Misinformation Concern Is Bipartisan, New GW Survey Finds

Democrats blamed foreign powers, Republicans faulted the media, according to the GW Politics Poll.

February 28, 2020

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There is a stark partisan divide over who is to blame for misinformation circulating during the presidential election season, according to new research from the George Washington University.

A nationwide survey found Republicans and Democrats are highly concerned about the spread of misinformation and the potential impacts it might have on American politics and society. However, when asked who is at fault, while Democrats and Republicans both are concerned with misinformation produced by foreign powers, the latter group is much more likely to blame journalists and activists.

Large numbers of Democrats and Republicans (about eight in 10) say foreign governments and individuals create at least some misinformation, but Democrats are more likely to say foreign governments produce “a lot” of made up news and information (50%) compared with Republicans (29%). About 66% of Republicans believe a lot of misinformation is created by journalists, a view shared by only 17% of Democrats. That Republican view of the media may also create a challenge to countering misinformation, because efforts the media make to report the facts of a situation may be taken themselves as misinformation. Both Democrats and Republicans see political leaders as contributors to disinformation.

“With Republicans as likely to blame journalists as anyone else for the spread of misinformation, the weakening of trust in democratic institutions – one of Russia’s goals – is already happening,” GW researchers Danny Hayes and Kimberly Gross said in a Washington Post column about their findings. “And with research by scholars at George Washington University’s Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics suggesting that Facebook remains unprepared to prevent online election meddling, 2020 will bring further challenges to an electoral system facing threats from without and within.”

The GW Politics Poll is managed jointly by GW's School of Media and Public AffairsGraduate School of Political Management and Department of Political ScienceYouGov, a respected leader in online polling, conducted the academic, nonpartisan research poll for GW. This poll was fielded Feb. 3-14, 2020, with a sample of 1,200 registered voters and a margin of error of ±3 percentage points for the full sample.

Specific datapoints about views on misinformation and democratic principles, including crosstabs by party, are available on the GW Politics Poll website.

Opinions of foreign nations
The survey asked respondents their feelings toward various countries. Canada, a close ally, was not surprisingly rated very positively, with an average rating of 75 on a 100-point scale (100 was the most positive). North Korea was rated the most negatively (15), with Iran (19) and Russia (25) close by. China was rated an average of 31.

Given a cohort of four geopolitical rivals and asked to identify the greatest threat to the United States, China was chosen by the most people (27%), followed by Russia (24%), then Iran (17%) and North Korea (15%). Opinions were mixed about whether China’s rapid economic growth and expanded international influence is a threat or an opportunity for U.S. interests.