This is the fourth in a series of posts elaborating on my recent American Prospect magazine article entitled “The Reality Gap: Now more than Ever, Republicans and Democrats are separated by expertise–and by facts.”
Okay: We’ve seen how expertise has gone left, the right has countered, and how the resultant expertise war leaves our public discourse seemingly fact free–or at any rate, leaves the two political camps unable to agree about what’s true about the world. Then what?
Well, there are still facts–and reliable ways of discerning them. And Colbert’s quip that reality “has a well known liberal bias” does seem to hold. Though not perfectly. From the article:
Take health care. Earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation released an examination of mistaken beliefs about the new law, and misperceptions were certainly rampant. Fifty-nine percent wrongly thought the law creates a government-run health-care plan; 40 percent believed it creates “death panels” (another 15 percent were “unsure”); and 45 percent thought the law cuts benefits to those on Medicare. These misperceptions were not equally distributed in the population–Republicans were more likely to believe the last two falsehoods in particular. Indeed, just 18 percent of Republicans came up with the right answer for at least seven of the 10 factual questions the survey posed, compared to 32 percent of Democrats.
That’s not the only such study…. Shortly after the 2010 election, a group of pollsters out of the University of Maryland asked Americans how much misinformation they felt they had encountered during the campaign. Sure enough, members of both parties agreed the air had been thick with false claims–more of them, they said, than they could remember having encountered before. But when the pollsters then asked about a variety of contested factual issues in the campaign, Republicans appeared considerably more misinformed than Democrats. Out of 11 factual topics pertinent to the election, Republicans were 10 percentage points or more wrong about seven of them, including whether President Obama was born in the U.S., whether global warming is happening, whether the health-care law would increase the deficit (it would not), and whether the stimulus bill created or saved millions of jobs (it did). (One issue–whether the General Motors and Chrysler bailout happened under both Bush and Obama–it did–was nearly a wash, with Republicans only slightly more wrong than Democrats.)
….None of this is to say, of course, that Democrats are never wrong–or never more likely to be wrong. For instance, a 2006 survey found they were more likely than Republicans to endorse the wild “truther” conspiracy theory about the Bush government being complicit in the September 11 attacks. Yale law professor Dan Kahan, meanwhile, has shown that citizens with “egalitarian” and “communitarian” values (liberal Democrats, for example) are more likely to question the safety of storing nuclear waste deep underground, a view that puts them at odds with a 1990 National Academy of Sciences report on the subject.
So now we see the full “reality gap“–but what do we do about it? Because it is not like this situation is one that should make Democrats and liberals proud of themselves. If they’ve got such good facts and such hot expertise, why does no one listen to them? Why isn’t any of it helping?
That will be the subject of the last post in this series…