Poll: Ahead of election, 8 in 10 Americans say misinformation a major problem

In a presidential election year that has thrown the country’s divisions into stark relief, Americans can agree on this: Misinformation about government and politics is a major problem.

A survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Opinion Research and USAFacts finds that while voters say it’s pretty easy to find accurate information about voting, they have a harder time knowing whether there’s any factual basis for the information they’re getting from and about the candidates.

Among the poll’s findings: More than 8 in 10 rated the spread of misinformation about government a “major problem.”

In this combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020, Democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden (L) and US President Donald Trump speak during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP)

The poll finds the candidates and their campaigns are themselves seen as not credible by many Americans, with less than a third of Americans saying campaign messages from either Biden or Trump are often or always based on facts.

Roughly half of respondents said Trump’s campaign messages are rarely or never based in fact, while about 4 in 10 respondents say that of Biden’s campaign.

Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans disagree about which candidate has the bigger problem with the facts. But Trump scores lower even among his own party, with nearly a quarter of Republicans saying his campaign messages are rarely or never based in fact compared with only about 1 in 10 Democrats who say the same about Biden.

While partisan disagreement is nothing new, the battles used to be more about policies or ideas rather than disagreements about fundamental facts or whether the other side is even telling the truth.

When Americans do try to verify news about the campaign, internet searches are the preferred way, the survey found, with 35% saying they turn to the web to see if news about the contest is true.

Supporters cheer as President Donald Trump leaves after speaking at a campaign rally at Middle Georgia Regional Airport, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, in Macon, Ga. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Traditional news sources fared worse: 13% said they turn to cable news networks, 8% said national news networks and only 3% went with newspapers or online news sites, reflecting a broader loss of trust in news organizations.

Social media received similarly poor marks, with only 5% saying it’s where they go to verify whether election-related news is true. Nevertheless, social media remains a leading source of news for many, with 37% saying they get news from platforms like Facebook or Twitter at least once a day.

One silver lining in the poll? At least 6 in 10 Americans say it’s easy to find factual information about registering to vote and casting their ballot. That’s especially good news during a pandemic year election in which many voters will vote by mail for the first time.

The AP-NORC/USAFacts poll of 1,121 adults was conducted Sept. 15-25 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.