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In Post Truth World, Study Finds Facts Matter To An Extent

By Mark Melin. Originally published at ValueWalk.

Do facts matter in a post truth world? A new study from researchers at Dartmouth College, University of Exeter, George Washington University and The Ohio State University concludes that, during the US Presidential campaign of 2016, while facts might matter in determining someone’s version of the truth – and people processed new information to change their beliefs to various extents – it didn’t much impact certain attitudes towards their chosen candidate meet factual beliefs.

factual beliefs

Post truth world shows ability to change factual opinions, but not political opinions

It was the BBC in 2016 that is credited with popularizing the phrase post truth to reflect the successful elimination of facts and logical policy decisions from political decision making. From the perspective of researchers Brendan Nyhan, Jason Reifler and Ethan Porter, who document that when people are confronted with counterfactual information they don’t necessarily change their political beliefs, the societal change might not appear congruent with a well-functioning democracy.

The foursome tackles the topic that seems to be dividing the world into groups of people yelling at one another but seldom listen. In the report, titled “Taking Corrections Literally But Not Seriously? The Effects of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability,” they note both a willingness to change beliefs on an issue but not change their support for a political candidate.

Looking at two studies from the 2016 campaign, the researchers found that after factually incorrect statements were made by then Presidential candidate Donald Trump during his convention speech, both his supporters and detractors changed their assessment of a situation relative to the new facts presented, but it didn’t impact their political support, particularly in regard to President Trump.

factual beliefs in a post truth world, but interpretation of facts is where the differential exists

While new facts often led to voters on both sides of the increasingly vitriolic political divide tended to process new information, there was one study cited by researchers that noted a contrast.

Looking at the same news article on crime statistics where counterfactual information was later delivered, a political divide resulted.

Trump supporters were more likely to believe the candidate’s statements that crime had increased over the past ten years, while statistics pointed to an opposite conclusion:

Relative to the uncorrected statement condition, Clinton supporters view the article as more accurate and fair when corrective information is present. In three of four comparisons, they even view federal crime statistics as more accurate when Trump’s staffer questions them. By contrast, Trump supporters view the article as less accurate and fair when a correction is present — a contrast with their reported factual beliefs, which became more accurate. Trump supporters are also less likely to view federal crime statistics as accurate when they are invoked in a correction, especially when questioned by a Trump staffer.

Part of the divide over facts might not come from picking and choosing which facts to believe, but rather people interpreting the facts differently. In the studies conducted by researchers, while there might be a general belief on the facts of a situation – even after corrective information was received – the end opinion of Trump supporters didn’t change. “In neither study did exposure to a correction affect Trump supporters’ attitudes about Trump himself,” the report said.

The study, which only looked at Trump public misstatements, provides “compelling evidence that citizens can accept factual corrections of misstatements even when they are made by one’s preferred candidate during a presidential election.” This leads to the conclusion that facts do matter!

But before anyone get’s too excited about facts mattering, the report urges caution. “Respondents—particularly Trump supporters—took the corrections literally, but apparently not seriously.”

The issue isn’t so much interpreting facts correctly on opinion regarding truth, but assigning value in the process.

Nyhan, Brendan and Porter, Ethan and Reifler, Jason and Wood, Thomas, Taking Corrections Literally But Not Seriously? The Effects of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability (June 29, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2995128

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The post In Post Truth World, Study Finds Facts Matter To An Extent appeared first on ValueWalk.

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