Right-wing individuals are more tolerant of the spreading of misinformation by politicians

People on both ends of the political spectrum disapprove of lying. But new research suggests that Republicans and right-wing authoritarians view the spreading of misinformation by politicians as less morally objectionable than their left-wing counterparts.

The study has been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

“After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many people became concerned about the spread of misinformation for political gain. This inspired many people to study the topic, and a lot of important research was conducted,” said study author Jonas De keersmaecker, a PhD student at Ghent University.

“For example, Soroush Vosoughi and colleagues examined how misinformation is spread via social media, whereas Gordon Pennycook and colleagues examined research questions such as who falls for misinformation, and whether prior exposure increase perceived accuracy of political misinformation. Also, Arne Roets and I examined whether the lingering influence of misinformation depends on an individual’s cognitive ability.”

“However, what was missing in our opinion was research that examines individuals’ attitudes towards the spreading of misinformation by politicians. Especially, since this is not a rare practice according to fact-checking organizations,” De keersmaecker told PsyPost.

The study of 649 U.S. citizens examined three types of lying by politicians: lying by commission (saying something that is untrue), lying by omission (leaving out important information to hide the truth), and paltering (using truthful facts to create a false impression.)

The participants read examples of a hypothetical politician lying by commission, lying by omission, and paltering. They then provided a rating of how ethical, honest, and moral they thought the each of the politician’s statement were.

People who scored higher on a measure of right-wing authoritarianism tended to be more tolerant towards politicians who engaged in all three types of lying. People who scored high on this measure agreed with statements such as “This country would work a lot better if certain groups of troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group’s traditional place in society.”

The researchers also found that Republicans were more tolerant of lying by politicians than Democrats on average.

“Importantly, this research does not indicate that right-wing individuals approve the spread of misinformation by politicians. Their levels of moral approval were relatively low, although meaningfully and significantly higher than left-wing individuals,” De keersmaecker explained.

“It’s also important to note that the present paper focused on attitudes towards spreading misinformation by politicians, and not by people in general.”

“It might be interesting to examine the tolerance of spreading misinformation in various morally-charged situations. In this first paper of this new research line, we deliberately chose relatively ideological-neutral contexts. It is not impossible that certain specific topics might affect the observed ideological asymmetry,” De keersmaecker said.

The study, “Is there an ideological asymmetry in the moral approval of spreading misinformation by politicians?“, was authored by Jonas De keersmaecker and Arne Roets.