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Intellectualism, Anti-Intellectualism, and Epistemic Hubris in Red and Blue America

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Abstract

Epistemic hubris—the expression of unwarranted factual certitude—is a conspicuous yet understudied democratic hazard. Here, in two nationally representative studies, we examine its features and analyze its variance. We hypothesize, and find, that epistemic hubris is (a) prevalent, (b) bipartisan, and (c) associated with both intellectualism (an identity marked by ruminative habits and learning for its own sake) and anti-intellectualism (negative affect toward intellectuals and the intellectual establishment). Moreover, these correlates of epistemic hubris are distinctly partisan: intellectuals are disproportionately Democratic, whereas anti-intellectuals are disproportionately Republican. By implication, we suggest that both the intellectualism of Blue America and the anti-intellectualism of Red America contribute to the intemperance and intransigence that characterize civil society in the United States.

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... Anti-intellectualism-a negative affect toward or distrust of experts and intellectuals (Barker et al., 2021;Motta, 2018)-is a fixture of our contemporary society. Though it is not new (Hofstadter, 1963), anti-intellectualism drives people to reject scientific consensus around topics such as climate change, COVID-19, vaccines, and more (Merkley, 2020;Merkley & Loewen, 2021). ...
... However, there has been relatively little research on why some people are antiintellectual. Anti-intellectualism, by definition, relates to intergroup attitudes and affect (Barker et al., 2021). Here, I use theoretical expectations from intergroup social psychology to argue that an overlooked but significant factor driving anti-intellectualism is rural identity, or a psychological attachment to being from a rural area. ...
... Despite anti-intellectualism's known link to misinformation endorsement, who is anti-intellectual in contemporary society, or why, has not been fully explored. Barker et al. (2021) finds that those who are anti-intellectual tend to be more Republican, though not exclusively (see also Motta, 2018), and that they are higher in epistemic hubris. Being a Trump supporter (i.e., a supporter of a right-wing populist candidate) also significantly correlates with anti-intellectualism (Oliver & Rahn, 2016). ...
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Anti-intellectualism-a distrust of intellectuals and experts-has had a significant political presence in the U.S. and globally, especially in recent years. Anti-intellectualism drives support for phenomena such as populism, a rejection of scientific consensus, and health and science misinformation endorsement. Therefore, discovering what drives someone to be more anti-intellectual is highly important in understanding contemporary public opinion and political behavior. Here, I argue that a significant and overlooked factor contributing to anti-intellectualism is rural social identification-a psychological attachment to being from a rural area or small town-because rural identity in particular views experts and intellectuals as an out-group. Using 2019 ANES pilot data (N = 3000), original survey data (N = 811) and a separate original survey experiment, I find that rural social identification significantly predicts greater anti-intellectualism. Conversely, anti-intellectualism is not significantly associated with rural residency alone, as theoretically speaking, simply living in a rural area does not capture the affective dimension of rural psychological attachment. These findings have implications for health and science attitudes, populist support, and other relevant political matters. They also have implications for what it means to hold a rural identity beyond anti-urban sentiment, and for understanding the urban-rural divide. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s11109-022-09770-w.
... More recent work has distinguished attitudes toward experts -such as scientists and university faculty-from other political elites ( Mede, Schäfer, & Füchslin, 2021;Merkley, 2020;Motta, 2018b). Populists see mainstream experts as part of a corrupt elite biased by political or financial interests (Barker, Detamble, & Marietta, 2021;Eberl, Huber, & Greussing, 2021;Elchardus & Spruyt, 2016;Mietzner, 2020;Ylä-Anttila, 2018). Anti-expert attitudes are particularly important for attitudes and beliefs relating to a number of political controversies where science plays an important role (Merkley, 2020;Motta, 2018a;Motta et al., 2018;Stecula & Pickup, 2021). ...
... Yet, their effects have been shown to be conditional on factors such as existing attitudes, source perception, and political ideology (Dixon, 2016;Dixon & Hubner, 2016). Populism may be an additional potential moderator of the effects of expert consensus on attitudes or beliefs, as some conceptualizations of populism include experts as members of a distrusted elite (Barker et al., 2021;Eberl et al., 2021;Elchardus & Spruyt, 2016;Mietzner, 2020;Ylä-Anttila, 2018). ...
