The digital age has brought about many positive aspects to society, but one negative that many have noticed is that people tend to gravitate away from news that may not fit their viewpoints.
It’s not a concept that’s particularly new — studies have demonstrated for years that people pick their preferred news websites based on their biases, which sometimes has the effect of producing misinformed readers who don’t want to step outside of their “bubbles.”
At the same time, many on the left have wondered aloud, on social media and elsewhere, why some conservatives are still supportive of President Donald Trump even after so many of the scandals he has been involved with. Many op-eds have tried to discuss the matter, proposing a number of ideas.
A person’s views aren’t easy to change, especially among Trump supporters, one may note. Yet, one recently published study from Louisiana State University suggests that minds can be changed about the president or any other controversial figure — if, that is, those minds are given access to news beyond their comfort zone.
The study was conducted two years ago, for a week in June 2017. Researchers created a “news portal” that aggregated news headlines and stories, and had 1,187 volunteers read stories that were selected for them (as opposed to them selecting them personally).
Subjects in the study were assigned stories to read, some with no news involving Trump and others with Trump news included. A scandalous set of stories that week, surrounding Trump’s firing of James Comey, the revelation of memos containing their conversations, and the testifying of Comey before Congress, happened to come about, allowing researchers to really see how people would react to scandal.
Amid the trade war, the president’s approval slips to 38 percent. 56 percent disapprove. https://t.co/7FgaofHuY6
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 10, 2019
Announcing their findings in the Washington Post this week, researchers found that, among Republican-leaning individuals involved in the study, attitudes toward Trump did indeed turn sour if his supporters saw stories that described in detail (and truthfully) what was happening. Those who saw Trump news that described the scandal of his firing Comey tended to have a lower approval rating of the president by an average point-drop of 7.6 percentage points.
“In other words, simply changing the balance of scandal headlines that they saw was enough to change Republicans’ attitudes toward Trump,” the researchers explained. “Exposure to sustained coverage of a Trump scandal had detectable, negative effects strong enough to overcome Republicans’ partisanship.”
Researchers cautioned that a long-term effect wasn’t known.
“As with political ads, intense media events like scandals probably have effects that decay quickly, as people revert to their usual partisanship,” they said.