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article imageLifestyle factors affect our opinions of politicians

By Tim Sandle     Mar 11, 2017 in Politics
Much has been made about the decline in the public’s trust in politicians together with the veracity of what they say. With due notice of this, the preexisting views of voters are just as important as what politicians say and do, according to a new stud
One thing that has dominated the pre-and post-election of Donald Trump in the U.S. has been the growing use of fake news, especially the making of statements by some politicians that are unsupported by verifiable facts. While facts are undoubtedly important, the findings of a new study show that no matter the extent of fact-checking by media outlets, many voters rely heavily on their pre-existing views to assess if a politician’s statement is true or not. The study relates to the U.S. population and it was conducted during the 2015 U.S. presidential primaries. For this around 1,700 people were surveyed.
The focus of the study was Donald Trump and the researchers analyzed various statements made by the businessman-turned-politician. The MIT political scientists also examined voters, who had previously declared their support for the Democratic or Republican parties, for their views on what Trump was saying. Subjects were divided into different groups for the study. For some subjects, statements made by Trump were provided; for other subjects, the same statements were given but unattributed to trump. In addition, of the eight statements given, four were things Trump had said and four were invented by the researchers. The aim was see if the source of the statement (in this case, Donald Trump) mattered.
It was found, from the analysis, that the source of the claim was more important than any supporting facts, For instance, when Trump made a comment that inferred vaccines cause autism, which went against majority scientific opinion, most Republican voters believed Trump over the scientists. Using a measure they termed a ‘belief score’, the researchers found that when Trump made a statement (later found to be unsupportable –potential ‘false’) Republicans tended to give it a score of 6 (with zero being ‘completely false’ and ten being’ completely believable). However, when the same statements were not associated with trump the score fell to an average of 4.5.
Using a different example, when presented with information about the costs of the Iraq war, Democrats were more likely to believe the costs if they came from an independent news outlet than from Trump himself. This meant, according to Professor Adam Berinsky: “The things Trump said that were true, if attributed to Trump, [made] Democrats less likely to believe [them]. ... Trump really does polarize people's views of reality."
With Democrats, these study participants tended to give unattributed statements a score of seven (on the belief score range); whereas if it was something attributed to Trump the score fell, although not as greatly as might be expected: to six.
Once the subjects of the study were debriefed it was found that the statements and facts were largely irrelevant when it came to voting intentions. Here the candidate's factual issues did not seem to affect respondents' voting choices. This means, where Republican-leaning voters found out statements attributed to Trump were ‘false’ they generally remained inclined to vote for him; and where Democrat-leaning voters found out that some statements attributed to Trump were true they generally remained unlikely to vote for him.
The research is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science in a paper titled “Processing political misinformation: comprehending the Trump phenomenon.”
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