Misinformed & Misled: Uncertainty, Mistrust and Disinformation Frustrate Voters
Disinformation in politics is as old as politics itself. However, its rapacious spread is aided by seismic shifts in how Americans access information in an era of social media. As seen in 2020, disinformation campaigns can undermine faith in the U.S. elections process, and sow skepticism that can span years.
Given the stakes and attention surrounding the 2022 midterm elections, the Reboot Foundation wanted to learn more about American’s encounters with election misinformation, and assess people’s confidence in their abilities to identify it and analyze it. Reboot also wanted to learn whether people thought misinformation was a serious problem.
To examine people’s perceptions about election integrity and their basic knowledge about U.S. elections generally, Reboot conducted an online survey in September 2022.
- Americans are poorly informed about elections. Only 14 percent of our survey takers would earn a grade of “B” or higher when assessing their knowledge of elections and basic voting facts. A majority – 56 percent – would earn a grade of D or F. This lack of knowledge appears to contribute to distrust in our elections, and may make disinformation related to the 2022 midterm elections more effective.
- Overall, people don’t report having many tools or skills to help them identify misinformation. Only 28 percent of people are “very confident” in their abilities to spot and check election misinformation.
- People who are more engaged in their communities have more faith in elections and in their abilities to spot misinformation. High engagers were 67 percent more likely to say they had encountered election misinformation compared to those with low community engagement.
The crisis of misinformation is really a crisis of media literacy and critical thinking among a huge swath of the American population. It’s why people need a reliable and accessible complement of tools to identify and mitigate misinformation they encounter. Efforts like “pre-bunking”– preemptively showing people videos about misinformation tactics – must also be coupled with stronger civics education so that voters have a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how elections are run in their communities.
Policymakers may have to use their imaginations to explore solutions in an industry that is constantly evolving and expanding. This includes reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that gives social media platforms legal immunity for user-generated content.
The survey has a margin of error of 5%.