USAFacts’ 2018 State of the Facts Poll Shows a 22-point Swing on the Issue Since Last Year
Americans are increasingly worried that divisions in our country are driven more by using different facts than by holding different beliefs. In part two of USAFacts’ annual State of the Facts Poll, year-over-year trends demonstrate a concern that we are in a crisis of facts – where Americans see each other using sources of information they believe are biased, or not grounding their decisions in data.
“In the first part of our poll, we saw concern about biased sources, manipulated sources, and foreign government misinformation – but now we see this storm of disinformation is a bigger issue for Americans than holding different sets of beliefs,” said USAFacts founder and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, citing new research conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of USAFacts. “The near universal agreement in our poll that data makes something a fact sends a strong message to those working in politics, government, media, education, and any field where trust can be restored and division reduced.”
A CRISIS OF FACTS
Over the past year, Americans have become more likely to believe using different sets of facts causes more problems than holding different political beliefs. An eight-point gap (54% to 46%) last year widened into a 22-point gap (61% to 39%) on this issue in 2018.
And, in a 10-point swing from last year, more Americans now see using different sets of facts (52% in 2018 versus 42% in 2017) as the bigger cause of partisanship than holding different political beliefs (48% in 2018 versus 58% in 2017).
The poll shows a generational divide too, with younger Americans expressing more alienation from fellow Americans’ viewpoints. Half of Americans under age 50 say their opinions differ from the majority of Americans; but only 38 percent of Americans 50 and up think the majority of Americans have different opinions than them on issues.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A FACTOR
Americans are increasingly turning to social media for their news (up to 37% from 30% the year before), and decreasingly to print (24% in 2018 versus 32% in 2017), print websites (20% in 2018 versus 28% in 2017), network television (37% in 2018 versus 48% in 2017) , and cable television news (38% in 2018 versus 48% in 2017).
But, 76 percent say they do not post data on social media – 36 percent because they are “not interested,” 22 percent because they “don’t need it,” and 19% because they “don’t trust it” – and 73 percent say social media is a biased source of information about candidates and issues in the upcoming election.
In terms of specific sources on the web for information about government, CNN tops the list of most used (20%, up from 16% last year), Google or Google News logs in second (12%) and Fox News breaks out of the rest of the pack, up three percentage points this year to 11 percent. All the other specific sources are in single digits.
DATA IS A SOLUTION
The vast majority of Americans (85%) believe people need to have the same data to have an informed debate.
Americans strongly believe data makes something a fact. For the second year in a row, 90 percent consider information factual if it is based in data. People also widely believe that facts come from non-partisan sources (78%) and from academic institutions (77%).
In September, USAFacts and Countable launched a Voter Center, the first site of its kind to show the public positions of U.S. House and Senate candidates in the context of data on those issues, at usafacts.org/voter-center.
USAFacts is a non-profit, non-partisan civic initiative aimed at making government numbers more available, accessible, and understandable to Americans. It was created by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after he discovered that government does not provide the kind of comprehensive reporting for citizens that publicly traded companies are required to do for shareholders. This is the second year USAFacts has created an Annual Report and 10-K — modeled on the form public companies file each year with the Securities and Exchange Commission — to provide a comprehensive view of U.S. federal, state, and local governments’ combined revenues and expenditures, as well as key metrics that measure progress towards objectives established in the Constitution. Ballmer is also chairman of the Los Angeles Clippers.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of USAFacts from June 30 – July 5, 2017 among 2,521 U.S. adults and from August 30 – Sept 4, 2018 among 2,501 U.S. adults. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact [email protected] Response choices were modified from 2017 to 2018 to include “mobile devices’ news aggregator”; trends should be interpreted with that change in mind.