We ran a new PredictWise/Pollfish Poll on facts about politics on January 26, 2017 and found that Republican talking points are much more salient than Democratic talking points. This is not a story about partisan asymmetry around what people believe (although that exists), but about how Democrats also believe key false talking points from the Republicans, while there is little evidence of the reverse.
In Bush’s second term (2005-2008) an average of 165 police officers died in the line of duty each year in the US, according the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (241 died in 2001 due to 911 and average of 158 for 2002-2004, so no matter how you slice data, officer fatalities are way down). An average of 135 police officers died in the line of duty during Obama’s administration (2009-2015, as 2016 is not yet available). The Guardian counted civilian deaths by police officers in 2016, this has not been done by government agencies. They counted 1,092 in 2016. Finally, in 2008 the violent crime rate was 458.6 per 100,000 people and in 2015 it was 372.6 per 100,000 people, a dramatic reduction!
Among various ages, races, education levels, gender, and party identification, only African Americans know that the number of police officer fatalities had gone down in Obama relative to Bush, everyone else thought they had gone up. And, only African Americans know that the number civilian deaths eclipse the number of police officer deaths, despite the dramatically different levels.
Despite the dramatic reduction in violent crime, 34 percent of Americans thought violent crime was “Up at lot (up > 10%)” between 2009 and 2015 and 36 percent “Up a little (up 2% to 10%)”. That is 70 percent of the population thought violent crime was up in some capacity.
The Republican policy position is a need for more police officers, with tougher tactics, and more stringent restrictions on both illegal and legal immigration. Republican and Democrats alike believe a false set of talking points that justify that policy. But, what is true, is that police officer deaths are decreasing in a country with plummeting violent crime and that happened under the Obama administration.
The CIA and FBI both concluded that the Russian hacked the DNC to help Trump win the election with useful propaganda. There is no evidence, at this point, that anyone hacked the voting machines themselves. 81 percent of people correctly identify that the CIA believes that Russia hacked the DNC, but just 58 percent believe that themselves (i.e., 42 percent are not convinced that the Russian hacked the DNC). This is mainly driven by Republicans that accept that the CIA says something, but do not believe it. 36 percent of people think that the FBI has evidence that the Russians hacked US voting machines. This is largely driven by Democrats, but is not driven by Democratic leadership as useful to their cause.
In earlier polling we showed that both Republicans and Democrats believe that voter fraud is real (it is not) and neither believe that voter suppressions is real (it is).
In the last three senate election, the Democrats have received 54.0 percent of the vote that went to the Democratic or Republican candidates. In the last presidential election, the Democratic candidate won 51.1 percent of the vote. Yet, the Republicans control 52 of 100 seats in the senate and the presidency. Both of these results are driven by over-representation of the smaller, more Republican, states; each state gets two votes in the senate, regardless of population. And, the Electoral College reflects each states’ Congressional delegation. Thus, California has 12 percent of the population the United States and 10 percent of the Electoral Votes.
In a binary question about what is larger, California’s percent of population and percent of Electoral Votes, 46 percent thought that their population was larger than their Electoral Votes (i.e., the truth). That is the equivalent of people just guessing.
When outside entities (such as Russia) affect the US election, the Republicans get 40 percent of the people to believe it did not happen. When internal laws (voter suppression) affect the US election, the Republicans get 70 percent of the people to believe it did not happen. But, when things do not happen, such as voter fraud, they get over 50 percent of Democrats to believe that it happened. Democratic belief that Russian’s hacked the voting machines is also widespread and false, but does not help towards any Democratic policy positions.
War and Peace
Only 52 percent of respondents identified Syria as country where ISIS controls meaningful territory (where ISIS does control meaningful territory). And, 25 percent identified Iran (where ISIS has no meaningful presence). This may explain some of the confusion over the list of the seven states in Trump’s new executive order. We will see how this changes (both in reality and people’s minds) over the next few months.
Safety of Science
On the safety of vaccines and genetically modified organism (GMO) people tend to believe what they think scientists have concluded, unfortunately there is a lot of confusion over that. 30 percent of people think vaccines are unsafe and 65 percent think GMO are unsafe. Scientist do not believe either are. As Trump wades into the vaccine conspiracy theory in the next few months it will be interesting to see if a partisan divide opens up.
Economics and Health Coverage
Both the healthcare un-insurance rate and unemployment rate tumbled during the Obama administration; people seemed to know that. The vast majority of people had the rates moving in the correct direction.
Democrats have some low hanging fruit to tackle; get Democrats to believe things that are objectively true and favor the Democratic message. Democrats do not know that policing policies put in place over the Obama administration worked. Democrats do not know that the electoral system over-represents Republican voters and makes it hard for Democrats to vote. They have done a good job at getting some facts about the economy and healthcare out there (although some of that may be post election). If they cannot fix the basic knowledge of their own voters, they are in the wrong business.
Tobias Konitzer is a PhD candidate in communication at Stanford University. Find him on Twitter @KonitzerTobias.
Sam Corbett-Davies is a PhD candidate at Stanford University in computer science. Find him on Twitter @scorbettdavies.
David Rothschild is an economist at Microsoft Research. Find him on Twitter @DavMicRot.