In a 2018 interview with David Letterman, former President Barack Obama said that one of the United States’ biggest challenges is that people live in different news worlds, with some watching FOX News and others watching NPR. “We don’t share a common baseline,” he said. Of fact. ” The Republican compass points to a different truth than the Democratic compass.
It’s a compelling explanation of today’s divided politics. But is it true?
“If you look at this question, you’ll see that the average person is actually pretty good at discerning what’s true and what’s false.” Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan.new study he directed Andrea Pratt Researchers at Columbia University found that partisan Republicans and Democrats were relatively accurate in distinguishing between real and fake news. In most cases, both parties were operating in the same universe.
At the same time, researchers also found that many Americans lack confidence in their ability to discern truth from falsehood. The study found that the biggest determinant of that confidence was socio-economic background. People who are older, male, white, have a college education, or have an annual income of $60,000 or more are more likely to confidently recognize a truthful news story.
“Socioeconomic variables such as age, gender, income, education, and race continue to determine who is and is not informed in the United States,” the authors write. .
For the study, Angelucci and Pratt worked with a group of journalists to determine the three most important news stories related to American politics in a given month. These articles were combined with fake news headlines that were either created by journalists or actually published online but confirmed as fake by fact-checking website Snopes. The researchers then conducted a survey that asked respondents to distinguish between true and false headlines, and used the resulting data to determine whether news identification was categorized by different socio-economic and partisan groups. The determining factors were quantified.
The study found that 47% of subjects confidently chose the true story and 3% confidently chose the false story. The rest were unknown.
Partisanship mattered, but not that much. Partisan individuals were about 2 percentage points more likely to correctly identify true news when it reflected their party better. (This effect increased over time; five to eight weeks after the article was created, partisans were about as likely to choose true news if the content was highly partisan-friendly.) It was 6% higher.)
“In fact, memory tends to make us more partisan. Over time, our perceptions of truth become biased toward partisan preferences,” Angelucci said. “Yet, despite what people fear, the average person did well on this test.”
By far the most dramatic discrepancies between true and false identifications varied based on socio-economic dimensions, specifically age, education, gender, income, and ethnicity, in descending order of magnitude. The odds of people over 52 identifying a true news story were 6 points higher than those under 52.
In the most extreme case, older white, high-income men with college education were 25% more likely to correctly identify truthful news stories than low-income minority women without college education. Angelucci said this rift can create a negative feedback cycle.
“The latter group tends to be poorer because they have less access to education, and for complex reasons they are less involved in politics. They probably have more insecurities,” Angelucci said. Ta. “But because of their low involvement, politicians may pay less attention to them, which makes the problem even worse. In this way, information inequality amplifies economic inequality. I will.”
The researchers also found that undecided voters (also called key voters because they are large enough to swing elections) tend to be less informed about politics. This makes them particularly susceptible to political misinformation campaigns. “They’re probably the least able to resist this type of information,” Angelucci said.
He said the study was a cause for both hope and concern. On the other hand, the average survey participant was relatively well-informed and able to distinguish between political fact and fiction. The misinformation also doesn’t fall along partisan lines, suggesting that the idea that Democrats and Republicans live in different realities isn’t entirely true.
On the other hand, “we’re seeing very real and intense political disagreements, so if this isn’t rooted in the information that we believe, then I’m worried that it’s something more fundamental.” Angelucci said. “We may disagree about the circumstances around us, but it’s not because we access, consume, and believe radically different information. There is more to the way we process things. There is something profound about it that means that simply providing the truth will not solve the problem.”
Read next: MIT Sloan study on social media, misinformation, and elections