According to researchers from Ohio University, the rise of fake news in the run-up to the 2016 election played a significant role in Donald Trump’s win. Although the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, it may give some insight into how voters voters mad their decisions, The Washington Post reports.
The study suggested that about 4 percent of people who supported Barack Obama in 2012 didn’t support Hillary Clinton in 2016 because they were swayed by fake news stories.
Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck and Erik C. Nisbet, the study’s authors, inserted three popular fake news stories from the 2016 campaign into a 281-question YouGov survey given to a sample that included 585 Obama supporters — 23 percent of whom didn’t vote for Clinton, either by abstaining or picking another candidate (10 percent voted Trump, which is in line with other estimates).
Here are the false stories, along with the percentages of Obama supporters who believed they were at least “probably” true (in parenthesis):
1. Clinton was in “very poor health due to a serious illness” (12 percent)
2. Pope Francis endorsed Trump (8 percent)
3. Clinton approved weapons sales to Islamic jihadists, “including ISIS” (20 percent)
“Our analysis leads us to the conclusion that fake news most likely did have a substantial impact on the voting decisions of a strategically important set of voters—those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012,” they continued.
“Indeed, given the very narrow margins of victory by Donald Trump in key battleground states, this impact may have been sufficient to deprive Hillary Clinton of a victory in the Electoral College.”
The researchers were careful to point out that it’s possible that Obama voters first decided not to vote for Clinton in 2016, and then used fake news stories as a way to rationalize their decision.
“We cannot prove that belief in fake news ‘caused’ these former Obama voters to defect from the Democratic candidate in 2016,” the researchers wrote.
“But if these estimates are even remotely accurate as measures of the impact of belief in fake news on defections from the Democratic candidate, it is highly likely that this pernicious pollution of our political discourse was sufficient to influence the outcome of what was a very close election.”
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