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The controversy surrounding the U.S. use of the Dal Molin airfield in Vicenza, Italy, might spark farther-reaching consequences than imagined.

A group of social scientists studying the attitudes of undecided voters in late 2007 used the issue to gauge whether local Italian residents who said they hadn’t made up their minds were really telling the truth.

The resulting study was due to be published in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

The U.S. Army plans to construct barracks and office space for soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team on the airfield, formerly used by the Italian military, which still owns the property.

The move has been approved by the last three Italian governments, but has drawn fierce opposition from peace activists across the country as well as local residents concerned about the expansion’s impact on the environment.

A team that included researchers from the University of Padova asked more than 100 local residents about their opinions on the issue, according to numerous recent reports in the American and Canadian media.

Most of those surveyed expressed an opinion for or against the expansion, but 33 said they were undecided.

Scientists then conducted a series of tests with those who said they were undecided.

Some involved associating pictures of the base with positive or negative words and studying reaction times.

A week later, the same people were asked if they had formed opinions.

Nineteen said they had and scientists report they were able to predict those opinions about 70 percent of the time based on their previous tests.

That’s led to speculation that people might have already formed opinions subconsciously about how they’ll vote on a particular matter without realizing it.

The city of Vicenza still plans to hold a referendum on the issue in October, though it’s unclear whether the results — whatever they might be — would have any impact on the Dal Molin project.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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