Petty Little Liars: The Most Important Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

The most important challenge we face in this country is our relationship with the truth. To be more specific, we have too many Americans who are unwilling to believe facts but eager to embrace lies. The cause of this problem is not immediately evident, but the detriment to the country is clear: An uninformed citizenry is not able to make responsible decisions regarding their communities, their government, or which politicians to support. For example, if Americans as a group erroneously believe that we have the best healthcare system in the world, we won’t be motivated to support politicians or policies that advocate for much-needed healthcare reform.

When it comes to assigning blame for our anti-truth epidemic, media sources are quick to throw both political parties under the bus. For example, the right-leaning Forbes magazine published an article in 2015 called, “Who is More Anti-Science? Republicans? Or Democrats?” The headline suggests that perhaps the problem is an equitable one and that both parties are so anti-science that it’s difficult to determine which group hates science more. The non-partisan organization YouGov wrote an article last year that shed just as little light on the problem. Its 2016 headline read, “Belief in Conspiracy Theories Largely Depends on Political Identity.” Again, this headline suggests that the problem of believing crazy things is inherent to both parties and that the only difference between Republicans and Democrats is which crazy conspiracy theories they believe. But is this an accurate assessment? Are Democrats and Republicans equally at fault for believing lies and spreading misinformation?

Based on these questions, I decided to create two lists. The first list compiles mistruths frequently shared by conservatives, and the second list is a collection of mistruths championed by liberals.

Here is the conservative list. The number next to the statement signifies what percentage of conservatives believe the mistruth.

1) Cutting taxes on the rich creates jobs and improves wealth for everyone. (80%)

2) Donald Trump is an honest man. (76%)

3) Human-caused climate change is a hoax. (69%)

4) America has the best healthcare system in the world. (68%)

5) American police officers do not engage in racially-motivated behavior. (65%)

6) Building a wall will stop most illegal immigration. (60%)

7) Abstinence-only education reduces teen pregnancy rates. (60%)     

8) Obama is a Muslim. (59%)

9) Gun-control laws do not decrease gun violence. (59%)

10) Weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. (52%)

11) Obama was born in Kenya. (51%)

12) Russia did not try to influence the 2016 election for Trump. (50%)

13) Evolution isn’t real. (49%)

14) Millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary in 2016 (48%)

15) Leaked Hillary e-mails revealed a child-sex ring run by Democrats through a series of pizza restaurants. (46%)

To be clear, these 15 statements are not a matter of opinion. These are 15 verifiably-false statements. It’s important to note that these beliefs are not just endorsed by a fringe wing of the Republican Party but by a majority of conservatives (with the exception of the last three items, which represent nearly half of conservatives). Again, these statements cannot be disguised as opinion. Similarly, saying that the moon is made of cheese is not an opinion. It’s incorrect. We need to be diligent to not accept false statements such as these under the pretense of “people can have different opinions.”

If our two major political parties are the same in their spread of misinformation, then we ought to be able to compile a similar list demonstrating the false beliefs collectively shared by liberals/Democrats.

When I searched for liberal conspiracy theories and/or mistruths, I learned that finding liberal mistruths is much more difficult than finding conservative mistruths. Here are some alleged mistruths that conservatives think liberals believe and what percentage of Democrats actually believe them:

1) GMOs aren’t safe to eat. (63%)

2) Vaccines cause autism. (18%)

3) 9/11 was an inside job. (17%)

4) Fluoride is not safe for consumption. (No polling data available.)

Pretty short list. Let’s take a look at these in turn.

The belief that eating GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is bad for you is the only myth that I could find that was actually held by a majority of Democrats. (No other liberal myth came close to the 50% mark.) It should be pointed out, however, that although 63% of Democrats consider GMOs unsafe to eat, the same poll showed that 50% of Republicans also believe GMOs are unsafe. I’m not giving Democrats a pass on this issue. When it comes to the science of GMOs, 63% of Democrats are out of step. But it’s difficult to describe this as a liberal conspiracy theory when half of Republicans endorse the same belief. The GMO conspiracy theory is not a liberal belief but rather an American misconception.

Now to vaccines. We see that 18% of Clinton voters in 2016 erroneously believed that vaccines cause autism. However, 31% of Trump voters believed that vaccines cause autism. So not only is the vaccination conspiracy theory disavowed by more than 80% of liberals, it’s actually endorsed by more conservatives.

On the issue of 9/11 being an inside job, we see that fewer than 1 in 6 liberals (17%) endorse this belief. Looking at the other side of the aisle, 15% of conservatives also expressed belief that 9/11 was an inside job carried out by the U.S. government. Similar to the vaccine conspiracy theory, we can’t in good conscience call this a liberal belief when fewer than 1 in 5 liberals believe it and when conservatives believe it in similar numbers.

