Playing to their Strength-Polarizing Believers

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

The Economist June 6th 2020 pp49-51 International Fake News “Return of the paranoid style” “Why conservatives are more likely than liberals to fall prey to misinformation”.

Presented in this article are two charts.

1) Herd credulity (Source Gallup International Surveyed March 2020). “Do you believe that a foreign power or other force is deliberately spreading coronavirus”. Lowest Yes about 12% Bosnia followed by Japan, Britain, Germany, Italy, United States and Russia and highest at nearly 55% Bulgaria and slightly less Ecuador followed by Palestine and the Netherlands. South Korea and France at about 26%.

2) Trust Fund (Source Pew Research-Surveyed April 20-26, 2020). “United States, adults believing each group acts in the public interest, % agreeing by political leaning”. Tie both parties agree at 40% for Elected Officials and narrow gap between the parties for Head Teachers and Medical Scientists. Republicans relatively doubt Journalists (~20% believe they act in the public interest Vs. Democrats about 70%), Academics (50% Vs. Democrats about 85%) while Democrats are relatively leery of Religious Leaders (50% Vs. Republicans 80%), Business Leaders (40% Vs. Republicans 60%), Police Officers (70% Vs. ~85% Republicans) and Armed Forces (~75% Vs. Republicans 90%)

Throughout history there has been misinformation/fake news but it travels faster now and is broadcasted widely via Social Media (SM). Chart 1) highlights the disparity in the belief that COVID-19 is a deliberate act and Chart 2) highlights the different belief systems for liberals and conservatives-this illustrates how political parties and others can leverage misinformation. “In America Pew Research Centre found in March that 30% of Republicans believed the virus was created intentionally, nearly twice that share of Democrats”. Pandemic! “Last month a poll by YouGov found that 44% of Republicans think Bill Gates wants to use COVID-19 vaccines to implant microchips in people: 19% of Democrats agree”. This gap fits with Republicans distrust of Journalists and Academics. “These professions have long been conservative targets…Rush Limbaugh ‘four corners of deceit’: the media, scientists, academia and the government”. “Democrats are likelier…to believe that 9/11 was an inside job…” and “the myth that AIDS was invented by Big Pharma and the CIA”. According to Karen Douglas, University of Kent, conspiracy beliefs are associated with ideological extremism…”Yet there is a ‘asymmetry’…the right believe in them [conspiracies] more often…particularly those that accuse the other ‘side’ of plotting, whether that be left-wingers, foreigners or other groups”. “This largely pits liberal graduates against conservative school-leavers. And elites-whether in the media, civil service, science or academia-are dominated by graduates”.

As they don’t trust journalists, conservatives favor their own media be it FOX broadcast news or Brietbart on the Web. SM has contributed to polarization by encouraging drama as controversy plays to our "hot buttons" and drives traffic to their sites. Higher the traffic the higher price they can capture for each advertisement click. Looking to the American presidential election of 2020, according to Ezra Klein, author of “Why We’re Polarised” “ultra-partisanship works better for conservatives". With little hope of capturing moderate voters conservatives must continually play to the beliefs of their base. In securing their base they improve their liklihood of carrying the winner take all electoral vote in the rural American states. As they proved in 2000 and 2016, you can lose the popular vote dominated by urban America and still capture the Presidency.