mendacious messages, misinformed electorate

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A new study from World Public Opinion (associated with PIPA, whose media studies I mentioned in January and October 2004), looks at "Misinformation and the 2010 Electorate" (PDF) and observes that "the poll 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. [...] In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

Steve Benen snarks at Washington Monthly that "in some cases, regular Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims about current events were accurate:"

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won't happen, of course, in part because the network and its viewers aren't quite informed enough to realize they're uninformed.

Last week, PolitiFact named the Right's relentlessly repeated claim that healthcare reform is a "government takeover" as their Lie of the Year:

In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul America's health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a "government takeover." [...] The memo is about salesmanship, not substance. It doesn't address whether the lines are accurate. It just says they are effective and that Republicans should use them. [...]

By selecting "government takeover' as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.

The phrase is simply not true.

As the epitome of the Right's mendacious messaging, their "takeover" meme is the latest in a long series of rhetorical roadblocks to progress. NYT's David Leonhardt reminds us of the GOP's traditional opposition to healthcare by noting that "Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net [thanks to liberals] or tried to guarantee civil rights [ditto], passionate opposition [from conservatives] has followed:"

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of "our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom." Social Security was actually a plan "to Sovietize America," a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps "in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism," the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of "naked judicial power" that would sow "chaos and confusion" and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as "asking for trouble" and civil rights laws as being on "the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more."

This year's health care overhaul has now joined the list.

For want of the truth, an election was lost...

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on December 19, 2010 2:05 PM.

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