Americans trust friends and family more than media for election information
One of the more baffling things to emerge over the past few years is the stubbornness of nonsense about the 2020 election. It was not “stolen” from Donald Trump, nor was it “rigged” against him. Every effort to claim that there was massive fraud or that “the system” — or whatever intentionally vague descriptor you want to use — tricked 81 million people into backing Joe Biden has been shown to be baseless, if not ridiculous. Trump was less popular and got fewer votes and that was that.
But the idea that something more complicated and less defensible occurred remains omnipresent. Even last week, Trump elevated new nonsense alleging rampant fraud. It found an audience, however modest.
New polling from YouGov, conducted for the Economist, offers insight into why. Asked who they trust for election information, Americans were much more likely to say “friends and family” than they were “poll results” or the “news media.”
To be clear, Americans don’t have a lot of confidence in any source of election information outside of their friends. Less than half trust polls and the media; only a quarter trust social media or campaigns themselves.
There is an important and perhaps expected divide buried in the numbers here, though: partisanship.
Democrats and Republicans are about equally likely to point to friends and family as a source for accurate information. But most Democrats also express at least a fair amount of trust in polling and the media as sources. In fact, among Democrats, overall confidence in the media is about even with confidence in friends and family, though a higher percentage of Democrats say they have a “great deal” of trust in family.
Interestingly, Republicans say they are less likely to trust political campaigns than Democrats. Given how much of the rhetoric about election fraud is directly downstream from Trump, that seems hard to reconcile. Had the poll asked specifically about Trump, it seems likely that confidence in accuracy expressed by Republicans would probably be much higher.
The 2020 response can be filtered out of these results if you consider who America’s “friends and family” are. Shortly after the election that year, I highlighted polling from the Pew Research Center that had been conducted over the summer. Most Trump supporters said they knew a lot of Trump supporters; Biden supporters often said they knew a lot of Biden supporters.
But three-quarters of each group said they knew only a few supporters of the other candidate or — as was the case with 4 in 10 of each candidate’s supporters — none at all.
At the time, I speculated that this contributed to election denial: A Trump supporter might legitimately not know anyone who voted for Biden, making it much easier to think that the level of support for Biden was overstated.
The YouGov poll, though, adds another layer. If your friends-and-family group is similarly composed of Trump supporters — and if you collectively have little confidence in the media — there’s less pushback on erroneous claims about the election.
The recent assessment of trust also had an interesting split by age. Younger voters were more likely to express trust in nonfamily sources; not surprising, given that younger voters are more likely to be Democrats. But note the big gap on “social media” as a source. Younger Americans are more likely to cite social media as reliable than are older ones.
That partisan divide is probably more important for understanding the past three years of efforts to reject Trump’s loss. It’s probably also self-reinforcing: Because the media is insistent on the reality of the election results, that probably has eroded confidence in the media as a source of information about elections among Republicans.
All of which is a long way of getting to an important appeal: If you are friends with or family of someone who rejects the idea that the 2020 election was decided fairly, it is up to you, not to me, to convince them of reality.