Voters have high tolerance for politicians who lie, even those caught doing it

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In a modern democracy, peddling conspiracies for political advantage is perhaps not so different from seeding an epidemic.

If a virus is to gain a foothold with the electorate, it will need a population of likely believers ("susceptibles" in speak), a germ nimble enough to infect new hosts easily (an irresistible tall tale), and an eager "Amen choir" (also known as "super-spreaders").

Unleashed on the body politic, a falsehood may spread across the social networks that supply us with information. Facebook is a doorknob slathered in germs, Twitter a sneezing co-worker, and Instagram a child returning home after a day at school, ensuring the exposure of all.

But if lies, conspiracies and are really like germs, you might think that is the cure, and truth an effective antidote.

If only it were that easy.

New research offers fresh insights into the stubborn role of ideology in maintaining support for those who peddle falsehoods, and the limited power of fact-checking to change voters' minds. Even in the face of immediate and authoritative corrections, we humans don't budge easily, or for long, from established opinions about politics, politicians and the coverage they receive.

And some of us—in particular, those who endorse conservative positions—are quicker to believe assertions that warn of grim consequences or of sinister forces at work.

The findings of three new studies suggest that fact-checkers had better be persistent, and that their expectations of changing people's minds had better be modest.

But the research also suggests that if fact-checkers wants the truth to matter, they should not be shy about touting the value of their services.

Arguably, the need for fact-checking has never been greater. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker," which maintains a running tally of the president's false statements, has counted 6,420 false or misleading statements made by the president through Oct. 30, including more than 4,400 this year. A Fact Checker poll released this week has found that more than 6 in 10 Americans believe fact-checkers when they conclude that President Donald Trump has made a false claim—meaning that more than one-third of them do not.

Is credulity, and a vague mistrust of fact-checkers, unique to Americans, or is it a broader attribute of humans? It may be a bit of both.

In a study published Tuesday and conducted with a sample of 370 Australians, researchers found that the veracity of a political candidate's claims does matter to voters—sometimes. When Australian subjects were shown an array of politicians' false statements corrected by fact-checking, they reduced their belief of those assertions. When they were shown fact-checked true statements, whether attributed to a politician on the right or one on the left, their belief in the assertions increased as well.

This fact-checking changed subjects' views about which politicians they supported, but only slightly—only when false statements outnumbered true statements by a ratio of 4-to-1. When false statements and true statements were attributed to a candidate in equal numbers—four falsehoods in balance with four true statements—Australian subjects didn't change their opinions at all.

Study co-author Adam J. Berinksy, a political scientist at MIT, said he considered those results a bit less depressing than what he found when he tried the same experiment on American subjects. When the authors presented fact-checked assertions from Trump and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to Americans, "the magnitude of the overall effect was minute," even when outweighed true ones by the same 4-to-1 margin.

Those results, which are not yet published, suggest that, although both Americans and Australians are capable of distinguishing fact from fiction (with help from fact-checkers), they are loath to alter their overall view of their favored candidate accordingly.

"They seem to be saying, 'He may be a liar, but he's my liar,'" Berinsky said.

Also "slightly depressing," he added, was the short shelf life of a fact-check: A week after subjects in both countries saw politicians' assertions corrected for truthfulness, they had forgotten virtually all of what they had learned.

But Berinsky said he took heart in Australians' willingness to adjust their assessments of lying politicians even a little bit.

"I mainly study U.S. politics and am used to a world in which fact-checking doesn't work very well, where people are really stuck in their lane and politicians are seemingly immune to any kind of facts," he said. "It's good to know there are countries in which this still can work."

The findings echoed those of a report published last week in Plos One, which demonstrated that the inclusion of fact-checking in an experimental news feed made subjects hungrier and more confident news consumers. It also made them more inclined to trust "mainstream media outlets."

But there was a hitch: In addition to being very small, subjects' shifts in attitude became evident only when their news feeds included an occasional "defense of journalism" article. Usually, these were opinion pieces that countered attacks on the profession.

"Without defense of journalism, fact checking had no effect on any of these outcomes," Raymond J. Pingree, a professor of mass communications at Louisiana State University, and his coauthors concluded.