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Recent work on voting behavior and political attitudes has established the relevance of anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-expertise attitudes in politics. However, the increasing relevance of anti-expertise attitudes raises a paradox, as one of the most well-established claims of the persuasion literature concerns the influence of expert sources on attitudes. The current paper explores the influence of messages based on public and expert consensus, as well as the interaction of these messages with expressed mistrust of experts relative to the public. The issue we explore concerns environmental regulations relating to water, an issue on which partisan elites are divided, but one that has not played a highly salient role in recent political discourse. We find that mistrust of experts is negatively related to support for these regulations, as expected, but that, contrary to prior research, increases in mistrust of experts in fact enhanced the impact of the expert message. We discuss potential explanations for why this pattern of results differs from prior work.
... Anti-intellectualism. In recent years, scholars have expanded their investigation of anti-intellectualism, linking it not only to political outcomes and support for politicians and political movements that are skeptical of experts, 61 split by partisan identities, 71 but also to the COVID-19 pandemic. 62 In order to assess anti-intellectualism, we utilized the three-items specifically aimed at measuring anti-intellectualism borrowed from a larger, 20-item measure developed by Oliver and Rahn, also utilized by Stecuła and Pickup (Sample 1 alpha ¼ 0.69; Sample 2 alpha ¼ 0.68). ...
... This stands in contrast to some previous work suggesting that vaccine hesitancy, including COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, corresponds strongly with partisan identities. 5,18,36,56,58 This finding is likely due to other significant factors, such as conspiracy theory belief 83 or epistemic hubris and anti-intellectualism, 71 being closely related to partisanship and political ideology. Together, these results demonstrate that attitudes toward expertise, belief in COVID-19 conspiracies theories, and (to a much lesser extent) identification with conservative partisan and ideological groups undermine support for vaccination, independent of a host of control variables known to predict attitudes toward science, perceptions of the pandemic, and willingness to engage in COVID-19 behavioral mitigation. ...
As the world continues to respond to the spread of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease commonly known as COVID-19), it has become clear that one of the most effective strategies for curbing the pandemic is the COVID-19 vaccine. However, a major challenge that health organizations face when advocating for the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine is the spread of related misinformation and conspiracy theories. This study examines factors that influence vaccine hesitancy using two online survey samples, one convenience and one nationally representative, collected in the early summer of 2020 during the height of the second peak of coronavirus cases in the United States. Given extant literature on vaccine hesitancy and conspiracy belief, we expect that three factors—conspiracy theory belief, political identity, and anti-intellectualism—have served to reduce COVID-19 vaccination likelihood. Accordingly, across our two independent samples we find that anti-intellectualism, conspiratorial predispositions, and COVID-19 conspiracy theory belief are the strongest and most consistent predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Notably, we also find that partisanship and political ideology are inconsistently significant predictors of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy once conspiracy theory beliefs, anti-intellectualism, and control variables are accounted for in the models. When political tendencies are significant, they demonstrate a relatively small substantive association with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. We discuss implications for ongoing mass vaccination efforts, continued widespread vaccine hesitancy, and related political attitudes.
... In addition to ideological messaging affirming the privileged status of white people, conservative media outlets foster anti-elitist and anti-expert sentiments directed towards institutions that they perceive as threatening to the traditional American order [58]. At its most extreme, this anti-institutionalist sentiment involves the proliferation of conspiracy theories that mainstream institutions are controlled by small groups of elites acting in their own self-interest, thus undermining the legitimacy of science, medicine, education, government, and the mainstream media [19,43,59]. ...
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Prior research has found that white people are more likely to be climate change skeptics. In much of this prior work, white identity is treated as a categorical label, limiting the theoretical and empirical understanding of this relationship. Drawing on survey data from a US national sample of 933 white young adults, we theorize that white identity is a developmental process where people explore the meanings of their racial identity and commit to a white identity marked by enhanced levels of social dominance orientation and conspiratorial ideation, two social-psychological constructs consistently associated with climate change skepticism. Using regression analyses, we tested a mediation model that a strong white identity would increase climate change skepticism by enhancing one’s social dominance orientation and conspiratorial ideation. We found partial support for our model. While a strong white identity was positively associated with social dominance orientation and conspiratorial ideation, only social dominance orientation increased climate change skepticism. Conspiratorial ideation reduced climate change skepticism. We discuss the implications of our findings for the climate change literature as well as how our findings can inform policies that could reduce climate change skepticism among white people.
... Because of this, populism is often confused or lumped together with virtually any indignant orientation that a large segment of poor and/or uneducated masses happens to possess-especially, in recent years, those associated with the far Right. Such orientations include Ethnocentric Nativism (Bonikowski & DiMaggio, 2016;Mudde, 2007;Rooduijn, 2019), Nationalism (Bonikowski, 2016;Bonikowski & DiMaggio, 2016;De Cleen & Stavrakakis, 2017;Filsinger et al., 2021;Mader & Schoen, 2019;Mader et al., 2018;Mudde, 2007), Anti-Intellectualism (Barker et al., 2021;Castanho Silva et al., 2020;Oliver & Wood, 2018), Anti-Semitism (Cremoni, 1998, but see Pollack, 1962), Authoritarianism (e.g., Dunn, 2015;Pappas, 2019; but see Bakker et al., 2021), and illiberalism more generally (Applebaum, 2020;Galston, 2018;Mounk, 2018;Pappas, 2016;Riker, 1982). ...
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Thesis
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Populism undoubtedly has a long history in the politics of the US, and there is no doubt that populism has significantly affected American politics in a variety of ways. However, what exactly is meant by “populism” is frequently ambiguous and ill-defined. Political commentators routinely label individuals or ideas as populist, without even attempting to explain how and why the person or idea in question relates to populism. Scholars are not immune to acting in a similar fashion. Populism’s presence is more often asserted than demonstrated in any convincing way. Here I engage in a thorough examination of the substance of populism in American politics. All elements of American populism – its championing of the common people, it rural roots, its anti-elitism, anti-intellectualism, and anti-government views, and its religious and cultural dimensions – will be explored. The paper closes with an attempt to suss out the place of populism in contemporary American politics.
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Researchers seeking to establish causal relationships frequently control for variables on the purported causal pathway, checking whether the original treatment effect then disappears. Unfortunately, this common approach may lead to biased estimates. In this article, we show that the bias can be avoided by focusing on a quantity of interest called the controlled direct effect. Under certain conditions, the controlled direct effect enables researchers to rule out competing explanations—an important objective for political scientists. To estimate the controlled direct effect without bias, we describe an easy-to-implement estimation strategy from the biostatistics literature. We extend this approach by deriving a consistent variance estimator and demonstrating how to conduct a sensitivity analysis. Two examples—one on ethnic fractionalization’s effect on civil war and one on the impact of historical plough use on contemporary female political participation—illustrate the framework and methodology.
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Despite the wide application of the label “populist” in the 2016 election cycle, there has been little systematic evidence that this election is distinctive in its populist appeal. Looking at historical trends, contemporary rhetoric, and public opinion data, we find that populism is an appropriate descriptor of the 2016 election and that Donald Trump stands out in particular as the populist par excellence. Historical data reveal a large “representation gap” that typically accompanies populist candidates. Content analysis of campaign speeches shows that Trump, more so than any other candidate, employs a rhetoric that is distinctive in its simplicity, anti-elitism, and collectivism. Original survey data show that Trump’s supporters are distinctive in their unique combination of anti-expertise, anti-elitism, and pronationalist sentiments. Together, these findings highlight the distinctiveness of populism as a mechanism of political mobilization and the unusual character of the 2016 race.
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Although anecdotal stories of political anger and enthusiasm appear to be provoked largely by issues such as gay marriage or healthcare reform, social sorting is capable of playing a powerful role in driving anger and enthusiasm, undercutting the perception that only practical disagreements are driving higher levels of political rancor. Because a highly aligned set of social identities increases an individual’s perceived differences between groups, the emotions that result from group conflict are likely to be heightened among well-sorted partisans. An experimental design in a national online survey manipulates political threats and reassurances, including a threat to a party and a threat to distinct policy goals. Issue positions are found to drive anger and enthusiasm in the presence of issue-based messages, but not all party-based messages. Partisan identity drives anger and enthusiasm in the presence of party-based threats and reassurances, but not all issue-based messages. Social sorting, however, drives anger and enthusiasm in response to all threats and reassurances, suggesting that well-sorted partisans are more reliably emotionally reactive to political messages. Finally, these results are driven not by the most-sorted partisans, but by the emotional dampening effect that occurs among those with the most cross-cutting identities. As social sorting increases in the American electorate, the cooler heads inspired by cross-cutting identities are likely to be taking up a smaller portion of the electorate.
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Evolutionary, neuroscientific, and cognitive perspectives in psychology have converged on the idea that some attitudes are moralized—a distinctive characteristic. Moralized attitudes reorient behavior from maximizing gains to adhering to rules. Here, I examine a political consequence of this tendency. In three studies, I measure attitude moralization and examine how it relates to approval of political compromise. I find that moralized attitudes lead citizens to oppose compromises, punish compromising politicians, and forsake material gains. These patterns emerge on economic and noneconomic issues alike and identify a psychological phenomenon that contributes to intractable political disputes. The data, code, and any additional materials required to replicate all analyses in this article are available on the American Journal of Political Science Dataverse within the Harvard Dataverse Network, at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7910/DVN/QUHIIE.
