Donald Trump is fond of tweeting about what he calls “fake news.” According to a recent estimate, he has used the term in a tweet in excess of 140 times. When Trump talks about “fake news,” he is usually referring to the mainstream news media, in particular outlets such as CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, sources the president believes are overly critical of him or have treated him unfairly. In reality, however, a recent study from Ohio State University suggests that actual fake news stories released in the run up to the presidential election in 2016 may have scared enough voters away from Hillary Clinton that it provided the edge necessary for Trump to win.
According to a report Tuesday in the Washington Post, the study’s authors, Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet, tested 585 voters who had supported Obama in 2012 by giving them a 281-question survey that included three questions about whether or not they believed one of the fake news stories about Hillary Clinton that were circulating at the time.
The fake news stories included in the survey, in the order that they were believed by Obama voters, were Clinton approved weapons sales to Islamic Jihadists, “including ISIS,” Clinton was in “very poor health due to a serious illness,” and that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump.
The study found that roughly 25 percent of those tested believed one or more of the fake stories. Interestingly, the researchers found that about the exact same percentage of the Obama voters chose to vote for Trump or a third party candidate instead of voting for Clinton.
The study found that, of the Obama voters, only 45 percent of those who believed one or more of the fake stories voted for Clinton. In contrast, 89 percent who believed none of the stories gave their vote to the former Secretary of State and First Lady.
Since Donald Trump’s election victory hinged on his defeating Clinton in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by 0.2 points, 0.72 points, and 0.76 points respectively, the authors of the study conclude that the fake news stories could very well have pushed Trump over the edge to victory.
The authors of the study point out that their findings, which have yet to be reviewed by peers, are not conclusive or proof that fake news was the deciding factor, but claim the results indicate that it very well could be.
“We cannot prove that belief in fake news caused these former Obama voters to defect from the Democratic candidate in 2016. These data strongly suggest, however, that exposure to fake news did have a significant impact on voting decisions.”
The study concludes that Obama voters who believed one or more of the fake news stories were “3.9 times more likely” to vote for Trump or one of the other candidates, rather than Hillary Clinton.