Poll: Facts miss­ing from US democ­racy

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ni­cholas Ric­cardi and Han­nah Finger­hut

WASH­ING­TON >> At a time when many Amer­i­cans say they’re strug­gling to dis­tin­guish be­tween fact and fic­tion, the coun­try is broadly skep­ti­cal that facts un­der­lie some of the ba­sic mech­a­nisms of democ­racy in the United States — from po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns to vot­ing choices to the pol­icy de­ci­sions made by elected of­fi­cials.

A mea­ger 9% of Amer­i­cans be­lieve that cam­paign mes­sages are usu­ally based on facts, ac­cord­ing to a poll from The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Opin­ion Re­search and USAFacts. Only 14% think pol­icy de­ci­sions are of­ten or al­ways fact-based, or that Amer­i­cans’ vot­ing de­ci­sions are rooted in facts.

Re­port­ing by jour­nal­ists scores slightly bet­ter with the pub­lic, but not by much: the sur­vey found that only about 2 in 10 Amer­i­cans be­lieve me­dia re­port­ing is of­ten or al­ways based on facts. Roughly half of Amer­i­cans think re­port­ing is some­times based on fact, while about a third say jour­nal­ists never rely on facts.

Cou­pled with a find­ing from the same sur­vey that found many Amer­i­cans have trou­ble ver­i­fy­ing for them­selves whether in­for­ma­tion is true, the poll paints a pic­ture of a coun­try deeply in­se­cure about separat­ing truth from false­hood.

“Lately, it seems like there’s been a war ver­sus facts and re­al­ity,” said Skye Hamm-Oliver, a 44-year-old Demo­crat in Lewis­ton, Idaho.

Will Barger, a 32-yearold po­lice of­fi­cer in ru­ral Mis­souri, has be­come in­creas­ingly skep­ti­cal of the me­dia and vot­ers alike in the past few years. A Repub­li­can and for­mer reg­u­lar viewer of Fox News who voted for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in 2016, he’s be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with the pres­i­dent and the con­ser­va­tive ca­ble chan­nel and now trusts only lo­cal me­dia.

He’s even less trust­ing in govern­ment and pol­icy de­ci­sions, keep­ing his faith mainly in law-en­force­ment agen­cies. And he’s skep­ti­cal most vot­ers are fact-driven.

“It’s more of a gut de­ci­sion based on per­sonal be­lief on a can­di­date,” Barger said. What mat­ters to most, he said, is “if there’s an R in front of the name or a D in front of the name.”

Over­all, 53% of the pub­lic thinks vot­ers some­times cast bal­lots based on facts, while 32% say they rarely or never do. Hamm-Oliver said vot­ers in her home state of Idaho did so when they voted to ap­prove a bal­lot mea­sure last year that forced the state to ac­cept the Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, which had pre­vi­ously been re­jected by the state’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture.

“But I have friends who’ve gone to vote and said ‘just be­cause that’s a fact, that isn’t all there is,’” she said.

Joan McKee, a 65-yearold in­sur­ance bro­ker who lives on the south­ern New Jer­sey shore and leans Demo­cratic, said she thinks most de­ci­sions in­volv­ing pol­icy and elec­tions rely only slightly more — at best — on fact than opin­ion. She says even the pub­lic poli­cies of peo­ple she sup­ports, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, were partly based on ide­ol­ogy over facts.

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