Do Facts Matter?
To persuade a misinformed voter — to reject false knowledge, change policy views, disagree with friends, agree with former enemies, and perhaps abandon leaders, or even a political party, requires an enormous amount of effort and resources.
The above quote by Jennifer Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein, in Do Facts Matter?, Information and Misinformation in American Politics, 2015 is the reason for this blog. And because of the upcoming presidential election.
The quote appealed to me because I have written so much about how difficult it is for someone to change opinionated beliefs. Changing one’s mind isn’t a crime but most people avoid it. People prefer change in others. I believe the quote identifies Trump supporters (“misinformed voters”).
All President Trump has to do is say something out loud or write it on twitter, and his supporting voters believe him. It is well-known and documented that Trump very frequently lies (15,000 plus). I find it hard to believe Republicans in Congress also seem to believe him. Or they know he is lying and think that is ok behavior for a president. So in order to defeat him in 2020, the democratic party will have to do something to change the beliefs of Trump supporting voters, because it seems even an enormous amount of effort and resources won’t change elected republican’s minds. However, an enormous amount of effort and resources also may not be enough to change voter’s minds.
The problem will be that facts and truth won’t do the job. Facts, truth, and information can’t beat lies, falsehoods, or misinformation; true knowledge remains hidden. This reminds me of the book, The Knowledge Illusion, 2017 by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach. Although I have frequently written about what we don’t know, this book presents an interesting new look. People rarely appreciate their ignorance, because they lock themselves inside an eco-chamber of like-minded friends and self-confirming newsfeeds where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged.
Yuval Noah Harari in his best-selling book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, 2019 supports this: We seldom think alone. Individual thinking could be called a myth; we rely on the expertise of others for almost all of our needs. We treat knowledge in the minds of others as our own. Individual humans know embarrassingly little about the world.
So what can be the election strategy for democrats in 2020? One thing they can do is make sure more voters vote for the democratic candidate than vote for the republican candidate. (Oops, that didn’t work in 2016.)
If an enormous amount of effort and resources is required to persuade a misinformed voter to reject false knowledge, change policy views, disagree with friends, agree with former enemies, and perhaps abandon leaders, or even a political party, enormous and careful preparing for the 2020 election will be crucial. It will be difficult if facts don’t matter. But if the total voting public in each state is made up of more informed voters than uninformed supporters, facts will matter, and Trump may no longer be president.
Can truth trump lies?