New Study Says Fake News Won Donald Trump the 2016 Presidential Election

Tuesday, 03 April 2018 - 1:36PM
Tuesday, 03 April 2018 - 1:36PM
New Study Says Fake News Won Donald Trump the 2016 Presidential Election
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Image credit: YouTube
Nobody in modern politics gets angrier about fake news than President Donald Trump.

The current Commander in Chief of the United States is always eager to throw his weight around, crying foul at the merest hint of news reports that he claims are fictitious—regardless of whether or not they are actually true.

As it turns out, Trump shouldn't necessarily be too upset about fake news: a study conducted by researchers at Princeton suggests that he may have benefited more than anyone from the proliferation of fake news that circulated on social media during the 2016 presidential election.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed but which does seem to back up suspicions that many people have had for years, looked at the number of people who voted for Barack Obama in 2012, who did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. These voters clearly displayed Democrat leanings at one point, but at some point, between the two elections, they were convinced not to throw their support behind the Democrat party once again.

According to this study, which takes its data from a YouGov survey, approximately 4 percent of Obama voters elected not to vote for Clinton based on fake news reports, either by abstaining, voting for a third party candidate, or voting for Trump (as was the case with 10 percent of former Democrat voters who were surveyed).

The study even produced a handy guide to the fake stories that ended up gaining the most traction with voters, as reported by The Washington Post:

Opening quote
"Clinton was in "very poor health due to a serious illness" (12 percent)
Pope Francis endorsed Trump (8 percent)
Clinton approved weapons sales to Islamic jihadists, "including ISIS" (20 percent)"
Closing quote

It's probably not fair to say that all of those who refused to vote for Clinton did so based entirely on fake news stories, but there certainly does seem to be a correlation between those who saw these stories and those who refused to continue voting Democrat.

It's also not true that seeing a fake news story was enough to convince many people to deny Clinton their vote - according to the YouGov survey, 26% of Obama voters believed at least one of these three stories, and 45% of them went on to vote for Clinton regardless.

As anyone with a strong political leaning can attest, most social media, Facebook in particular, will serve up politicized news stories that readers are already receptive to (even if they feature Loki from the MCU). Very few staunch Democrats would have been convinced to vote for Trump simply because they were incorrectly informed that he had Papal approval.

At the same time, though, it's easy to see how the relatively small influence that these fake news stories held over voters could have made a big difference to the results of the election. The Washington Post has run the numbers, and if these duplicitous stories influenced even a fraction of voters in key states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin, Clinton might have won areas that she lost.

As for whether fake news stories genuinely got Donald Trump elected, it's hard to be certain. One thing is clear, though: we should all be careful about what news stories we read, and how much faith we put into their analysis.
Science News