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Throughout the twentieth century, pop songs, magazine articles, plays, posters, and novels in the United States represented intelligence alternately as empowering or threatening. In Inventing the Egghead, cultural historian Aaron Lecklider offers a sharp, entertaining narrative of these sources to reveal how Americans who were not part of the traditional intellectual class negotiated the complicated politics of intelligence within an accelerating mass culture. Central to the book is the concept of brainpower-a term used by Lecklider to capture the ways in which journalists, writers, artists, and others invoked intelligence to embolden the majority of Americans who did not have access to institutions of higher learning. Expressions of brainpower, Lecklider argues, challenged the deeply embedded assumptions in society that intellectual capacity was the province of an educated elite, and that the working class was unreservedly anti-intellectual. Amid changes in work, leisure, and domestic life, brainpower became a means for social transformation in the modern United States. The concept thus provides an exciting vantage point from which to make fresh assessments of ongoing debates over intelligence and access to quality education. Expressions of brainpower in the twentieth century engendered an uncomfortable paradox: they diminished the value of intellectuals (the hapless egghead, for example) while establishing claims to intellectual authority among ordinary women and men, including labor activists, women workers, and African Americans. Reading across historical, literary, and visual media, Lecklider mines popular culture as an arena where the brainpower of ordinary people was commonly invoked and frequently contested.
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Partisanship seems to affect factual beliefs about politics. For example, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that the deficit rose during the Clinton administration; Democrats are more likely to say that inflation rose under Reagan. What remains unclear is whether such patterns reflect differing beliefs among partisans or instead reflect a desire to praise one party or criticize another. To shed light on this question, we present a model of survey response in the presence of partisan cheerleading and payments for correct and "don't know" responses. We design two experiments based on the model's implications. The experiments show that small payments for correct and "don't know" answers sharply diminish the gap between Democrats and Republicans in responses to "partisan" factual questions. Our conclusion is that the apparent gulf in factual beliefs between members of different parties may be more illusory than real. The experiments also bolster and extend a major finding about political knowledge in America: we show (as others have) that Americans know little about politics, but we also show that they often recognize their own lack of knowledge.
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When surveyed about economic conditions, supporters of the president's party often report more positive conditions than its opponents. Scholars have interpreted this finding to mean that partisans cannot even agree on matters of fact. We test an alternative interpretation: Partisans give partisan congenial answers even when they have, or could have inferred, information less flattering to the party they identify with. To test this hypothesis, we administered two surveys to nationally representative samples, experimentally manipulating respondents' motivation to be accurate via monetary incentives and on-screen appeals. Both treatments reduced partisan differences in reports of economic conditions significantly. Many partisans interpret factual questions about economic conditions as opinion questions, unless motivated to see them otherwise. Typical survey conditions thus reveal a mix of what partisans know about the economy, and what they would like to be true.
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Revealing what lies behind much contemporary political rhetoric, Morgan Marietta shows that the language of America's most prominent leaders often relies on deep, even sacred, ideals. Comprehensively and in great detail surveying the rhetorical inventions employed in influential social movements and into the highest levels of government, The Politics of Sacred Rhetoric systematically analyzes the use of absolutist claims-and appeals to what a speaker deems to be universal truths-as essential elements of persuasion in the American political landscape. In exploring the sometimes subtle ways in which politicians employ this"sacred rhetoric,"Marietta engagingly demonstrates its impact on citizens' reasoning, public discourse, and the very nature of American democracy.
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‘Religion and politics’, as the old saying goes, ‘should never be discussed in mixed company.’And yet fostering discussions that cross lines of political difference has long been a central concern of political theorists. More recently, it has also become a cause célèbre for pundits and civic-minded citizens wanting to improve the health of American democracy. But only recently have scholars begun empirical investigations of where and with what consequences people interact with those whose political views differ from their own. Hearing the Other Side examines this theme in the context of the contemporary United States. It is unique in its effort to link political theory with empirical research. Drawing on her empirical work, Mutz suggests that it is doubtful that an extremely activist political culture can also be a heavily deliberative one.
