Post-Factual Politics

It’s become a pretty common-place observation that partisan affiliation–or even more dramatically, heavy consumption of partisan media–can have a pretty dramatic impact on how information is filtered, or even how reality is perceived.

But as John Sides notes at Ten Miles Square, polling wizard Charles Franklin has found that the partisan angle on one fairly prominent issue can produce something very like an inversion of “the facts” as they are perceived.

Franklin contrasts today’s split of opinion as to whether the president has much control over gas prices (and hence should be help accountable when they are perceived as being too high), in which Republicans say “yes” and Democrats say “no,” with published polling back in 2006, when the vast majority of Democrats disagreed with a smaller majority of Republicans and held that George W. Bush could have been doing something to deal with an earlier spike in gas prices.

It’s possible, I suppose, that Americans have just changed their minds, but that’s unlikely. The only real question is whether they perceive facts in such a way as to help or hinder their favored politicians, or instead are just reflecting what they hear from the news or opinion outlets they choose to follow. If the latter is true, perhaps the partisan gab industry is serving as important a role in “educating” Americans as its pretensions would suggest. But if not, then the commentariat may just serve as a sort of Greek Chorus for large political groupings that independently arrive at highly partisan conclusions about what’s right and wrong–or true and false–in the vast ongoing flow of information.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.