While the mainstream media and political pundits are still debating the circumstances that led to the election of Donald Trump, a recent study published in the Columbia Journalism Review appears to have revealed the real reason for the surprising results.
Between April 1, 2015 and election day, scholars at the Berkman Klenin Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School and MIT Center for Civic Media examined more than 1.25 million articles pertaining to the election. They found that Clinton supporters shared stories from across a relatively broad political spectrum, including center-right news sources.
Trump supporters, on the other hand, mostly shared articles from Breitbart and a few like-minded websites such as The Daily Caller, Infowars, and the Gateway Pundit. Trump supporters even abandoned the far-right leaning Fox News Channel during the primaries as a result of its criticism of Trump.
The CJR study concluded that we are seeing “asymmetrical polarization” with the right moving ever further to the right while Democrats’ opinions remain relatively unchanged. The conclusions are further supported by a Harvard-Harris Poll that found 80% of Republicans believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media. The Republican’s belief that only their sources can be trusted to tell the truth makes the political right particularly susceptible to propaganda.
This became painfully apparent in 2016 when long-time Republicans willingly abandoned their traditional ideals to fall in line behind the Trump candidacy. And it explains why, despite the fact that more than 70% of Trump’s claims have been exposed as lies, Trump supporters either don’t believe the media and fact-checking organizations, or they simply don’t care. It also explains why a 2016 NBC News/Survey Monkey found that 72% of Republicans still doubt President Obama’s citizenship.
Combined with results of other studies and polls, the scope of problem becomes even more clear.
For example, The Washington Post found that 25% of Republicans think the country has gone too far in expanding the right to vote – the most cherished aspect of American democracy. Additionally, WaPo found that 40% of Republicans believe the US has too greatly expanded freedom of the press despite it being guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Likewise, Pew Research found that just 49% of Republicans believe the freedom of the press to criticize politicians is very important, and that only 68% believe the right to nonviolent protest is very important (another right that is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights). Pew also found that, despite the Founders’ commitment to education as part of their Age of Enlightenment (several of the nation’s Founders also founded universities), 58% of Republicans and right-leaning people believe that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the nation.
Most disturbing of all are the results of a 2015 YouGov Survey that found 43% of Republicans could see themselves supporting a military coup!
Imagine how the Founders would react to the willingness of American citizens to abandon their “more perfect union” and a democratically-elected government for a military junta; or how the Founding Fathers would react to the indifference of a large percentage of Americans to the interference in our electoral process by a hostile foreign government; or how they would react to Congress’s refusal to act upon the president’s violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
Given all of this, it’s time to ignore those who say our political chasm has been created by both parties – that both are equally at fault. It’s not Democrats who have abandoned the center. The fault lies almost entirely with Republicans and those who support Donald Trump despite his obvious unsuitability for the office of President.
In fact, if these people do not support the Constitution, one may legitimately question if they believe in democracy and the American ideals.