February: Misinformation and Brexit | News and features

February: Misinformation and Brexit | News and features

A new study has shown that voters are more concerned about which party a politician belongs to than their position on Brexit – and this influences their future voting intentions more when they encounter misinformation.

The study, led by the University of Bristol and the University of Western Australia, examined how people’s views and attitudes were influenced by fact-checking political misinformation and whether this varied depending on whether the misinformation supported their party and whether they shared the same attitude on a big topic, namely Brexit.

The participants were an adult sample of the UK population and politicians were chosen to balance both party (Tory vs Labour) and Brexit positions (Remainer vs Leaver in each party).

The results showed that, overall, people were receptive to the information they received about statements made by politicians. They believed more accurate statements more after they were told they were true, and they reduced belief in false statements after they were told they were false. This happened regardless of whether people shared the politicians’ party or their Brexit position. People were also less likely to vote for politicians who made multiple false statements, especially if they were from their favorite party.

Surprisingly, when asked about their voting intentions, people preferred candidates from their favorite party, regardless of the candidate’s position on Brexit. In contrast, however, agreement between politicians’ and voters’ positions on Brexit played a significantly smaller role, suggesting that polarization is greater along party lines than across the Brexit divide.

Robert Reason, co-lead author, who studies psychology at the University of Bristol, said: “While it was found that polarization is more evident along party lines, our results show that participants were still able to update their beliefs when presented with corrections became information and they were not simply overwhelmed by their own motivated reasoning.”

The results show that despite the divisive and often venomous rhetoric surrounding the Brexit decision, the British public has not embraced this new dividing line as much as traditional party affiliations. The international research team noted that divisions between the parties may be stronger because they generally last longer and also include views on a variety of policy issues such as jobs, education, income inequality and how the political system works.

Co-lead author Toby Prike from the University of Western Australia said: “These results confirm the effectiveness of fact-checking in correcting political misinformation. In addition, politicians were penalized for spreading misinformation, with participants rating them as less accurate and also having lower voting intentions and more negative attitudes towards them.”


‘Would I lie to you? When processing political misinformation, party affiliation is more important than Brexit’ by Toby Prike, Robert Reason et al in Open Science of the Royal Society

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