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Do Facts Even Matter Anymore?

It seems now politics in America are only becoming more polarized and facts seem to be twisted to fit an agenda. People can't even agree on objective facts and it becomes increasingly hard to find common ground. So why are people prone to such tunnel vision when it comes to politics?


Sometimes discussing politics with someone across the aisle seems like screaming into the wind, and discussions seem pointless and only appeal to your side for support, not devise comprehensive solutions to complicated issues.


Psychology Today found in studies that both liberals and conservatives are likely to misinterpret or deny facts depending on their political beliefs. People are stubborn, and are reluctant to change their opinions even when given conflicting information. One study done by Yale Law School in 2013 showed people who were good at solving math problems were only good at solving problems that conformed to their political beliefs. They explain “...Liberals were only good at solving a math problem, for instance, if the answer to that problem showed that gun control reduced crime. Conservatives were only good at solving this problem if the solution showed that gun control increased crime”.


However, this study was done in 2013, before a more recent wave of polarized behavior was seen in the U.S. With our previous president and the pandemic, views have become very strong, radical, and ultimately different. A study from Pew Research in 2020 shows conservatives are less likely to believe in medical scientists. 53% of Democrats have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public interest. 31% of Republicans express a great deal of confidence in medical scientists. This is a 22 percentage point difference. Deep rooted difference in the belief in science has caused problems in our society, trust, or lack of, in the government and scientists has been a major theme the last few years. This is not representative of all democrats or republicans but it does show a trend in the difference we see between the two parties.


CNN explains in a study that conservatives and democrats that were shown real and fake stories, conservatives were a little less likely to believe the stories that were actually true and more likely to believe the false stories. Garret who conducted the study explains, "It's tempting to try and read this as evidence that conservatives are more biased or somehow psychologically predisposed to misperceptions. We can't say that... It might be that conservatives are being targeted more… Our data suggests that the composition of the media environment is playing a great role now.” We have also seen targeted news, depending on your political leanings, news will be targeted to you--whether you are more liberal or conservative. This only divides us further, when we are reading news that feeds into our view of the world we will only become more set in our views and less open to new ideas that differ from ours. Sometimes targeted news is not just selective on what they show you but also twist stories or even flat out lie.


The Atlantic explains that when people were given true and false news statements that related to politics, conservatives were more likely to believe the statements about hazards than liberals. Several studies also have shown that conservatives are more sensitive to the possibility of danger. Daniel Fessler, an anthropology professor at the University of California, says: “That helps explain why conservatives endorse policies that minimize the introduction of new, potentially harmful influences to society, like immigration, gay marriage, or comprehensive sex education… so it is logical for the conservative to take more seriously information about hazards than the liberal does”. Fessler’s study explains that because of the higher likelihood for conservatives of believing in hazardous stories and conspiracy theories that align with their beliefs, false news outlets and Trump's tweets mislead conservatives more. "This seems to be more a matter of motivation to process information (or news) in a critical, reflective thinking style than the ability to do so” explains Fessler.


Another Pew study has shown that both Democrats and Republicans agree that partisan divisions are growing at 78% agreeing overall in 2019. One thing Democrats and Republicans seem to do similarly is the inability to agree and emphasize with one another. False information is even easier to come across with groups like QAnon on Facebook and fake news sources becoming popular and more radical. We are defining others and the world in our politics, everything from where we get our news to what pops up on social media is curated to our beliefs and now it seems we define people more on who they voted for than who they are, not something we have seen in modern history.


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