Misinformation and the Political Right

Let’s start with a simple premise: voters make choices based on information. Even highly partisan voters make their partisan decisions based on the information they hear about political parties and candidates aligning or not with their values and beliefs. But it all comes down to information.

What happens when a big ol’ chunk of the electorate is actively misinformed? Would we see what happened across most of the country this past November?

Well, consider the following:

Fox News Viewers Often Misinformed

A new University of Maryland study finds that those “who had greater exposure to news sources were generally better informed… There were however a number of cases where greater exposure to a news source increased misinformation on a specific issue.”

Key finding: Fox News viewers were were “significantly” more likely than non-viewers to erroneously believe false information about the economy, taxes, climate change, bailouts and whether President Obama was born in the United States.

“These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it.”

And then consider the following:

Lie of the Year

PolitiFact picks the phrase “government takeover of health care” as the Lie of the Year.

“Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections… The phrase is simply not true.”

Nobody debates that, overall, Republicans beat Democrats in the November elections. However, individuals like John Boehner are quick to claim that the election results indicate that the American people have bought into Republican positions. What if a critical mass of voters – particularly voters in swing states and swing districts – were simply misinformed and based their votes on wrong information?

Hypothetically speaking, if voters overall were accurately informed, it appears that Election Day would have yielded much better results for the Democratic Party.

Given that the spread of misinformation appears to heavily benefit the Republican Party, RMGers, which would you prefer if you had to choose between the two following options: an informed electorate that may be more likely to vote for Democrats, or an actively misinformed electorate that may be more likely to vote for Republicans?

About ConcernedVoterInMass

  • I spoke to people who voted for him who clearly misunderstood some of his positions, even ones that they counted as core issues.

  • geo999

    …to choose between options that aren’t jive.

    I will stipulate that you are a good liberal soldier, and so have cast your commentary in a light most favorable to your tribe – omitting data which shows that liberals who restrict their information gathering to one venue are equally as inclined as conservatives to be less than well rounded.

    That you post on a right leaning site the premise that ignorant folk are more likely to vote Republican and that enlightened folk are more likely to vote Democrat, is unsurprising.

    That you expect us to take this diary seriously, is.

  • edfactor

    So, as you posted this comment anonymously (rather than putting your name in the bio) I am assuming you are not a Republican. No problem there – even if you are a Democrat looking to bait people here into some unflattering conversation. (Thanks for the UMD study – it was illuminating)

    Certainly more information is not better. Certainly Fox is not dedicated to truth, only making money. Do people who watch Fox get dumber and misinformed? Most certainly. I think Republicans should stop watching it for lots of reasons.

    This statement: “However, individuals like John Boehner are quick to claim that the election results indicate that the American people have bought into Republican positions.” is not true enough to state it that plainly. The GOP has a a very low approval rating nationwide, and GOP leaders in the House have not made statements like that (as far as I know) because they realize their numbers are low as well.

    You also said: “Hypothetically speaking, if voters overall were accurately informed, it appears that Election Day would have yielded much better results for the Democratic Party. ” Well, I agree that would be true if we merely erased right-wing distortions. But if we want to say “accurately informed” I assume you mean in a general sense, not just “remove the dumb things the right says.” If we do mean the general sense, then certainly many not-exactly-true and false beliefs of the Democrats also would go away, perhaps tilting the electorate in the other direction. (Examples? “the health care bill is paid for”, “the House follows pay-as-you-go rules”, “passing a budget this year is not necessary”, “no one will have to change their health insurance”, “and so many more.)

    Certainly, in a time of economic distress in a democratic republic, the party out of power has more to gain from misinformation than the party in power. Do I think the GOP, on balance, benefited more from misinformation than the Democrats? No question. Do I like that? No way. But show me the election since the founding of America where everyone was properly informed.

    Would I rather lose the election than win on misinformation? It depends on what the stakes are. In an ordinary election, I would want to win on good information, or lose on it. If the stakes are huge, then I’ll take the win on bad information, as long as the winners to the right thing with the improper mandate.  

  • you think you’re well informed and super intelligent….

  • survey.  Sweet methodology.

    Since you’ve made numerous claims of tax cuts on the table over the past few weeks….I’ll put you in the misinformed group.

  • Let’s look at what they determined “correct” answers to be in the survey:

    “Stimulus Legislation Saved or Created Millions of Jobs”

    “Health Care Legislation will Not Increase Deficit”

    “The Economy is starting to Recover”(“Recession Ended in June 2009”)

    “Climate Change is Happening”

    “President Bush signed TARP into existence” (55% correct)

    “Bailout of Auto Makers Occurred Under President Bush and Obama”

    “It was NOT True that the Chamber of Commerce Spent Millions of Dollars in the 2010 Election that was Raised Over-Seas”

    (60% correct)

    “Stimulus Bill Included Some Tax Breaks” (43%)

    “Since January 2009 Your Taxes have Gone Down” (While the last two are mostly true tax credits for spending are not cutting taxes)

    “President Obama Increased the Level of Troops in Afghanistan” (55% correct)

    “President Obama was born in this Country” (56% correct)

    Not all of the deemed correct answers are wrong but the fact they can say that the health care bill will not increase the deficit is incredible (to start with).

    Also Democrats where just as likely to be perceived as believing misinformation on many of the issues.  The other fact to take away is that at this point almost everyone watches Fox over the other networks so maybe that has more to do with the high number.  I bet a survey of Walter Cronkite views would show a lot of misinformed people too.