FDU Poll: New Jerseyans Believe Trump Hiding Close Financial Ties to Russia

A Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll today revealed that more than two-thirds (69%) believe Donald Trump is not releasing his tax returns because they would show his close financial ties to political business figures in Russia. Forty-four percent believe this to be possibly true, with a full quarter (25%) who believe the statement is definitely true. In general, voters remain willing to endorse unfounded theories that are in line with their political views, with increased knowledge seemingly making them more, rather than less, likely to believe things that just haven’t been proven, according to the poll.

Significantly fewer residents believe other empirically unconfirmed statements. For example, only a third (32%) believe it’s definitely or possibly true that President Obama remains untruthful about his background and early life, thirty percent believe President Obama’s supporters committed significant voters fraud in the 2012 elections, and 37 percent believe there’s some truth to the claim that childhood vaccines cause autism.

“People tend to hold false beliefs because it helps them reinforce their own partisan beliefs,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson, and an analyst for the poll. “When people are motivated to believe something, facts just don’t matter very much.”

Across questions related to Presidents Trump and Obama, partisan differences prevail. Four-in-ten (39%) Democrats believe it’s definitely true that President Trump is hiding a close connection to political and business figures in Russia. Four percent of Republicans and 19 percent of independents believe the same. When it comes to President Obama, although only three percent of Democrats believe he’s definitely hiding information about his birthright and early life, more than eight times that number (25%) of Republicans find the former president untruthful. And, as for voter fraud in the 2012 elections, 21 percent of Republicans believe the Obama campaign definitely played fast and loose, as compared with only a seventh of that number (3%) of Democrats.

Of course, not all conspiracy beliefs are political. Five percent of New Jersey voters say that there is “definitely” a proven link between childhood vaccines and autism, with another 32 percent saying that’s it is “possible” that a link has been proven. These figures are about the same as national figures, measured last April (http://view2.fdu.edu/publicmind/2016/160504/), in which seven percent of Americans thought that a link had “definitely” been proven.

In addition to questions about beliefs in unproven theories, respondents on the poll were also asked a series of five political knowledge items. These ask about knowledge of figures in the news (including Paul Ryan, Rex Tillerson and Theresa May) and facts about issues and government, like which party has more seats in the House, and the contents of the recent House bill aimed at repealing parts of Obamacare. On average, New Jersey voters answered 3.4 of these questions correctly, with Democrats and Republicans being about equally accurate (3.5 and 3.6 items correctly, respectively), and independents lagging behind, with only about 2.9 questions correct, on average.

“It’s not surprising that partisans pay closer attention to the news than independents,” said Cassino. “Politics is like baseball: if you don’t care who wins, why would you bother watching the game?”

Higher levels of political knowledge – a measure of attention paid to the news and world events – does not help individuals sort fact from fiction on political beliefs. Among Republicans, for instance, higher levels of political knowledge are correlated with greater certainty that Obama is hiding information about his background and early life. Among Democrats, higher levels of political knowledge correlate with more certainty that Trump’s taxes would show his links to Russian interests.

“In politics, what people want to believe is almost more important than the facts at hand,” said Cassino. “When politics motivates people to believe something, people with more information do a better job of finding ways to justify that belief.”

The results for belief that the alleged, unfounded link between autism and childhood vaccines has been proven also highlight the extent to which political views distort the ability of Americans to tell fact from fiction. As the autism-vaccine link is not a politically charged view, individuals who pay more attention to the news are more likely to know that there is no proven link. On average, individuals who said that there is “definitely” a link answered 2.7 out of the 5 knowledge questions correctly. Those who said that the link was “possible” answered 3.1 questions correctly. Those who said that there was “definitely not” a link answered 3.7 questions correctly.

“This is the pattern we’d generally expect to see for false beliefs,” said Cassino. “When politics doesn’t get in the way, people who pay attention to the world are pretty good at sorting fact from fiction.”


Methodology, questions, and tables on the web at: http://publicmind.fdu.edu

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Methodology – The Fairleigh Dickinson University poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 22-26, 2017 among a random sample of 816 adults in New Jersey. Results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.8 percentage points, including the design effect.


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