Poll: Facts missing from US democracy
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.