Chart of the Day: The Power of the Right-Wing Echo Chamber

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Via John Sides, here’s a fascinating little data point about the power of the conservative echo chamber. A couple of days ago Brian Schaffner wrote a post about a UMass poll he conducted across several days in early October. One of the questions was whether unemployment had increased or decreased over the past year. The correct answer, of course, is that it had decreased: at the time the poll was conducted, unemployment over the previous twelve months had declined from 9.1 percent to 8.1 percent.

As you’d expect, liberals were more likely to answer this question correctly since it jibes with their political preferences. Interestingly, though, the poll was taken over the period October 2-8, and right in the middle of that week the unemployment figures for September were released. As you’ll recall, unemployment dropped sharply in that report, down to 7.8 percent, and the fact that this was part of a longer-term trend was widely reported.

Everyone saw this news, and polling on October 5 showed a sharp increase in the number of people who knew that unemployment was down. But here’s the interesting thing: among liberals and independents, the number getting the answer right stayed higher over the next several days. Apparently the news sunk in. But among conservatives, the number getting the answer right started to decline immediately. Within three days, as the chart below shows, they were answering the question exactly the same as they had before the unemployment report came out. Schaffner comments:

It is important to recall that Republicans immediately started questioning the veracity of the jobs numbers, with some suggesting that the Obama administration had “cooked the books” for political gain….In short, conservative elites provided conservative voters with an argument that allowed those conservative voters to bring the information from the jobs report into line with their pre-existing political preferences. The end result was that liberals updated their beliefs about the unemployment rate based on the jobs report while conservatives ultimately did not.

This is the power of the Drudge/Fox/Limbaugh axis. I don’t doubt that liberals do the same thing with news that discomforts them, but I’ll bet they don’t do it quite as fast or as strongly. We lefties just don’t rely on hardcore ideological news sources as much. Too much reality seeps in whether we like it or not. Conservatives don’t have this problem.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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