Taking Fact-Checks Literally But Not Seriously? The Effects of Journalistic Fact-Checking on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability
Are citizens willing to accept journalistic fact-checks of misleading claims from candidates they support and to update their attitudes about those candidates? Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the effects of exposure to counter-attitudinal information. As fact-checking has become more prominent, it is therefore worth examining how respondents respond to fact-checks of politicians—a question with important implications for understanding the effects of this journalistic format on elections. We present results to two experiments conducted during the 2016 campaign that test the effects of exposure to realistic journalistic fact-checks of claims made by Donald Trump during his convention speech and a general election debate. These messages improved the accuracy of respondents’ factual beliefs, even among his supporters, but had no measurable effect on attitudes toward Trump. These results suggest that journalistic fact-checks can reduce misperceptions but often have minimal effects on candidate evaluations or vote choice.
KeywordsFact checking Factual misconception Corrections Public opinion Misinformation Backfire effect
- BBC. (2016). Post-truth’ declared word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. November 16, 2016. Retrieved February 6, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-37995600.
- Flynn, D. J. (2016). The scope and correlates of political misperceptions in the mass public. Unpublished paper, Dartmouth College.Google Scholar
- Jamieson, K. H. (2015). Implications of the demise of ‘Fact’ in political discourse. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 159(1), 66–84.Google Scholar
- Jarman, J. W. (2016). Motivated to ignore the facts: The inability of fact-checking to promote truth in the public sphere. In J. Hannan (Ed.), Truth in the public sphere. London: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
- Molden, D. C., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Motivated thinking. In K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Eds.), The Cambridge & handbook of thinking and reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- National Public Radio. (2016). Fact check: Trump And clinton debate for the first time. September 26, 2016. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from http://www.npr.org/2016/09/26/495115346/fact-check-first-presidential-debate.
- New York Times. (2016). Our fact checks of the first debate. September 26th, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/us/politics/fact-check-debate.html.
- Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (N.d.). Do people actually learn from fact-checking? Evidence from a longitudinal study during the 2014 campaign.” Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/fact-checking-effects.pdf.
- Pierce, P. A. (1993). Political sophistication and the use of candidate traits in candidate evaluation.Google Scholar
- Politico. (2016). Trump wrong on Michigan job losses. September 26, 2016. Retrieved November 11, 2017, from https://www.politico.com/blogs/2016-presidential-debate-fact-check/2016/09/trump-wrong-on-michigan-job-losses-228707.
- Porter, E., Wood, T. J., & Kirby, D. (2018). Sex trafficking, Russian infiltration, birth certificates, and pedophilia: A survey experiment correcting fake news. Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2(5), 304–331.Google Scholar
- Rahn, W. M., Aldrich, J. H., Borgida, E., & Sullivan, J. L. (1990). A social cognitive model of candidate appraisal. In J. A. Ferejohn & J. H. Kuklinski (Eds.), Information and democratic processes. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
- Schleifer, T. (2016). Paul Manafort doubts FBI statistics after agency spared Hillary. CNN, July 12, 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/21/politics/paul-manafort-fbi-statistics-hillary-clinton/.
- Spivak, C. (2011). The fact-checking explosion. American Journalism Review, 32, 38–43.Google Scholar
- Sullivan, E., & Day, C. (2016). AP FACT CHECK: Crime stats don’t back Trump’s dire view. Associated Press, July 13, 2016. Retrieved October 22, 2018, from https://apnews.com/3e132f145e0c44cf96cb7f4fd448b34a.
- Wood, T., & Porter, E. (2018). The elusive backfire effect: Mass attitudes’ steadfast factual adherence. Political Behavior.Google Scholar