Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Partisan motivated reasoning and misinformation in the media: Is news from ideologically uncongenial sources more suspicious?

  • Katherine Clayton (a1), Jase Davis (a1), Kristen Hinckley (a1) and Yusaku Horiuchi (a1)

Abstract

In recent years, concerns about misinformation in the media have skyrocketed. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that various news outlets are disseminating ‘fake news’ for political purposes. But when the information contained in mainstream media news reports provides no clear clues about its truth value or any indication of a partisan slant, do people rely on the congeniality of the news outlet to judge whether the information is true or false? In a survey experiment, we presented partisans (Democrats and Republicans) and ideologues (liberals and conservatives) with a news article excerpt that varied by source shown (CNN, Fox News, or no source) and content (true or false information), and measured their perceived accuracy of the information contained in the article. Our results suggest that the participants do not blindly judge the content of articles based on the news source, regardless of their own partisanship and ideology. Contrary to prevailing views on the polarization and politicization of news outlets, as well as on voters' growing propensity to engage in ‘partisan motivated reasoning,’ source cues are not as important as the information itself for partisans on both sides of the aisle.

Copyright

Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: yusaku.horiuchi@dartmouth.edu

Footnotes

Hide All

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2017 Political Psychology APSA Pre-Conference, 30 August 2017, at the University of California, Berkeley. We thank John Carey, D.J. Flynn, Jamie Druckman, Brendan Nyhan, Joanne Miller, and Sean Westwood for useful comments.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Baum, MA and Gussin, P (2005) Issue bias: How issue coverage and media bias affect voter perceptions of elections. Paper Presented at 2004 meeting of the American political science association, Chicago, IL. Available at https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/fs/mbaum/documents/IssueBiasAPSA05.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Baum, MA and Gussin, P (2007) In the eye of the beholder: how information shortcuts shape individual perceptions of bias in the media. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 3, 131.
Baum, MA and Groeling, T (2009) Shot by the messenger: partisan cues and public opinion regarding national security and war. Political Behavior 31, 157186.
Berinsky, AJ (2015) Rumors and health care reform: experiments in political misinformation. British Journal of Political Science 47, 241262.
Berinsky, AJ, Huber, GA, Lenz, GS and Alvarez, RM (2012) Evaluating online labor markets for experimental research: Amazon.com's mechanical turk. Political Analysis 20, 351368.
Bolsen, T, Druckman, JN and Lomax Cook, F (2014) The influence of partisan motivated reasoning on public opinion. Political Behavior 36, 235262.
Bullock, JG (2011) Elite influence on public opinion in an informed electorate. American Political Science Review 105, 496515.
Bullock, JG, Gerber, AS, Hill, SJ and Huber, GA (2015) Partisan bias in factual beliefs about politics. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10, 519578.
Carr, DJ, Barnidge, M, Gu Lee, B and Jean Tsang, S (2014) Cynics and skeptics: evaluating the credibility of mainstream and citizen journalism. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 91, 452470.
Cohn, N (2014) Polarization is dividing American society, not just politics. June 12. Available at https://nyti.ms/1ldRFEk. The New York Times. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Coll, S (2017) Donald Trump's ‘Fake News’ tactics. December 11. Available at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/11/donald-trumps-fake-news-tactics. The New Yorker. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Coppock, A, Leeper, TJ and Mullinix, KJ (2018) Generalizability of heterogeneous treatment effect estimates across samples. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 115, 1244112446.
Daniller, A, Allen, D, Tallevi, A and Mutz, DC (2017) Communication methods and measures measuring trust in the press in a changing media environment measuring trust in the press in a changing media environment. Communication Methods and Measures 11, 7685.
Darcy, O (2017) Fox news tweets correction on MSNBC report after Twitter users call out error. December 4. Available at http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/04/media/fox-news-msnbc-correction-error/index.html. CNN. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Dellavigna, S and Kaplan, E (2007) The Fox News effect: media bias and voting. Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, 11871234.
