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The Role of Race, Religion, and Partisanship in Misinformation About COVID-19 (WP-20-38)

James Druckman, Katherine Ognyanova, Matthew Baum, David Lazer, Roy Perlis, John Della Volpe, Mauricio Santillana, Hanyu Chwe, Alexi Quintana, and Matthew Simonson

Concerns about misinformation among the public abound. While this is not new, the rise of social media has stimulated scholars, across the social sciences, to explore the spread of misinformation and tactics for correcting misperceptions. Surprisingly, little work explores the correlates of misinformation in varying contexts – that is, how do factors such as group affiliations, media exposure, and lived experiences influence levels of misinformation? The researchers address these questions by investigating misinformation about COVID-19, focusing on the role of racial/ethnic, religious, and partisan groups. They also compare the impact of group affiliations with other factors such as media exposure and disease vulnerability. Using a large survey, they find that minorities, those with high levels of religiosity, and those with strong partisan identities – across parties – exhibit significantly greater levels of misinformation than those with contrasting group affiliations. Moreover, the authors show these effects exceed those stemming from other variables (e.g., social media usage, number of COVID-19 cases in one’s county), and do not reflect acquiescence to believing any information regardless of its truth value. Their results have implications for understanding the sources of misinformation and how to combat it. It further accentuates the importance of developing targeted interventions for these high-risk groups.

This paper is published in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Katherine Ognyanova, Assistant Professor of Communication, Rutgers University

Matthew Baum, Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, Harvard Kennedy School

David Lazer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Computer and Information Science, Northeastern University

Roy Perlis, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

John Della Volpe, Director of Polling, Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School

Mauricio Santillana, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Hanyu Chwe, Network Science, Northeastern University

Alexi Quintana, Network Science, Northeastern University

Matthew Simonson, Network Science, Northeastern University


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