Marjorie Taylor Greene’s supporters don’t care what critics think
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Now that Trump has announced he’ll run for president again in 2024, some observers have speculated on his running mate. Since former Vice President Mike Pence refused to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss, Trump has been searching for his replacement.
Some suggest Trump will pick Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the first open QAnon supporter elected to Congress. Greene says she and Trump have discussed the possibility that she’ll be his 2024 running mate. New York Times journalist Robert Draper says Trump has been considering a Trump-Greene ticket since February.
Greene has been widely criticized by the media, Democrats and even fellow Republicans for promoting dangerous and baseless claims as well as other extreme beliefs. She has harassed her Democratic colleagues in Congress and, in a video, appears to have kicked an 18-year-old activist.
Yet Greene has only grown more prominent in the Republican Party. In just two years, she went from the fringes of the GOP to one of its most influential figures.
Last week, Greene easily won reelection. In an Economist poll from October, 42 percent of Republican respondents saw her favorably and only 20 percent unfavorably.
What explains Greene’s popularity and growing influence? Don’t her Republican supporters hear these criticisms, or do they not care — or even approve? Could criticisms from Democrats or the media actually enhance her popularity among Republicans in a sort of “backfire effect?”
That’s what my co-authors and I wanted to find out. In new research, we find that criticisms of Greene are remarkably ineffective at shifting Republicans’ and independents’ attitudes toward either Greene or QAnon — even when Republican officials are the critics. On the other hand, we find no evidence of a backfire effect among Republicans. Also, 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 experiment to an opt-in sample of 5,575 respondents. The sample was matched and weighted to approximate the population of US adults. We randomly divided participants into six groups. Each group read a fictional news article about Greene that contained different information:
- A neutral description of Greene with no criticism
- Criticism from an unnamed news outlet
- Criticism from two CNN reporters
- Criticism from an unnamed member of Congress
- Criticism from a Democratic member of Congress
- Criticism from a Republican member of Congress
The articles with criticism focused on Greene’s ties to QAnon. All six groups then answered questions about their feelings toward Greene and QAnon.
Criticizing Greene doesn’t influence Republicans — even when Republican leaders are the critics
Observers have repeatedly called on Republican officials to criticize or censure Greene. Perhaps these calls assume Republican critiques would persuade Greene’s supporters to abandon her or at least view her more negatively. We find no evidence for that.
Before reading the articles, Republicans’ average baseline approval of Greene and QAnon stood at 48 and 24, respectively, on a 100-point feeling thermometer. However, none of the articles had statistically significant effects on Republicans’ attitudes toward Greene or QAnon. These findings suggest that even if more Republican officials criticize Greene, she’ll stay comparatively popular. Republicans generally just don’t care.
A phenomenon called partisan motivated reasoning may explain Republicans’ general indifference to such criticisms. Since they’re motivated to have a positive opinion toward Greene, they will seek out information consistent with this goal — a psychological mechanism known as confirmation bias — while dismissing information inconsistent with this goal.
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Could some criticisms actually increase Greene’s popularity?
Some right-wing politics today enjoys what’s called “owning the libs,” or what one journalist described as “infuriating, flummoxing or otherwise distressing liberals.” Greene herself has bragged about such attacks, declaring, “The DC swamp is against me. And the lying fake news media hates my guts. It’s a badge of honor.”
But democratic or media criticisms don’t boost Greene’s popularity. This result is consistent with other political science research showing that critical media coverage of a QAnon endorsement doesn’t increase support for QAnon endorsers, even among voters with low trust in the media.
How criticisms of Greene affect Democrats and independents
However, some critics pushed more Democrats to feel more negatively toward both Greene and QAnon, including those from an unnamed news outlet, two CNN reporters and a Democratic member of Congress.
That’s true even though Democrats already had very negative feelings toward Greene and QAnon, with an average baseline approval of Greene and QAnon at 10 and 7, respectively, out of 100. But some criticisms brought those down even more, by between one and five points .
However, no criticism shifted independents from their average baseline 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, her prominence in national politics further normalizes false accusations and political violence. From her unfounded and anti-Semitic claims that the 2021 California wildfires were caused by Jewish space lasers to her direct endorsements of executing Democratic leaders, Greene shows no indications of toning down her rhetoric.
Widespread criticisms don’t seem to slow Greene down — not even criticisms from other Republican officials. Nor do they dissuade her followers.
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Victor Wu (@Victor_Y_Wu) is a JD candidate at Stanford Law School.