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How Well Do Americans Distinguish Facts From Opinions? People With These 3 Skills Do The Best

The current fast-paced news environment, multitude of online sources, and the rise of "fake news" all place a premium upon being able to distinguish facts from opinions. And some opinions are also rumors or lies. Nobody wants to be duped as this shooter was in the Washington pizzeria attack in 2016. Nobody wants to waste their votes based upon misinformation.

How well do people in the United States distinguish facts from opinions? Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey to determine:

"... whether member of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it."

Overall findings were not encouraging:

"The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong."

The survey of 5,035 U.S. adults was conducted between February 22 and March 8, 2018. Another key finding: people with certain skills outperformed others who lacked those skills:

"Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion... 36% of Americans with high levels of political awareness (those who are knowledgeable about politics and regularly get political news) correctly identified all five factual news statements, compared with about half as many (17%) of those with low political awareness. Similarly, 44% of the very digitally savvy (those who are highly confident in using digital devices and regularly use the internet) identified all five opinion statements correctly versus 21% of those who are not as technologically savvy... Trust in those who do the reporting also matters in how that statement is interpreted. Almost four-in-ten Americans who have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations (39%) correctly identified all five factual statements, compared with 18% of those who have not much or no trust. "

Pew Research. Survey findings. The politically aware, digitally savvy, and those more trusting of the news media fare better at distinguishing facts from opinions. Click to view larger version See the table on the right for details about the findings, which also apply across political parties:

"Both Republicans and Democrats show a propensity to be influenced by which side of the aisle a statement appeals to most. For example, members of each political party were more likely to label both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed more to their political side."

The study also investigated whether the news source brand affected person's abilities to distinguish facts from opinions:

"Overall, attributing the statements to news outlets had a limited impact on statement classification... Members of the two parties were as likely as each other to correctly classify the factual statements when no source was attributed or when USA Today or The New York Times was attributed. Labeling statements with a news outlet had no impact on how Republicans or Democrats classified the opinion statements."

When the source was attributed to Fox News, "Republicans were modestly more likely than Democrats to accurately classify the three factual statements... correspondingly, Democrats were modestly less likely than Republicans to do so.

Another finding:

"When Americans see a news statement as factual, they overwhelmingly also believe it to be accurate. This is true for both statements they correctly and incorrectly identified as factual, though small portions of the public did call statements both factual and inaccurate."

Many people I know strongly believe that persons in the other political party are misinformed and/or misled by their reliance upon opinions, rumors, and inaccurate information; while persons in their political party are uniquely informed without reliance upon opinions, rumors, and inaccurate information. We now know that belief isn't accurate.

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