News Stories

Those Nasty Political Rumors

Turns out nobody believed them! - About nine in 10 Americans heard the rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim, making it possibly the most common rumor of the 2008 presidential campaign, according to a nationwide survey. However, voters are smarter than these folks think: only 22% of the people surveyed said they actually believed it.

Researchers R. Kelly Garrett and James N. Danziger recently commissioned a representative national telephone survey of 600 Americans to learn about the role of the internet in spreading rumors about the presidential campaign. Garrett thinks these results can be viewed as both good and bad, and says, "On the one hand, only a fraction of the people who heard the rumor that Obama is a Muslim actually believed it. But on the other hand, almost a quarter of Americans DID believe it was true, even though everyone from the news media to John McCain himself was consistently saying the rumor was false."

The researchers found that the internet played a key role in spreading these types of rumors. More than two-thirds of respondents got information about the campaign online, and two-fifths got such online information virtually every day. These figures are nearly double what they were during the 2004 campaign; perhaps because Obama himself established a major presence there.

In addition, the proportion of Americans who said they received campaign news in e-mails from friends and family more than tripled in just one year. About 53% said they received news from e-mails in 2008, compared to 16% who responded to a similar question in a Pew Research Center survey in 2007.

Nearly one in three Americans got campaign information from video sharing sites such as YouTube. And it wasn't just the young: the average age of individuals who said they got campaign news from online video sites on a daily basis was 40 years old.

For the survey, the researchers chose eight prominent false statements circulating via e-mail during the 2008 election cycle as compiled by two fact-checking websites, FactCheck.com (which we featured in an ad on our website during the campaign) and Snopes.com. Garrett says, "Our results suggest that the Internet does not pose the kind of threat to public knowledge that some have imagined."

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