The final issue is on fluoride in the water. This is a murkier issue simply because so little polling exists on it. Five years ago, Portland, Oregon, a Democratic enclave, voted against putting fluoride in their water. Therefore, we can surmise that Portland Democrats were wrong on this issue. But ¾ of the U.S. population drinks fluoride in their tap water, including over 80% of American cities. What happened in Portland was the exception, not the rule. Every other major city on the west coast is liberal and puts fluoride in their tap water (i.e. Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego). So it’s difficult to call this a liberal belief, particularly when you consider the fact that some of the states with the lowest levels of fluoridized water are ruby-red Republican (e.g. Alaska, Idaho, Montana). But again, without polling data, it’s difficult to speak knowledgably about the parties’ differing position on this issue.

From this analysis, it becomes clear that Republicans are more likely to believe mistruths than Democrats. And this is consistent with the scientific findings. A study out of UCLA in 2017 found that conservatives are more likely to believe false information, particularly when it comes to threats. A study from the University of Oxford earlier this year found that conservatives are more likely to believe and share fake news. We see this time and time again, as evidenced by the mistruths mentioned above.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against conservatives is the fact that the Russian trolls looking to influence the 2016 election specifically targeted them because the Russians found that conservatives were more than 30 times more likely to share misinformation than liberals. The Russian trolls quickly learned that if they wanted political lies spread quickly and to more people for the purpose of pushing Putin’s agenda, they were wise to abandon liberals and instead focus almost exclusively on conservative Americans.

When I googled “lies that Republican believe,” I found countless articles, blogs, and message board postings from thousands of people talking about the lies that Republicans believe (some already mentioned above, and some different ones as well). I found research studies and analyses that asked the question why conservatives are more prone to believe lies. There were countless stories documenting the lies told by Donald Trump and his administration. The Washington Post wrote about the time Trump bragged about his impressive ability to lie. As of last week, The Washington Post’s fact checker database has determined that President Trump has told 4,713 false or misleading statements, averaging about eight mistruths a day. On July 5 alone, he made 79 false and misleading claims! Despite this, about 1/3 of Republicans still consider Trump to be honest and trustworthy.

For the sake of fairness, I also googled “lies that Democrats believe.” The results were extremely telling. My search revealed only two(!) articles on the internet that addressed lies believed by Democrats. The first “hit” was an article written eight years ago by someone named Larry Elder for (a right-leaning political website). His examples of “lies that Democrats believe” included: (1) The rich don’t pay taxes; (2) Only the rich benefited from the Bush tax cuts; and (3) The Bush tax cuts caused the deficit. Several problems with Elder’s analysis.

Mr. Elder’s examples fail because they are straw man arguments. While Democrats believe GOP tax policies benefit the wealthy, no Democrat believes that rich people pay no taxes. And although the rich were the primary beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts, no Democrat purported that middle class Americans received nothing from the Bush tax cuts. And finally, despite knowing that the Bush tax cuts added to the deficit, no Democrat ever said the tax cuts were the sole reason for the deficit. Understandably, Mr. Elder offered no evidence to support his fallacious claims. He offered no references, citations, links, or polling data. And he didn’t have to. His audience is not one that requires evidence.

The second “hit” that came up during my search of “lies that Democrats believe” was an article about how Nancy Pelosi sent out a DCCC e-mail that said “Not asking for money” in the subject line. Then in the e-mail, there was a link for donating to the DCCC. Stop the presses.

After those two “hits,” every article that popped up on my google search resulted in article after article about lying Republicans. I had to go to Page 3 of my Google search before I found an article that didn’t lambaste the dishonesty of Republicans.

What can we conclude from this? Is the internet controlled by liberals? Is the “deep state” erasing anti-Democratic stories from the worldwide web? Is Hillary behind this? No. There is certainly anti-liberal sentiment all over the internet, but what we see is that Democrats are not attacked for believing lies, but for having different opinions, which is completely fair. Anti-Democratic sentiment is out there, but it’s focused on opinions held by Democrats, not on lies believed by Democrats. Democrats don’t get beat up in the press over the facts because Democrats do a pretty good job living in reality. That doesn’t mean Democrats are right about every issue. It simply means they put themselves in a position where rational decision-making is possible.

Republicans, unfortunately, have put themselves in a tough position because the foundation for so many of their opinions is built upon lies and misunderstandings. And it’s not entirely their fault. Anyone who lives on a steady diet of Fox News and conservative talk radio is going to have a mind filled with the type of misinformation cited above. I don’t care how well-intentioned a person may be, if he/she doesn’t have accurate information, he/she will not make sound decisions.

How we fight this is another issue. But before we fight it, we first need to address the reality. The first step in this is to acknowledge that this is not a problem equally shared by Democrats and Republicans. This is a problem of the American Right. We must speak out against the Republican talking points such as, “Both sides do the same thing;” “All politicians are liars;” and “There’s no difference between the two parties.” This is simply another mistruth.

Often when these talking points are used, they come across as conciliatory in tone. After all, the Republican who is saying it is admitting that his/her political party is partially at fault for the political discourse in America. But don’t accept it. These empty talking points are not magnanimous. They are an attempt to muddy the issues and confuse the voters. Republicans know that they can’t absolve themselves of all political responsibility, particularly when they control all three branches of government and 2/3 of the governorships and state houses of congress. Instead, their strategy is to blame all parties for lying and hope that Democrats get blamed just as much as Republicans. Don’t accept it.

– Nathan


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