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This article was published on June 19, 2018

Pew Research shows fewer than 50 percent of Americans can tell the difference between fact and opinion

Pew Research shows fewer than 50 percent of Americans can tell the difference between fact and opinion
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

A new Pew Research Center survey found that only around one in four American adults could, practically-speaking, tell the difference between factual statements and opinion.

The poll, which surveyed more than five thousand adults, asked those involved to correctly identify five factual statements and five opinionated statements. The results were bad, real bad. Only 26 percent of those surveyed correctly identified all five factual statements. They were slightly better at identifying opinion, with 35 percent spotting all five correctly.

The statements, in case you were wondering, seem rather straightforward. For example:

  • Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget.
  • Healthcare costs per person in the U.S. are the highest in the developed world.
  • President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
  • Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally are a very big problem for the country today.
  • Government is always wasteful and inefficient.
  • Abortion should be legal in most cases.

But the interesting part wasn’t in how bad we are as a whole at identifying fact and opinion, it was the groups of people who proved best and worst at it.

For example, those who placed “A lot of trust in the news media” were able to correctly identify facts at a rate exceeding any other group. All told, 39 percent correctly identified all five factual statements, and 44 percent (again, tops in any group) identified all five opinion statements.

Conversely, those who place “Not much/no trust” in news media fared far worse, with only 18 percent able to correctly identify all five factual statements, and 30 percent able to identify all five opinion statements.

This group wasn’t the worst, however. That honor belongs to those who don’t consider themselves digitally savvy, with 13 percent identifying factual statements correctly and 21 percent identifying the opinions.

So, what have we learned?

  1. The news media isn’t perfect, but it’s obviously doing its job. Those who placed their trust in the media to inform were, as you might have guessed, more well-informed than any other group.
  2. Access to the internet and the willingness to use it goes a long way in informing the populace.
  3. When combined, all groups were able to answer more than half correct (72 percent), but this, unfortunately, is only slightly better than random guessing.

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