How one group is aiming to combat ‘fake news’

What do you think of when you see the word ‘news’? Many say ‘fake’

A survey, conducted by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas and the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University, found that "fake" was the first word that came to mind for one in five people who saw the word “news.”
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A survey, conducted by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas and the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University, found that "fake" was the first word that came to mind for one in five people who saw the word “news.”

Most Americans do not believe information they are receiving about the 2018 elections can be completely trusted. One group thinks it has a solution: more data.

USAFacts, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, is launching a new online tool Thursday called the Voter Center in an effort to better inform Americans as they prepare to head to the polls. The site compiles reams of publicly available data on a variety of hot-button policy areas and allows users to enter their zip code or street address to find where candidates running for office in their district or state stand on those issues.

“There are plenty of places where you can see a candidate’s positions. But there’s never really been a place to see what candidates are saying and the state of country right next to each other,” said Richard Coffin, the director of USAFacts. “People can really look at candidate’s positions and decide whether things can change based on the data.”

For instance, in the immigration section, users will find graphs detailing the unauthorized immigrant population, DACA recipients and visas granted by the government over time. Using a search bar on the side of page reveals the positions of the U.S. House and Senate candidates on their ballot on the issue.

USAFacts, which was founded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2016, commissioned a poll that found that a vast majority of Americans think available information about the election lacks credibility.

The online survey, which was conducted by Harris Insights and Analytics and provided to McClatchy, found that four out of every five adults were concerned the information about the 2018 elections is biased. Three-fourths said they were worried the stories the media produces are primarily to sell advertisements.

And in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, more that 60 percent said they feared foreign governments were influencing election information. The concern was higher among Democrats (79 percent) than Republicans (45 percent).

USAFacts hopes the Voter Center can help cut through the noise of an election year. Coffin noted that 61 percent of the poll’s respondents said they used data to inform their vote, while 80 percent said they were interested in seeing candidate positions alongside data about election issues. And 63 percent said they’d be more likely to vote for a political candidate if they used data to explain their positions.

“I think it’s up to politicians, the media and third-party groups to get back to basics and show people unbiased information that’s rooted in data,” Coffin said.

More than one-third of those surveyed said that finding information about candidates and issues necessary to inform their vote was very or somewhat difficult, while another 12 percent said they didn’t conduct any research before the election.

For those who seek out election news, TV is the top source. Asked where they received information about candidates and issues, 52 percent of those surveyed said local TV news, 44 percent said network news and 44 percent said cable news.

While there were concerns of bias across media platforms, they were highest with cable news and social media. More than 70 percent of respondents said information from those sources were biased. By comparison, 48 percent said local TV news was biased, the lowest of any media source. Republicans were significantly more likely than Democrats to say TV and print news were biased.

The survey also found that many Americans don’t know which candidates will be on their ballots in November or where they stand on the issues.

Just more than half of respondents said they knew which congressional district they lived in and which candidates were running there. In states with Senate races this year, 61 percent they knew who the candidates were.

On the issues, the respondents identified health care, the economy and taxes as the most important of the election year. Roughly six in 10 said they knew the candidates’ positions on those topics.

The survey of 2,501 adults was conducted online from Aug. 30 through Sept. 4. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus two percentage points.