Sunday, The Washington Post released a survey conducted by Qualtrics in which the following question was asked: "In last month’s election, Donald Trump won the majority of votes in the electoral college. Who do you think won the most popular votes?"
The question is simple enough. Donald Trump won 306 electoral votes, but has approximately 2.8 million fewer popular votes than Hillary Clinton. Despite the fact that a ten-second Google search is all that's required to find this information, an astonishing 29% of respondents believe Trump won the popular vote:
Twenty-nine percent said Donald Trump won the popular vote. This is a slightly larger proportion than in a recent Pew survey in which 19 percent said Trump won the popular vote.
Respondents’ correct understanding of the popular vote depended a great deal on partisanship. A large fraction of Republicans--52 percent--said Trump won the popular vote, compared with only 7 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents. Among Republicans without any college education, the share was even larger: 60 percent, compared with 37 percent of Republicans with a college degree.
In an effort to push back against the hysteria over "fake news," conservatives are at risk of becoming lost in the fog of war.
"Fake news" is a real issue. However, the term must be defined correctly. There are outlets that promulgate legitimate falsehoods. It was widely reported after the election that a group of teenagers in Macedonia were some of the most influential fake news pushers during the election.
One of the most outrageous pieces they created was titled: "BREAKING: Obama Confirms Refusal To Leave White House, He Will Stay In Power!" The piece can be found across multiple websites that are designed to mimic the appearance of legitimate news outlets. This story, and others like it, were shared tens of thousands of times on social media.
The above is just one breed of fake news. The mainstream press has, on more than one occasion, either manipulated facts, or outright lied. Yahoo recently published a piece in which they claimed Hillary Clinton had the most popular votes of any candidate in American history. This was a lie, and Yahoo eventually removed the story.
During the Trayvon Martin scandal, NBC edited the 911 audio to make George Zimmerman appear racist.
PJTV even put together a video on the deceptive editing:
There are other examples of the mainstream press pushing fake news: the UVA rape hoax, Katie Couric's gun control documentary fraud, CNN editing out violent remarks made by the sister of Sylville Smith, making it appear as though she was "calling for peace."
Unfortunately, some are choosing to designate as "fake news" anything with which they disagree. This is happening on both sides.
There's a clear difference between bias and outright falsehood, and that difference must be made clear if one is to have a serious debate regarding fake news.
Now that "fake news" has been defined, we can talk about The Washington Post survey.
Outright falsehood has likely contributed, at least in part, to the idea that Donald Trump won the popular vote. A rash of stories spread across social media in mid-November that claimed Trump won both the Electoral College and the popular vote. However, one cannot discount the notion of simple ignorance on the part of the electorate.
It's possible that some of those surveyed simply didn't distinguish the electoral vote from the popular vote. It's also possible that some of the individuals surveyed are under the misapprehension that if one wins the presidency, they must also have won the popular vote. There are multiple variations of this type of ignorance that go far beyond the influence of "fake news."
The idea of personal responsibility is being overlooked in favor of a more easily identifiable and targetable enemy. Everyone is pointing the finger at "fake news," but few are acknowledging the American electorate's responsibility to discern fact from fiction, which is arguably a larger contributing factor to voter ignorance.
It doesn't matter that Trump failed to win the popular vote because we don't elect our president using that metric. What does matter is that people believe he won the popular vote. This belief is indicative of a larger issue, which is more about personal responsibility, and less about "fake news." If we fail to properly understand the root cause of this problem, it will persist regardless of how many "fact-checkers" Facebook and Google hire.