A startling AP-NORC poll finds Americans struggle to identify true facts. Factors appear to include:
- partisan division,
- mutually exclusive prevailing media narratives,
- absence of straight fact reporting from preferred sources,
- social media distortions, including malicious bot-net manipulations,
- a lack of trust in key institutions,
- and the influence of money on elected officials.
The alarming findings point to a deeper, but very specific problem: American news and political culture is stripping Americans of the ability to think critically. The people’s right to know must supersede the privilege of power, if a society is to be free and democratic.
Fact, evidence, and truth cannot be partisan; a skewed fact is a lie, but increasing numbers of Americans lack the ability to discern whether they are accessing reporting untainted by factional or partisan bias.
Democratic institutions have long functioned on trust that is vanishing before our eyes, with the institutions looking similarly vulnerable.
Digging into the numbers:
- Even in this hyper-divided situation, only 40% of Republicans trust Trump as truthful.
- An incredible 25% of Trump’s own supporters do not believe he is truthful.
- Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say factual information should not be shaded by opinion. (This implies “competing views” should only be presented side by side when the facts are not settled or the purpose is to focus on opinion.)
It is clear there is a recognition that our political culture needs a reinvigoration of critical thinking; what is less clear from this survey is where to begin to reestablish a shared sense of clarity about the nature and the accessibility of both truth and trust.