Self-identified Republicans in the study started out lower than Democrats in their trust of mainstream media, their confidence in their own ability to decide what is true in politics, and their intention to use a mainstream news portal in the future. But after a week of plying them with specialized news feeds, Pingree's team found that people across the political spectrum responded well to the combination of fact checking and defense-of-journalism pieces.

If you're starting to see a light at the end of the partisan tunnel, however, consider a third study published this week. It tested the idea that people are more inclined to believe unproven conspiracy theories when their party is out of power, a notion sometimes called the "conspiracy belief is for losers" hypothesis.

The study was led by UCLA anthropologist Daniel Fessler, who found that people whose political stances aligned them with American conservatism were far more likely than liberals to embrace falsehoods that warned of grim consequences.

Americans who hew to more progressive political stances were certainly credulous as well, the UCLA team found. But they were no more likely to believe a scary falsehood—say, that a drunken airline passenger could pry open a plane's door in midair—than they were to buy into the far less terrifying myth that you can burn more calories by exercising on an empty stomach.

But were these inclinations real and enduring, or could they be explained by the fact that, when the experiment was run in October 2015 and September 2016, conservatives had been out of the White House for several years?

Fessler and Theodore Samore, a graduate student in UCLA's anthropology department, repeated the experiment in 2016, after Donald Trump had won the presidential election, and in 2017, after Georgia Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in a special election for a Senate seat. After Trump's triumph, the researchers reasoned, conservatives should feel empowered and confident. After Jones' victory, they presumed, liberals would likely feel hopeful once more.

But their original findings did not change: As they moved further right on the ideological spectrum, people were consistently more likely to believe frightening false claims, and found them more credible than emotionally neutral falsehoods. The results were published last week in Plos One.

"It seems there's just a fundamental difference in how credulous people are about hazards as a function of their orientation," Fessler said. "How positively people feel about their party's future doesn't matter."

That dynamic has worrisome implications: When believers of ominous warnings succeed at the polls, "they have the megaphone that power brings," Fessler said. "And they use that—whether cynically or genuinely I can't tell—to issue additional proclamations of danger."

This, he said, has been Trump's stock in trade—foreign powers are taking advantage of the United States, dangerous hordes are storming the borders, and we need to build a wall to keep would-be invaders at bay.

"That cycle is very difficult to break," Fessler said. What's more, warning people who are inclined to believe that kind of narrative that they're being lied to seems more likely to reinforce the conspiracy theory than to induce a change of heart.

"I do worry," he said.

Explore further

Research confirms political views predict whether people trust false information about dangers, even after party shift

Journal information: PLoS ONE

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Dec 21, 2018
Now there's a surprise.

Dec 21, 2018
But if lies, conspiracies and fake news are really like germs, you might think that fact-checking is the cure, and truth an effective antidote.

Why would anyone think this?

Believing a lie is just that: belief. It's easy. It takes zero effort. It's the lazy way out.

Fact checking is hard. It requires actual comprehension/understanding. Virtually no one is inclined to put in this kind of effort. And especially with the number of lies being thrown at people it's so easy to just forget about that 'one lie' that you believed and just latch on to the next one (in the - vain - hope that it might be truth)

When false statements and true statements were attributed to a candidate in equal numbers—four falsehoods in balance with four true statements—Australian subjects didn't change their opinions at all.

When people tend to stick to information sources that lie to them half the time (and some even when the ratio is much higher) - then that's frightening.

Dec 21, 2018
1. What do you do when the fact checkers lie (which is probably most of the time)?
2. How did the authors of the paper know what is true and what is a lie?

Dec 21, 2018
"Arguably, the need for fact-checking has never been greater. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker," which maintains a running tally of the president's false statements"

-This indicates that the fact checkers themselves cant be trusted to be unbiased and objective.

Politics is unavoidably tribal. Lying is instinctive to tribalists who perceive lying, cheating, and stealing to gain advantage over an enemy as right and proper.

""Primeval man", he argued, "regarded actions as good or bad solely as they obviously affected the welfare of the tribe, not of the species". Among the living tribal peoples, he added, "the virtues are practised almost exclusively in relation to the men of the same tribe" and the corresponding vices "are not regarded as crimes" if practised on other tribes" (Darwin, 1871)

Dec 21, 2018
Tribal ethics: anything that strengthens your tribe and/or weakens the enemy is moral. Anything that weakens your tribe and/or strengthens the enemy is immoral.

