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U.S. Conservatives More Likely To Believe Falsehoods Than Liberals

A recent study in Science Advances by R. Kelly Garrett and Robert M. Bond reveals significant ideological differences in recognizing political misperceptions, highlighting the role of the information environment in shaping political beliefs.

A 2021 study conducted by R. Kelly Garrett and Robert M. Bond, published in the journal Science Advances, addresses the long-standing question of whether American conservatives are more prone to political misperceptions than liberals. The research, grounded in a unique longitudinal dataset, revealed that conservatives indeed have a lower sensitivity in distinguishing between truths and falsehoods in the political realm compared to their liberal counterparts.

The study, titled “Conservatives’ susceptibility to political misperceptions,” used a novel approach by combining social media engagement data and a 12-wave panel study, spanning six months, to examine Americans’ political knowledge. The findings confirmed that conservatives perform worse at distinguishing between true and false political claims. This discrepancy is partially attributed to the nature of widely shared falsehoods, which tend to support conservative positions, while corresponding truths generally favor liberals.

The researchers generated a multifaceted longitudinal dataset, identifying the most viral political news stories, both true and false, over a six-month period in 2019. They then assessed participants’ beliefs in these widely shared political claims. The analysis utilized signal detection theory to construct measures of sensitivity and response bias in participants’ ability to discern political truths from falsehoods.

Key insights from the study include the following:

  • The political information environment plays a significant role in shaping belief accuracy across the ideological spectrum. High-profile true political claims tend to promote issues and candidates favored by liberals, while falsehoods tend to benefit conservatives.
  • The study challenges the assumption that conservatives are uniformly more responsive to ingroup threats. Ideological differences in response to political claims are nuanced, suggesting that both liberals and conservatives exhibit biases influenced by their political predispositions.
  • The findings underscore the importance of reducing the supply of right-leaning misinformation to enhance conservatives’ ability to distinguish between political truths and falsehoods.

The research offers a deeper understanding of the role that ideology plays in shaping perceptions of political reality. It highlights the need for policies and strategies that ensure the reliability and factual accuracy of news in the political information environment, considering its significant impact on citizens’ belief accuracy.

This study contributes to the ongoing discourse on political biases and misperceptions, emphasizing the complexity of ideological influences on individuals’ perceptions of political truths and falsehoods.