Did facts matter in last year’s election? SMPA professor investigates in study

In a “post-truth” presidential election, a team of researchers found facts did have an impact on how voters viewed candidates, but rarely were votes changed.

Researchers from GW, Dartmouth College, University of Exeter, and Ohio State University, conducted a study, published this month, to examine how voters’ perceptions would change if misleading or false claims by candidates were corrected.

The report, “Taking Corrections Literally But Not Seriously? The Effects of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability” found that while facts contributed to an individual’s understanding or belief in the truth, facts did little to sway an individual’s political allegiance during the election.

The title is a play on one journalist’s observation during the campaign that then-candidate Donald Trump should be taken “seriously, not literally” by the news media, because of his propensity to make untrue and misleading statements.

The report focused mainly on Trump’s misleading claims in his Republican National Convention speech and first general election debate with Hillary Clinton. The researchers, including Ethan Porter, an assistant professor of media and public affairs in the School of Media and Public Affairs, found that both Trump’s supporters and detractors processed the actual facts when they were presented, but that the corrected facts had little impact on which candidate they chose to support.

The report also mentioned the importance of individual interpretation when people are presented with factual corrections. While supporters of Trump may receive the same factually corrected information as those who protest Trump, the two groups are likely to interpret the information differently.

The researchers concluded that while facts did matter in last year’s election, they had little effect on which candidate a voter choose to support, leading Trump supporters to take corrections “literally, but apparently not seriously.”

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