"...external self-defence and internal co-operation - external antagonism and internal friendship. Hence their members have acquired two different sets of sentiments and ideas, adjusted to these two kinds of activity... A life of constant external enmity generates a code in which aggression, conquest and revenge, are inculcated, while peaceful occupations are reprobated. Conversely a life of settled internal amity generates a code inculcating the virtues conducing to a harmonious co- operation" (Spencer)

-IOW lawbreaking against the enemy is encouraged and rewarded.

We are entering an age in which AI fact-checking will make lawbreaking increasingly difficult. Tribalists will resist this tenaciously, demanding their god-given right to cheat. The question is, can democracy survive without tribalism?

Should it?

Dec 21, 2018
"Just because something isn't a lie does not mean that it isn't deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction." - Criss Jami

Dec 21, 2018
"While individuals can and do appeal to principle in some cases to support their moral positions, we argue that this is a difficult stance psychologically because it conflicts with well-rehearsed economic intuitions urging that the most rational course of action is the one that produces the most favorable cost-benefit ratio. Our research suggests that people resolve such dilemmas by bringing cost-benefit beliefs into line with moral evaluations, such that the right course of action morally becomes the right course of action practically as well. Study 3 provides experimental confirmation of a pattern implied by both our own and others' correlational research (e.g., Kahan, 2010): People shape their descriptive understanding of the world to fit their prescriptive understanding of it.
Cont'd >

Dec 21, 2018
Our findings contribute to a growing body of research demonstrating that moral evaluations affect non-moral judgments such as assessments of cause (Alicke, 2000; Cushman & Youn g, 2011) intention (Knobe, 2003, 2010), and control (Young & Phillips, 2011). At the broadest level, all these examples represent a tendency, long noted by philosophers, for people to have trouble maintaining clear conceptual boundaries between what is and what ought to be (Davis, 1978; Hume, 1740/1985)."

What Dilemma? Moral Evaluation Shapes Factual Belief – by Brittany Liu - University of California, Irvine & Peter H. Ditto - University of California, Irvine - May 18, 2012

Dec 21, 2018
more Bilderberg propaganda

we need yellow vests for everyone

Dec 21, 2018
Oh snoose, hasn't anyone clued you in yet?

Publicly fulminating against the bilbergers & the illuminati & the masons rite & the uranus conspiracy & the mickey mouse club are the secret signs of membership!

shhh! don't tell the others!

Dec 21, 2018
...a tendency, long noted by philosophers
Ah jeez
trouble maintaining clear conceptual boundaries between what is and what ought to be..."
philos could never produce relevant conclusions because originally they were ignorant of, and later on would refuse to acknowledge, the true state of the domesticated human animal and his propensity for living in tribes.

'What ought to be' in this new context is a humanity that has abandoned the obsolete religionist cultures that force it to overpopulate, and one that is culturally and ethnically homogenous.

We also need to protect the unborn from the excesses and irresponsibility of unfit mothers, as well as ridding them of genetic debility and disease. We need to ensure that every fetus that is intended to be born, be born as healthy as it possibly can be.

Successive gens of healthy people with no reason to congeal into tribes will be far better able to decide 'what ought to be'. Our responsibility is to produce them.

Dec 21, 2018
philos could never produce relevant conclusions because
-Well actually because the profession was designed to avoid ever reaching conclusions. It was just meant to keep churning on, from gen to gen, producing incoherent mush that could give the illusion of progress and relevance where there was none.

Far better for academies to be able to maintain appearance and authority than to say time and again 'we dont know'.

Philo is another institution that was the product of a species with an unnaturally high percentage of insanity and mental decrepitude.

Science struggles through the muck and mire and is at last producing real insight. We can now fix and prevent defect, extend healthy lives, and reduce the birth rate. We no longer need all the caustic mumbo jumbo of religion and liberal arts to calm and sooth us.

Dec 21, 2018
This is why there are so many nutjobs who don't "believe in" anthropogenic global climate change. They confuse politics with science.

Dec 21, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Dec 21, 2018
See? Exactly what I meant. They don't get it and they figure we're insane, stupid, or lying when we tell them.

