Misperceptions as Political Conflict: Using Schattschneider’s Conflict Theory to Understand Rumor Dynamics

Jill A. Edy, Erin Risley-Baird


Publicly confronting political misperceptions enacts political conflict, generating communicative forms of public resistance as well as psychological resistance. Applying Schattschneider’s classic model of interest group political conflict to communication by those who publicly resisted messages debunking the misperception that vaccinations can cause autism offers insight into how misperceptions evolve and survive in public discourse. It also extends the model, establishing its relevance for contemporary forms of political conflict. Faced with debunking, believers socialize conflict, inviting audiences to join the struggle on their side, and alter the debate’s terms such that discussion escapes control by authorities. The resulting political debate is a moving target with changing standards of evidence. Consequently, confronting political misperceptions may generate activism that encourages misperceptions to evolve and spread.


political misperceptions, rumors, Schattschneider, public health, vaccines, Internet

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