AP

AP-NORC/USAFacts Poll: Facts missing from American democracy

Nov 20, 2019, 2:47 PM | Updated: 2:55 pm

Results of AP-NORC Center poll on attitudes toward facts and democratic processes. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

(Photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (AP) — At a time when many Americans say they’re struggling to distinguish between fact and fiction, the country is broadly skeptical that facts underlie some of the basic mechanisms of democracy in the United States — from political campaigns to voting choices to the policy decisions made by elected officials.

A meager 9% of Americans believe that campaign messages are usually based on facts, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Opinion Research and USAFacts. Only 14% think policy decisions are often or always fact-based, or that Americans’ voting decisions are rooted in facts.

Reporting by journalists scores slightly better with the public, but not by much: the survey found that only about 2 in 10 Americans believe media reporting is often or always based on facts. Roughly half of Americans think reporting is sometimes based on fact, while about a third say journalists never rely on facts.

Coupled with a finding from the same survey that found many Americans have trouble verifying for themselves whether information is true, the poll paints a picture of a country deeply insecure about separating truth from falsehood.

“Lately, it seems like there’s been a war versus facts and reality,” said Skye Hamm-Oliver, a 44-year-old Democrat in Lewiston, Idaho.

Will Barger, a 32-year-old police officer in rural Missouri, has become increasingly skeptical of the media and voters alike in the past few years. A Republican and former regular viewer of Fox News who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, he’s become disillusioned with the president and the conservative cable channel and now trusts only local media.

He’s even less trusting in government and policy decisions, keeping his faith mainly in law-enforcement agencies. And he’s skeptical most voters are fact-driven.

“It’s more of a gut decision based on personal belief on a candidate,” Barger said. What matters to most, he said, is “if there’s an R in front of the name or a D in front of the name.”

Overall, 53% of the public thinks voters sometimes cast ballots based on facts, while 32% say they rarely or never do. Hamm-Oliver said voters in her home state of Idaho did so when they voted to approve a ballot measure last year that forced the state to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which had previously been rejected by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

“But I have friends who’ve gone to vote and said ‘just because that’s a fact, that isn’t all there is,'” she said.

Joan McKee, a 65-year-old insurance broker who lives on the southern New Jersey shore and leans Democratic, said she thinks most decisions involving policy and elections rely only slightly more — at best — on fact than opinion. She says even the public policies of people she supports, including former President Barack Obama, were partly based on ideology over facts.

“They may take the facts and spin them to do whatever they want,” said McKee, arguing there are always choices in policy that are made based on core values. “I think it’s pretty much always been like this.”

McKee’s view is widespread, with 55% of Americans saying policy decisions are sometimes based on fact while 3 in 10 think they rarely are. Republicans are more skeptical than Democrats that public policy is even sometimes fact-driven, with 33% saying it rarely or never is compared to 23% of Democrats.

“If government decision makers aren’t looking at government data, then our whole process is flawed,” said former Microsoft chief executive and USAFacts founder Steve Ballmer. “You have to look at the data that you have.”

The poll also found a slim majority of Americans, including Republicans and Democrats, saying the president has a lot of sway over information the government provides.

Colleen Michaels thinks facts have nothing to do with policy. “It’s emotional,” the 55-year-old Ohio farmer, who leans Republican, said of policy. “It has nothing to do with facts.”

She cited restrictions on the slaughter of horses to protect against the unauthorized sale of horsemeat. Michaels is mainly a dairy farmer, but she raises draft horses and occasionally would like to kill one and sell it to overseas meat markets. But she’s no longer able to so easily thanks to regulations she considers based on animal-rights hysteria instead of facts.

Michaels also has a jaundiced view of the media based on a personal experience. When she was young, she said, a news outlet falsely reported that a family member shot at some nearby campers. “The media just goes by whatever they want to say,” she said.

Views on the factual nature of news media reporting are especially partisan. While 31% of Democrats say reporting is reliably based in fact, just 10% of Republicans say the same.

Among Democrats, another 53% say reporting is sometimes fact-based. By contrast, nearly half of Republicans, 46%, think this is rare.

Hamm-Oliver, the Democrat from Idaho, trusts CNN but not Fox News. She worries, however, that media outlets are increasingly relying on opinion over facts and that those circulate wider among the public.

Of fact and opinion pieces, she said: “They’re starting to blend together.”
___
The AP-NORC/USAFacts poll of 1,032 adults was conducted Oct. 15-28 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.
___
Online:
AP-NORC Center:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks at a Republican campaign ...

WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Haley says she raised $12M in February, can’t point to long-term plan to beat Trump

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said Friday that she raised $12 million in February, a haul that will likely allow her to remain in the Republican primary against former President Donald Trump past next week's Super Tuesday — even though she can't point to an upcoming state where she expects to beat him.

3 days ago

February, 29, otherwise know as leap year day, is shown on a calendar Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Ove...

LEANNE ITALIE AP Lifestyles Writer

What would happen without a Leap Day? More than you might think

Leap year. It's a delight for the calendar and math nerds among us. So how did it all begin and why?

5 days ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a primary election night ...

MEG KINNARD and WILL WEISSERT Associated Press

Trump wins South Carolina, easily beating Haley in her home state and closing in on GOP nomination

Donald Trump won South Carolina's Republican primary on Saturday further consolidating his path to a third straight GOP nomination.

9 days ago

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of t...

MORGAN LEE Associate Press

Negligence or scapegoating? Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Prosecutors sought to pin blame on a movie weapons supervisor for bringing live ammunition on set that contributed to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during production of the film "Rust."

11 days ago

A pail rests next to caution tape on a beach in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2...

Associated Press

Young girl killed when a hole she dug in the sand collapsed on a Florida beach, authorities said

A young girl died Tuesday when a deep hole she was digging collapsed on her at a south Florida beach, authorities said.

13 days ago

A Gila monster is displayed at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Dec. 14, 2018....

MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

A Colorado man is dead after a pet Gila monster bite

A Colorado man has died after being bitten by his pet Gila monster in what would be a rare death if the creature's venom was the cause.

13 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

AP-NORC/USAFacts Poll: Facts missing from American democracy