Though source credibility appears to be an effective tool for debunking political rumors, risks remain. Drawing upon research from psychology on ‘fluency’ – the ease of information recall – this article argues that rumors acquire power through familiarity. Attempting to quash rumors through direct refutation may facilitate their diffusion by increasing fluency. The empirical results find that merely repeating a rumor increases its power.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science (email: For valuable discussions regarding this article, I would like to thank seminar participants at The California Institute of Technology, Florida State University, MIT, University of Michigan, The West Coast Experiments Conference and Yale University. Special thanks go to Jamie Druckman, Gabe Lenz, Michael Tesler and Nick Valentino for detailed comments. I thank Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Daniel de Kadt, Seth Dickinson, Daniel Guenther, Krista Loose, Michele Margolis and Mike Sances for research assistance. Financial support was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-1015335), the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and MIT. Data replication sets and online appendices are available at

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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