Thanks for the example, @518498.

Just for your consideration, if published research is false, why does your computer work?

Dec 22, 2018
I mean, seriously,
most published scientific "research" is false
going back to Newton, Darwin, and Maxwell? How about Einstein? How about Franklin? Do you think they were interested in the politics of their discoveries? Seriously? Do you even understand what they did? Do you understand why people here and everyplace else you say stuff like this think you're retarded or crazy when you say things like this?

Dec 22, 2018
gosh otto, you & the annoying mousie & all the other bigoted denialist fakirs look so cute in your snazzy SS/Cheka uniforms with shiny jackboots.

Before you go dictating to the rest of us? Get your own life out of the cesspool of hate & fear you inhabit!

Dec 22, 2018
@ willzzzz ''Oh snoose, hasn't anyone clued you in yet?''

bilderbergs are one conspiricy that is obvious fact , they do meet in secret to do what ? talk about their grandkids i guess

Dec 22, 2018
The smartest thing Trump ever said was this: "We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated," he said during his victory speech on Feb. 24, 2016 in Nevada.

Trump didn't just win with less educated voters, or "poorly educated," as he called them, he crushed it by 37% among high-school-or-less voters over the next candidate, Ted Cruz.

Dec 22, 2018
This is tantamount to admitting that the stupids are running the US because there are more of them.

Dec 22, 2018
tek , so the ' educated' i then assume wholly support the loosing afganistan adventure and are aghast at Trumps wish to disengage there . And the 'educated ' fully support elected officials taking bribes from multinational corporations. And the 'educated' supported the policies that led to the 2008 financial collapse . And today the most 'educated ' of all don't believe in sex differences but in postmodern neomarxism. .

Dec 22, 2018
and @ tek , i'm sure the 'educated' just love this [ just in ]


Dec 22, 2018
@snooze, the uneducated cannot see what the educated can see. But the educated see to the very depths of what the uneducated can see. This is by definition.

Dec 22, 2018
The darkness cannot see into the light. But the light probes the very depths of the darkness.

Dec 22, 2018
LOL ,, sounds like white supremacy

Dec 22, 2018
Bwahahaha, nice try @snooze. It's a metaphor for knowledge and stupidity. Guess which side you've chosen?

Dec 23, 2018
The altright fairytails are a fascinating assortment of lab mice.

Such a contradiction of opposites, sexual contrarians, emotional cowards, repetitive violent bigotry & misogyny.

Their opposites rule their behavior. Whenever they accuse Obama or Clinton of unethical or immoral behavior? That is when the public learns of a new set of criminal indictments against the trump crime family or GOP hacks or NRA lickspittles.

Whenever they demand that biological functions be criminalized? These reactionaries are seeking to increase their own level of excitement that their own sexual deviancy may be revealed to public notice & censure.

The fake conservatives forbidding medical care, health education & personal; empowerment to children, women & everyone else they fear & despise.

The altright fairytails brag of their patriotism. Yet gives their loyalty to the Global Fascist Axis of putin & the saudis.

Lacking reading comprehension, the right spurns the US Constitution.

Dec 23, 2018
Whenever they demand that biological functions be criminalized? ''

? you mean like when muslims kill homosexuals ? we luv muslims

Dec 23, 2018
most published scienctific research is not reproducible and the reproducibility crisis i prevalent in social health and complex systems sciences more than in the hard sciences. i wonder why.

Dec 23, 2018
@zeev, I would argue against your use of "most." Most scientific research is eminently reproducible. The "crisis" is, as you note, among the social and psychological sciences, and to a lesser extent in medicine. That is nowhere near "most."

Dec 23, 2018
@snooze's morals were dictated to it by the Babble about the super magic sky daddy by the drunken stone age sheep herders. Anybody who thinks drunken stone age sheep herders knew what was going on is mentally defective.

Dec 24, 2018
This is tantamount to admitting that the stupids are running the US because there are more of them.

The MOD of people who seek power for personal gain (e.g. dictators...orin the US: republicans) has always been to get rid of the intelligenzia. Dictators have a habit of killing/imprisoning them. In the US they just went the easy way and sabotaged the school system to the point where none is being created anymore.

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