Marjorie Taylor Greene supporters don’t care what the critics think
Greene has been widely criticized by the media, Democrats and even fellow Republicans for promoting dangerous and baseless claims and other extreme beliefs. She harassed fellow Democrats in Congress and, in one video, appears to have kicked an 18-year-old activist.
Yet Greene only rose in prominence within the Republican Party. In just two years, she has gone from the margins of the GOP to one of its most influential figures.
Last week, Greene was easily re-elected. In an October Economist poll, 42% of Republican respondents saw it favorably and only 20% unfavorably.
What explains Greene’s growing popularity and influence? Do his Republican supporters not hear these criticisms, or do they not care — or even approve? Could criticism from Democrats or the media actually boost his popularity among Republicans in a sort of “backfire effect?”
That’s what my co-authors and I wanted to know. In new research, we find that critics of Greene are remarkably ineffective in changing Republicans’ and independents’ attitudes toward Greene or QAnon — even when Republican officials are the critics. In contrast, we find no evidence of a backfire effect among Republicans. Additionally, some criticisms make Democrats view both Greene and QAnon more negatively.
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How we conducted our research
From March 9 to March 23, 2021, we used the YouGov platform to administer an online survey experience with an opt-in sample of 5,575 respondents. The sample was matched and weighted to approximate the US adult population. We randomly divided the participants into six groups. Each group read a fictional news article about Greene that contained different information:
- A neutral description of Greene without any criticism
- Criticism of an anonymous media
- Criticisms of two CNN journalists
- Criticism of an anonymous member of Congress
- Criticism of a Democratic member of Congress
- Criticism of a Republican Congressman
The critical articles focused on Greene’s ties to QAnon. The six groups then answered questions about their feelings toward Greene and QAnon.
Criticizing Greene doesn’t sway Republicans — even when Republican leaders are the critics
Observers have repeatedly called on Republican officials to criticize or censure Greene. Perhaps those calls assume that Republican critics would persuade Greene supporters to drop her or at least view her more negatively. We find no evidence of this.
Prior to reading the articles, Republicans’ average base approval for Greene and QAnon was 48 and 24, respectively, on a 100-point thermometer. However, none of the articles had statistically significant effects on Republicans’ attitudes toward Greene or QAnon. These results suggest that even if more Republican officials criticize Greene, she will remain relatively popular. Republicans generally don’t care.
A phenomenon called partisan motivated reasoning may explain Republicans’ general indifference to such criticism. Since they are motivated to have a positive opinion of Greene, they will seek information consistent with that goal—a psychological mechanism known as confirmation bias—while rejecting information incompatible with that goal.
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Could some reviews actually boost Greene’s popularity?
Some right-wing politicians today love so-called “owning the libs,” or what one reporter described as “infuriating, unsettling, or otherwise agonizing liberals.” Greene herself has bragged about such attacks, stating, “The DC swamp is against me. And the lying fake media hate me. It’s a badge of honor.
But Democratic or media criticism does not bolster Greene’s popularity. This finding is consistent with other political science research showing that critical media coverage of a QAnon endorsement does not increase support for QAnon endorsers, even among voters with low media trust.
How Greene’s criticism affects Democrats and independents
However, some criticism has caused more Democrats to feel more negative toward Greene and QAnon, including those from an unnamed outlet, two CNN reporters, and a Democratic congressman.
This is true even if the Democrats already had very negative feelings towards Greene and QAnon, with average base approval of Greene and QAnon at 10 and 7, respectively, out of 100. But some criticisms have lowered them even further, between one and five points.
However, neither review moved independents from their average base approval of Greene and QAnon: 26 and 14, respectively, out of 100.
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Some political science research suggests that when a presidential candidate chooses an extreme running mate, their party is more likely to vote.
Whether or not Trump puts Greene on his ticket, his prominence in national politics further normalizes false accusations and political violence. From his unsubstantiated, anti-Semitic claims that the 2021 California wildfires were caused by Jewish space lasers to his outright endorsements of the execution of Democratic leaders, Greene shows no indication of softening his rhetoric.
Widespread criticism doesn’t seem to slow Greene down — not even criticism from other Republican officials. Nor do they deter his supporters.
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Victor Wu (@Victor_Y_Wu) is a JD candidate at Stanford Law School.