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Fake News Is Real: The Significance and Sources of Disbelief in Mainstream Media in Trump’s America


Sociological Forum

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["\nAre appeals to discredit mainstream media reporting of political news in the guise of “fake news” merely a diversion from more fundamental threats to democratic politics and policymaking? Or is the emerging belief in “fake news” itself a looming threat? Using data from the Voter Study Group’s panel survey, we examine the relationship between disbelief in mainstream media and a wide range of social attitudes and policy preferences. We find that in December 2016, just after Trump’s election, belief in fake news wields an outsized influence, independent of partisanship, ideology, media consumption, and other established foundations of public opinion. The effects of fake news beliefs are especially pronounced on key elements of Trump’s rhetoric as candidate and as president—hostility toward immigrants, racial and religious minorities, gender equality, perceptions of America’s “greatness,” and even support for democratic norms and institutions itself. We also find some evidence that by January 2019, the belief in fake news has become even more focally associated with Trump. These findings portend the possibility of an emerging exclusionary, populist variant of American conservatism, of which disbelief in media institutions is a key component.\n", "Sociological Forum, Volume 35, Issue S1, Page 996-1018, September 2020. "]