White House

Voters have plenty of thoughts on fake news and Trump’s tweets

In this 2016 campaign file photo, President-elect Donald Trump, a frequent user of Twitter, listens to his cell phone. A new McClatchy-Marist poll found that a majority of voters said his use of Twitter was “reckless and distracting.”
In this 2016 campaign file photo, President-elect Donald Trump, a frequent user of Twitter, listens to his cell phone. A new McClatchy-Marist poll found that a majority of voters said his use of Twitter was “reckless and distracting.” AP

President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t held a press conference since July, but his tweets fly on a regular schedule.

Whether it’s attacking a labor union chief who accused him of lying about a deal to save Carrier Corp. jobs, or a young woman who questioned him at a political forum, Twitter is his preferred form of communication, and retribution.

But most voters – even those who voted for him – think Trump’s use of Twitter is “reckless and disturbing,” according to the latest McClatchy-Marist Poll. Two-thirds of all registered voters in the survey agreed.

Twenty-one percent liked his tweets, calling them “effective and informative.”

Even a plurality of voters described as “conservative-to-very conservative” – 48 percent – give low marks to the incoming president’s constant embrace of the social media platform to air his views, random thoughts and targeted attacks.

“Though I’m not a Twitter user, the reason I found it to be ‘reckless and disturbing’ is the exaggerated emotional response does not seem to be conducive to a person who’s going to be president,” said Dennis Flynn, a 48-year-old systems analyst and self-described computer geek from Spokane, Wash.

Flynn said he is a conservative and voted for Trump, but only because he wants a conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Quite honestly, it’s the only reason I had to vote for him over his opponent,” Flynn said.

Yashica Smith, 42, a general manager of a Charlotte, N.C., hotel who did not support Trump, said his behavior was not what she expected of someone who “is supposed to be the leader of the free world.”

“He’s bragging about things like he’s in middle school,” she said. “It would be funny if this wasn’t so tragic.”

Unsurprisingly, Democratic voters overwhelmingly labeled Trump’s use of Twitter to be “reckless and distracting.” Ninety percent felt that way, compared to 37 percent of Republican voters and 67 percent of independents. The largest anti-tweet group was those aged 18-29.

James High, a 90-year-old former postal worker and Trump voter from Waynesboro, Pa., said he think Trump’s tweets have been effective.

“He’s bypassing the crooked news,” High said.

The poll also found that a majority of voters – by 52-41 – believe that policing social media for so-called “fake news” is not the job of the sites like Facebook and Twitter, but the individual user.

Democratic voters were nearly tied over that question: 49 percent felt that it was the responsibility of the user; 47 percent said websites need to weigh in when stories on their pages were clearly false. Republicans posted a wider gap: 52 percent said it was up to users, 39 percent said websites.

Liberals were close to evenly split: half said websites should assume the role, 47 percent said users should.

Among conservatives: 55 percent chose users, 36 percent chose the websites.

“I’m not trying to be rude, but people are dumb,” said Diana Hecht, of Blue Springs, Mo. “When people don’t take responsibility for their own intelligence, it’s very easy for Facebook and Twitter to control them.”

Hecht supported Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

High said it’s up to the user to make sure what’s online is accurate.

“I’d hate to stop people, even if it’s a lie,” he said. “It is a free country. They can do what they want. You just have to be careful. I guess a lot of people aren’t.”

David Goldstein: 202-383-6105, @GoldsteinDavidJ

METHODOLOGY

This survey of 1,005 adults was conducted Dec.1-9, 2016 by The Marist Poll,sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults 18 years of age and older residing in the contiguous United States were contacted on landline or mobile numbers and interviewed in English by telephone using live interviewers. Landline telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler, Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were randomly selected by first asking for the youngest male. This landline sample was combined with respondents reached through random dialing of cell phone numbers from Survey Sampling International. After the interviews were completed, the two samples were combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey 1-year estimates for age, gender, income, race, and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. There are 873 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.

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