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The fundamental phenomenon of human closed-mindedness is treated in this volume. Prior psychological treatments of closed-mindedness have typically approached it from a psychodynamic perspective and have viewed it in terms of individual pathology. By contrast, the present approach stresses the epistemic functionality of closed-mindedness and its essential role in judgement and decision-making. Far from being restricted to a select group of individuals suffering from an improper socialization, closed-mindedness is something we all experience on a daily basis. Such mundane situational conditions as time pressure, noise, fatigue, or alcoholic intoxication, for example, are all known to increase the difficulty of information processing, and may contribute to one's experienced need for nonspecific closure. Whether constituting a dimension of stable individual differences, or being engendered situationally - the need for closure, once aroused, is shown to produce the very same consequences. These fundamentally include the tendency to 'seize' on early, closure-affording 'evidence', and to 'freeze' upon it thus becoming impervious to subsequent, potentially important, information. Though such consequences form a part of the individual's personal experience, they have significant implications for interpersonal, group and inter-group phenomena as well. The present volume describes these in detail and grounds them in numerous research findings of theoretical and 'real world' relevance to a wide range of topics including stereotyping, empathy, communication, in-group favouritism and political conservatism. Throughout, a distinction is maintained between the need for a nonspecific closure (i.e., any closure as long as it is firm and definite) and needs for specific closures (i.e., for judgments whose particular contents are desired by an individual). Theory and research discussed in this book should be of interest to upper level undergraduates, graduate students and faculty in social, cognitive, and personality psychology as well as in sociology, political science and business administration.
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The intelligence failures surrounding the invasion of Iraq dramatically illustrate the necessity of developing standards for evaluating expert opinion. This book fills that need. Here, Philip E. Tetlock explores what constitutes good judgment in predicting future events, and looks at why experts are often wrong in their forecasts. Tetlock first discusses arguments about whether the world is too complex for people to find the tools to understand political phenomena, let alone predict the future. He evaluates predictions from experts in different fields, comparing them to predictions by well-informed laity or those based on simple extrapolation from current trends. He goes on to analyze which styles of thinking are more successful in forecasting. Classifying thinking styles using Isaiah Berlin's prototypes of the fox and the hedgehog, Tetlock contends that the fox--the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events--is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems. He notes a perversely inverse relationship between the best scientific indicators of good judgement and the qualities that the media most prizes in pundits--the single-minded determination required to prevail in ideological combat. Clearly written and impeccably researched, the book fills a huge void in the literature on evaluating expert opinion. It will appeal across many academic disciplines as well as to corporations seeking to develop standards for judging expert decision-making.
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To govern in a democracy, political leaders have to compromise. When they do not, the result is political paralysis-dramatically demonstrated by the gridlock in Congress in recent years. In The Spirit of Compromise, eminent political thinkers Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson show why compromise is so important, what stands in the way of achieving it, and how citizens can make defensible compromises more likely. They urge politicians to focus less on campaigning and more on governing. In a new preface, the authors reflect on the state of compromise in Congress since the book's initial publication. Calling for greater cooperation in contemporary politics, The Spirit of Compromise will interest everyone who cares about making government work better for the good of all.
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Although politics at the elite level has been polarized for some time, a scholarly controversy has raged over whether ordinary Americans are polarized. This book argues that they are and that the reason is growing polarization of worldviews – what guides people's view of right and wrong and good and evil. These differences in worldview are rooted in what Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler describe as authoritarianism. They show that differences of opinion concerning the most provocative issues on the contemporary issue agenda – about race, gay marriage, illegal immigration, and the use of force to resolve security problems – reflect differences in individuals’ levels of authoritarianism. This makes authoritarianism an especially compelling explanation of contemporary American politics. Events and strategic political decisions have conspired to make all these considerations more salient. The authors demonstrate that the left and the right have coalesced around these opposing worldviews, which has provided politics with more incandescent hues than before.
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The observed rate of Americans voting for a different party across successive presidential elections has never been lower. This trend is largely explained by the clarity of party differences reducing indecision and ambivalence and increasing reliability in presidential voting. American National Election Studies (ANES) Times Series study data show that recent independent, less engaged voters perceive candidate differences as clearly as partisan, engaged voters of past elections and with declining rates of ambivalence, being undecided, and floating. Analysis of ANES inter-election panel studies shows the decline in switching is present among nonvoters too, as pure independents are as reliable in their party support as strong partisans of prior eras. These findings show parties benefit from the behavioral response of all Americans to polarization. By providing an ideological anchor to candidate evaluations, polarization produces a reliable base of party support that is less responsive to short-term forces.
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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.