OTTAWA—A new study found Canadians who hold strong partisan beliefs are more likely to be misinformed about key political issues than more politically neutral voters.
Data released Wednesday by the Digital Democracy Project found “strong partisan” Canadians were more often incorrect when answering a set of 10 basic questions about current political issues. Those who had no partisan affiliation, or weaker ties to a political party, were less likely to give an incorrect answer.
The study asked 10 questions that had relatively clear answers — like whether or not Canada is currently on track to meet climate change commitments under the Paris Accord (no), or whether the deficit was greater in 2018 than it was in 2015 (yes).
The results suggest the more partisan a voter is, the more likely they are to give an incorrect answer. But they also suggest — perhaps counterintuitively — that the more traditional news Canadians consume, and the more time they spend on social media, the more likely they were to give an incorrect answer.
“Media consumption is as often equipping partisans with arguments to support their position as it is correcting them on facts, because the facts on these things are actually kind of hard to pin down,” said University of Toronto Professor Peter Loewen, one of the academics behind the study, on Wednesday.
“Over the course of the (federal election) campaign I think you’re going to find that people are going to have different sets of facts depending on what their views are, and they’re going to find those informed by what they read in traditional media outlets.”
The Digital Democracy Project is a partnership between the Public Policy Forum and the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University. In the weeks leading up to the federal election, the project is tracking Canadians’ media consumption, social media usage, and the digital discussion around Canadian politics to put together a picture of how political information flows through the electorate.
The initial report, released publicly Thursday, found most Canadians trust traditional media organizations to accurately report political news. The survey asked respondents to rank their trust on a scale of zero to 10.
“Canadians trust mainstream news organizations (5.8) at similar levels as their friends and family (6.0). Canadians are comparatively much less trusting of the information provided by major political parties (4.8), and in what they read on social media (3.3 for all respondents, 4.2 for respondents who indicated they used social media for political news in the past week),” the report stated.
And unlike American voters, Canadians don’t seem to choose where they get their news from based on their partisan leanings. Liberal, Conservative and NDP voters reported they get their news from roughly the same outlets, with CTV Online and CBC Online leading across partisan lines.
But the report also found a disconnect between what voters are concerned about and what political issues take up the most oxygen in the press.
Respondents to the survey listed the environment, health care and the economy as the three most pressing issues. Looking at the Twitter conversations of a sample of 300 journalists, the report found that while a lot of discussion was devoted to environmental issues, the journalists paid little attention to health care and almost no attention at all to the economy.
On the other hand, the journalists spent a lot of time talking about ethical issues (think: the SNC-Lavalin affair) and foreign affairs, the public listed both categories as much less important.
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier
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