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False and Misleading Information

The study of misinformation is as important as the study of information to librarianship. In the current polarized political environment it might be impossible to look at this study dispassionatey, but I think it’s worth reviewing and discussing for its results and not just for political spin.

The University of Maryland has conducted a study in its Program on International Policy Attitudes about voter beliefs in the last US National election. It has some interesting results:

The study “found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the key issues of the campaign. Such misinformation was correlated with how people voted and their exposure to various news sources.”

The full report is here. (26 page PDF):

Misinformation and the 2010 Election
A Study of the US Electorate

December 10, 2010


The key findings of the study are:

1. Perceptions of Misleading and False Information
An overwhelming majority of voters said that they encountered misleading or false information in the last election, with a majority saying that this occurred frequently and occurred more frequently than usual

2. Evidence of Misinformation Among Voters
The poll found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the issues prominent in the election campaign, including the stimulus legislation, the healthcare reform law, TARP, the state of the economy, climate change, campaign contributions by the US Chamber of Commerce and President Obama’s birthplace. In particular, voters had perceptions about the expert opinion of economists and other scientists that were quite different from actual expert opinion.

3. Variations in Misinformation By Voting Behavior
There were significant differences between those who voted Democratic and Republican in the level of misinformation on various issues that were prominent in the campaign and that respondents said were important in shaping their votes

4. Variations in Misinformation by Exposure to News Sources
Consumers of all sources of media evidenced substantial misinformation, suggesting that false or misleading information is widespread in the general information environment, just as voters say they perceive it to be. In most cases increasing exposure to news sources decreased misinformation; however, for some news sources on some issues, higher levels of exposure increased

Some examples from the report of things that were believed (falsely with neutral sources provided in the document) during the last election that may have influenced some voters:

* A majority believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs
* A majority believe the health reform law will increase the deficit
* A majority believe the economy is getting worse
* A significant number beieve that most scientists think climate change is not occurring or that scientists’ views are divided evenly
* A majority believe income taxes have gone up
* A majority believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts
* A majority believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout
* A majority believe that most Republicans opposed TARP
* A significant number believe Obama was not born in the U.S. (or that it is unclear)
* A significant number that it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back Republicans
* A significant number believe that the bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama.

Fox News daily viewers were much more significantly likely to believe this misinformation that viewers of other networks or print news sources (such as CNN, MSNBC, traditional networks, public broadcasting, newspapers, news magazines).

Wouldn’t it be great if we could determine the ability of library cardholders who use the library regularly to separate good from bad information. I wonder. . .

Libraries are key democratic institutions. We play a non-partisan role in a democratic society. We are not unbiased. We are biased towards quality information, correct answers, and full access for all to good information.

Let’s make sure we keep and improve that positioning.


Posted on: December 18, 2010, 4:52 pm Category: Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Pinkerton said

    Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest