The stronger Canadians’ partisan views are, the more likely they are to choose the wrong answer on a series of factual policy questions, a survey has found.
Respondents were asked a series of neutral, factual questions, such as whether the unemployment rate was higher in 2015 or 2018, or whether the deficit had risen.
“What’s occurring here is motivated reasoning,” said McGill University computer science professor Derek Ruths. “What we’re measuring here is particular knowledge about policy facts which are likely to be contested here across the course of the campaign.
“I think that, broadly speaking, what’s occurring here, and how this links into partisanship, is that those who have a stake in the matter, those who care about politics and have a side in the debate, are going to be motivated to seek out information which conforms to their side.”
The effect was consistent across people with high and low traditional media exposure and for those who get their news through social media.
The report was released by the Digital Democracy Project, which is led by the Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum and McGill University. It was aimed at understanding the media ecosystem leading up to this fall’s federal election.
The report also found Canadians of different political views shared media sources with each other to a larger extent than in the United States.
“We don’t have the equivalent of MSNBC or Fox News,” said University of Toronto political scientist Peter Loewen.
“In the United States, there’s much more polarization around facts according to outlet. In Canada, there’s a big, weighty middle that gives us a common fact base across media consumption.”
In general, the survey found that most Canadians across the political spectrum got a common set of facts from an array of mainstream media outlets.
“The findings …. are somewhat at odds with the now-familiar story of a fragmented and low-trust media environment in which political actors and their partisan supporters have retreated to their own media echo chambers, creating fertile ground for disinformation and foreign interference to take root,” the report’s authors wrote.
The report also found a shift toward voters saying the environment was an important issue to them, although this was less pronounced among Conservatives. This is a major change from past elections, when voters overwhelmingly cited the economy and health care as their top issues.
The report found that few people were using alternative online media such as Rebel Media or rabble.ca, which didn’t make a list of the top 20 news sources named by respondents. This was also true within parties: only 22 per cent of Conservatives had been at Rebel Media in the past week, while only 10 per cent of New Democrats had been at rabble.ca.
“Analysts have noted a growing tendency of media consumers to select news sources that support their political beliefs, generating so-called echo chambers,” the report said.
“However, we do not see much of this phenomenon among Canadians, especially compared to the media environment in the United States. Media preferences are relatively similar regardless of which party our respondents supported.”
This poll was conducted between July 24 and 31, 2019, with a sample of 1,003 Canadians. This poll is accurate to within +/ – 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, the Digital Democracy Project said.