Doherty, C (2014) Polarization in American politics. June 12. Available at http://pewrsr.ch/TNl6mr. Pew Research Center. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Druckman, JN, Peterson, E and Slothuus, R (2013) How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. American Political Science Review 107, 5779.
Druckman, J, Levendusky, M and McLain, A (2015) No need to watch: how the effects of partisan media can spread via inter-personal discussions. Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University WP-15-12. Available at http://www.ipr.northwestern.edu/publications/docs/workingpapers/2015/IPR-WP-15-12.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Flynn, DJ, Nyhan, B and Reifler, J (2017) The nature and origins of misperceptions: understanding false and unsupported beliefs about politics. Advances in Political Psychology 38, 127150.
Gilbert, DT, Tafarodi, RW and Malone, PS (1993) You can't not believe everything you read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 65, 221233.
Gross, W, Stark, TH, Krosnick, J, Pasek, J, Sood, G, Tompson, T, Agiesta, J and Junius, D (2012) Americans’ Attitudes Toward the Affordable Care Act: Would Better Public Understanding Increase or Decrease Favorability? Report prepared for the Political Psychology Research Group. Available at https://pprg.stanford.edu/wp-content/uploads/Health-Care-2012-Knowledge-and-Favorability.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Guess, A and Coppock, A (2015) Back to Bayes: confronting the evidence on attitude polarization. Working paper. Available at https://webspace.princeton.edu/users/aguess/GuessCoppockBack2BayesV3.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Gussin, P and Baum, MA (2004) In the eye of the beholder: an experimental investigation into the foundations of the hostile media phenomenon. Paper presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL. Available at https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/fs/mbaum/documents/EyeoftheBeholder.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Hasher, L, Goldstein, D and Toppino, T (1977) Frequency and the conference of referential validity. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 16, 107112.
Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (2017) Compare proposals to replace The Affordable Care Act. September 25. Available at https://www.kff.org/interactive/proposals-to-replace-the-affordable-care-act/. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Horton, JJ, Rand, DG and Zeckhauser, RJ (2011) The online laboratory: conducting experiments in a real labor market. Experimental Economics 14, 399425.
Kelly, D (2019) Evaluating the news: (mis)perceptions of objectivity and credibility. Political Behavior 41, 445471.
Kim, M (2015) Partisans and controversial news online: comparing perceptions of bias and credibility in news content from blogs and mainstream media. Mass Communication and Society 18, 1736.
Kirzinger, A, Sugarman, E and Brodie, M (2016) Kaiser health tracking poll: November 2016. December 1. Available at http://www.kff.org/health-costs/poll-finding/kaiser-health-tracking-poll-november-2016/. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Knight Foundation (2018) Perceived Accuracy and Bias in the News Media. Gallup. Report Available at https://knightfoundation.org/reports/perceived-accuracy-and-bias-in-the-news-media (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Kuru, O, Pasek, J and Traugott, MW (2017) Motivated reasoning in the perceived credibility of public opinion polls. Public Opinion Quarterly 81, 422446.
Layman, GC, Carsey, TM and Menasce Horowitz, J (2006) Party polarization in American politics: characteristics, causes, and consequences. Annual Review of Political Science 9, 83110.
Leeper, TJ and Slothuus, R (2014) Political parties, motivated reasoning, and public opinion formation. Advances in Political Psychology 35, 129156.
Levendusky, M (2013 a) How Partisan Media Polarize America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Levendusky, MS (2013 b) Why do partisan media polarize viewers? American Journal of Political Science 57, 611623.
Lupton, RN, Smallpage, SM and Enders, AM (2018) Values and political predispositions in the age of polarization: examining the relationship between partisanship and ideology in the United States, 1988–2012. Forthcoming, British Journal of Political Science.
Mantzarlis, A (2018) The funny, the weird and the serious: 33 media corrections from 2018. December 18. Poynter. Available at https://www.poynter.org/fact-checking/2018/the-funny-the-weird-and-the-serious-33-media-corrections-from-2018/ (Accessed 18 April 2019).
McCright, AM and Dunlap, RE (2011) The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public's views of global warming, 2001–2010. The Sociological Quarterly 52, 155194.
