Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Rumors and Health Care Reform: Experiments in Political Misinformation
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Rumors and Health Care Reform: Experiments in Political Misinformation
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Rumors and Health Care Reform: Experiments in Political Misinformation
      Available formats
Hide All

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

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Adam L. Alter , and Daniel Oppenheimer . 2009. Uniting the Tribes of Fluency to Form a Metacognitive Nation. Personality and Social Psychology Review 13 (3):219235.

John A. Bargh , Ronald N. Bond , Wendy J. Lombardi , and Mary E. Tota . 1986. The Additive Nature of Chronic and Temporary Sources of Construct Accessibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50:869878.

Larry M. Bartels 2002. Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions. Political Behavior 24 (2):117150.

Ian Maynard Begg , Ann Anas , and Suzanne Farinacci . 1992. Dissociation of Processes in Belief: Source Recollection, Statement Familiarity, and the Illusion of Truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology 121 (4):446458.

Adam J. Berinsky , Michele F. Margolis , and Michael W. Sances . 2014. Separating the Shirkers from the Workers? Making Sure Respondents Pay Attention on Self-Administered Surveys. American Journal of Political Science 58 (3):739753.

Ravi Bhavnani , Michael G. Findley , and James H. Kuklinski . 2009. Rumor Dynamics in Ethnic Violence. The Journal of Politics 71 (3):876892.

Catherine Bolten . 2014. Sobel Truths and Tribal Truths: Narrative and Politics in Sierra Leone, 1994. Comparative Studies in Society and History 56:187214.

Robert Brotherton , Christopher C. French , and Alan D. Pickering . 2013. Measuring Belief in Conspiracy Theories: The Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale. Frontiers in Psychology 4 (279):115.

Martin Bruder , Peter Haffke , Nick Neave , Nina Nouripanah , and Roland Imhoff . 2013. Measuring Individual Differences in Generic Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories Across Cultures: The Conspiracy Mentality Questionnaire. Frontiers in Psychology 4 (225):115.

Randall L. Calvert 1985. The Value of Biased Information: A Rational Choice Model of Political Advice. The Journal of Politics 47 (2):530555.

Pamela Donovan . 2007. How Idle is Idle Talk? One Hundred Years of Rumor Research. Diogenes 54 (1):5982.

Ullrich K.H. Ecker , Stephan Lewandowsky , Briony Swire , and Darren Chang . 2011. Correcting False Information in Memory: Manipulating the Strength of Misinformation Encoding and its Retraction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 18 (3):570578.

Gary Allen Fine , and Bill Ellis . 2010. The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sverker Finnström . 2009. Gendered War and Rumors of Saddam Hussein in Uganda. Anthropology and Humanism 34 (1):6170.

Daniel T. Gilbert , Romin W. Tafarodi , and Patrick S. Malone . 1993. You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65:221233.

Martin Gilens . 2001. Political Ignorance and Collective Policy Preferences. The American Political Science Review 95 (2):379396.

Haifeng Huang . 2014. A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country, working paper. University of California, Merced. Available from, accessed 6 April 2015.

Dong-Gi Jo . 2002. Diffusion of Rumors on the Internet. The Information Society Review 2002:7795.

Jon A. Krosnick 1991. Response Strategies for Coping with the Cognitive Demands of Attitude Measures in Surveys. Applied Cognitive Psychology 5:213236.

James H. Kuklinski , Paul J. Quirk , Jennifer Jerit , David Schwieder , and Robert F. Rich . 2000. Misinformation and the Currency of Democratic Citizenship. The Journal of Politics 62 (3):790816.

Ziva Kunda . 1990. The Case for Motivated Reasoning. Psychological Bulletin 8 (3):480498.

Arthur Lupia , and Matthew McCubbins . 1998. The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brendan Nyhan . 2010. Why the ‘Death Panel’ Myth Wouldn’t Die: Misinformation in the Health Care Reform Debate. The Forum 8 (1):124.

Brendan Nyhan , and Jason Reifler . 2009. The Effects of Semantics and Social Desirability in Correcting the Obama Muslim Myth, working paper. Dartmouth University.

Brendan Nyhan , Jason Reifler , and Peter A. Ubel . 2013. The Hazards of Correcting Myths About Health Care Reform. Medical Care 51 (2):127132.

J. Eric Oliver , and Thomas J. Wood . 2014. Conspiracy Theories, Magical Thinking, and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion. American Journal of Political Science 58 (4):952966.

Daniel Oppenheimer . 2008. The Secret Life of Fluency. Trends in Cognitive Science 12 (6):237241.

Daniel Oppenheimer , Tom Meyvis , and Nicolas Davidenko . 2009. Instructional Manipulation Checks: Detecting Satisficing to Increase Statistical Power. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 45:867872.

Sarah Palin . 2009. Statement on the Current Health Care Debate. Facebook post. Available from, accessed 6 April 2015.

Daniel Pipes . 1998. The Hidden Hand: Middle East Fears of Conspiracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Norbert Schwarz . 2004. Metacognitive Experiences in Consumer Judgment and Decision Making. Journal of Consumer Psychology 14:332348.

Norbert Schwarz , Lawrence J. Sanna , Ian Skurnik , and Carolyn Yoon . 2007. Metacognitive Experiences and the Intricacies of Setting People Straight: Implications for Debiasing and Public Information Campaigns. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 39:127161.

Joseph Simmons , Leif D. Nelson , and Uri Simonsohn . 2011. False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. Psychological Science 22:13591366.

Cass R. Sunstein . 2009. On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Amos Tversky , and Daniel Kahneman . 1981. The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice. Science 211 (4481):453458.

Michael J. Wood , Karen M. Douglas , and Robbie M. Sutton . 2012. Dead and Alive Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories. Social Psychological and Personality Science 3 (6):767773.

Marvin Zonis , and Craig M. Joseph . 1994. Conspiracy Thinking in the Middle East. Political Psychology 15 (3):443459.

James N. Druckman , and Kjersten R. Nelson . 2003. Framing and Deliberation: How Citizens’ Conversations Limit Elite Influence. American Journal of Political Science 47 (4):729745.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Berinsky supplemenray material
Supplementary Appendices

 PDF (365 KB)
365 KB
Supplementary Materials

Berinsky supplemetary material
Supplementary data sets

 Unknown (44 KB)
44 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 226
Total number of PDF views: 1010 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 3179 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.