Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mind Change

I believe that Lance Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs.  I realize that this is not an interesting statement, and I myself am actually not all that interested in the details of the case against Lance Armstrong.  What interests me is that at some hazy, indeterminate time in the past, I did not believe that Lance Armstrong took performance-enhancing drugs, even as allegations were made and evidence started to mount.

To be sure, this blog post may represent that longest sustained period in which I gave any thought to allegations of Lance Armstrong’s drug use. I’m a sports fan, but given that the Tour de France falls outside of the purview of my sports binge periods, I’ve never actually watched it (the only time I watched the Tour de France for a prolonged stretch was when I was getting an oil change and inexplicably, a TV set in the shop’s waiting room was tuned to Versus coverage of the Tour.  Even then, much of the coverage was a retrospective story about Eric Heiden’s foray into competitive cycling.  But I digress).  But of course, given Armstrong’s celebrity status I was well-familiarized with his story and his successes.  So why didn’t I believe it when he was accused of PED use?  He always pointed to a lack of positive tests, but then again I’ve assumed steroid use by baseball players who have never actually had a positive test.  Maybe I naively thought that a cancer survivor would know better than to jeopardize his health.  Maybe I thought that Cheryl Crow would never date a drug user.  Most likely, I was just in denial, not wanting to believe anything that would complicate the feel-good story that Armstrong conveyed.  I now realize how foolish this was, but I’m sure I was not alone.

But again, this is hardly interesting.  What is interesting is how I changed my mind.  I spent six hours online last night studying up on the case, reading court-filed affidavits that have been made public, exchanging private e-mails with Armstrong’s legal team and the lawyers for his accusers, and then I spent an additional seven hours reading about how cyclists can beat drug tests, cross-referencing that with Armstrong’s race results over a 10-year-span.  And when I say I did all that, I mean that I didn’t do any of that.  At some point I simply sided with a rising sentiment, determining on the basis of public sentiment that the charges must be true.  And again, I’m sure that I am not alone.

I would like to know the tipping point.  I’d like to know more about how my mind was changed.  In general, I’d like to know more about how minds are changed.  And what has got me thinking about this in the last couple of weeks is not accusations against a cyclist, but presidential polling results.  If public opinion polls are to be trusted, there is a rather large group of people who used to think that Barack Obama would make a better president than Mitt Romney, who now think that Mitt Romney would make a better president than Barack Obama (I realize that part of this may be attributed to undecided voters making up their mind, but I don’t think this can account for all of the Romney momentum).

Clearly, the first debate between the two candidates was a tipping point for many people.  This is ironic, given that most of the sentiments I read on social media and elsewhere just prior to that debate could be summarized as “These debates don’t matter; everyone already has their mind made up anyway.”  Certainly, I think that those who harbored such a sentiment have, er, changed their minds. 

I’d be interested to know whether either campaign team has a specific strategy to try to influence those who may be committed to the other candidate.  From my armchair, it seems that most campaign messages are aimed at the undecided.  So called “negative campaigning” wouldn’t seem likely to make inroads with those who view the opponent favorably.  But it appears that it is possible to get people to budge, even to decommit to a candidate and embrace the other.  By many accounts Romney was helped in this regard by President Obama’s own showing in the debate, so it may very well be that his move in the polls may be attributed as much to luck as to his own strategy.  It could be that the first candidate (if not in this election, than in the future) who figures out how to best turn the tide of sentiment, to get people to abandon previously held sentiments, may be the one who secures victory.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I think this is true. But I’d be willing to change my mind. 


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