Mitchell, A, Gottfried, J, Kiley, J and Eva Matsa, K (2014) Political polarization & media habits. Pew Research Center. October 21. Available at http://www.journalism.org/2014/10/21/political-polarization-media-habits/ (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Mullinix, KJ, Leeper, TJ, Druckman, JN and Freese, J (2015) The generalizability of survey experiments. Journal of Experimental Political Science 2, 109138.
Mummolo, J and Peterson, E (2019) Demand effects in survey experiments: an empirical assessment. American Political Science Review 113, 517529.
Nazaryan, A (2017) Fox news pounded in ratings as truth mounts surprising comeback. May 23. Available at http://www.newsweek.com/fox-news-pounded-ratings-truth-mounts-surprising-comeback-614170. Newsweek. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Nelson, L (2017) Trump claims his base is ‘Getting Stronger’ despite ‘Fake News’. August 7. Available at http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/07/trump-new-york-times-criticism-241378. Politico. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Nyhan, B and Reifler, J (2010) When corrections fail: the persistence of political misperceptions. Political Behavior 32, 303330.
Nyhan, B and Reifler, J (2013) Which Corrections Work? Research Results and Practice Recommendations. Report for the New America Foundation. Available at http://www.dartmouth.edu/bnyhan/nyhan-reifler-report-naf-corrections.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Nyhan, B, Porter, E, Reifler, J and Wood, TJ (2017) Taking corrections literally but not seriously? The effects of information on factual beliefs and candidate favorability. Working paper. Available at SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstractid=2995128.
Park, H, Parlapiano, A and Sanger-Katz, M (2017) The three plans to repeal Obamacare that failed in the senate this week. July 28. Available at https://nyti.ms/2tXjwAm. The New York Times. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Pennycook, G and Rand, DG (2017) The implied truth effect: attaching warnings to a subset of fake news stories increases perceived accuracy of stories without warnings. Working paper. Available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstractid=3035384.
Pennycook, G and Rand, DG (2018) Who falls for fake news? the roles of analytic thinking, motivated reasoning, political ideology, and bullshit receptivity. Working paper. Available at SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstractid=3023545.
Pennycook, G and Rand, DG (2019 a) Fighting misinformation on social media using crowdsourced judgments of news source quality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 116, 25212526.
Pennycook, G and Rand, DG (2019 b) Lazy, not biased: susceptibility to partisan fake news is better explained by lack of reasoning than by motivated reasoning. Cognition 188, 3950.
Pennycook, G, Cannon, TD and Rand, DG (2018) Prior exposure increases perceived accuracy of fake news. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 147, 18651880.
Poole, KT and Rosenthal, H (1984) The polarization of American politics. The Journal of Politics 46, 10611079.
Prior, M, Sood, G and Khanna, K (2015) You cannot be serious: the impact of accuracy incentives on partisan bias in reports of economic perceptions. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10, 489518.
Rymel, T (2017) If we can't trust media, who can we trust? February 24. Available at https://www.huffpost.com/entry/if-we-cant-trust-media-who-can-we-trustus58b0757fe4b02f3f81e446c4. The Huffington Post. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Silverman, C (2017) Trump is causing democrats to trust media more, while republicans are endorsing more extreme views, says a new study. December 4. Available at https://www.poynter.org/news/trump-causing-democrats-trust-media-more-while-republicans-are-endorsing-more-extreme-views. Poynter. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Swift, A (2016) Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low. Gallup. September 14. Available at http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Swire, B, Berinsky, AJ, Lewandowsky, S and Ecker, UKH (2017) Processing political misinformation: comprehending the trump phenomenon. Royal Society Open Science 4, 160802.
The Economist (2016) How Americans’ media habits can predict how they will vote. November 7. Available at https://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2016/11/voters-and-media. The Economist. (Accessed 18 April 2019).
Turner, J (2007) The messenger overwhelming the message: ideological cues and perceptions of bias in television news. Political Behavior 29, 441464.
Wang, AB (2017) ABC news apologizes for ‘serious error’ in Trump report and suspends Brian Ross for four weeks. December 3. Available at http://wapo.st/2AsEMTq. The Washington Post. (Accessed 18 April 2019).

Keywords

Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Clayton et al. Dataset
Dataset

 Unknown
PDF
Supplementary materials

Clayton et al. supplementary material
Clayton et al. supplementary material 1

 PDF (354 KB)
354 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed