Study Shows Americans Can’t Differentiate Between Fact & Opinion

Much of President Trump’s administration has revolved around what he terms “fake news,” yet a recent survey found that most Americans still have trouble distinguishing between news stories reporting actual events and those reporting purely subjective opinions.

Some 25% of adults in the US could not differentiate between statements expressing facts and those expressing opinions. The Pew Research Center polled more than 5,000 individuals. It gave them five pieces of information—facts and opinions—and asked them to tell them apart. Of those who took the test, 26% got all ten statements right.

Those who are strong at accessing internet information or have a high political awareness did far better than the average person. Nevertheless, participants tended to mark as true things with which they agreed and false or opinionated statements with which they disagreed.

Researchers warned that Americans’ lack of competence in distinguishing between factual and opinionated claims had “grave implications” for the spread of false information in politics.

According to Mondak and co-author Matthew Mettler, identifying the claims erroneously can be attributed to either partisan error or impartial error.

The study found that the likelihood of a responder making an incorrect answer owing to factors like random guessing dropped as their level of education or understanding of current events increased.

However, the problem of partisan bias, in which respondents’ incorrect replies reflect their true political leanings, was not addressed.

According to the researchers, political prejudice was a significant factor in the underlying cause of the inaccuracy.

As a statement of fact, “President Barack Obama was born in the U.S.” is one of the twelve assertions included in the study. However, one’s “partisan lens” can lead one to misunderstand the remark and interpret it as an opinion, as Mondak said.

According to Mondak, an underestimated aspect of the problem of disinformation, as shown by our research, is that individuals disagree not just on the facts but also on the more basic question of what facts are.