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Americans Feel Well-Informed, Which May Be The Problem

What do you know about your media bubble? On this week’s What’s The Point, FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik discusses a new study about how Americans get their information — and how that affects and is affected by their political beliefs. Among the findings: About 6 in 10 report being better informed than they were five years ago. One possibility, though, is that our fractured media environment means more Americans are convinced that they are more informed while at the same time retreating into their silos. The study, from the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, also asked about where people get their information, who they trust, and what evidence makes them change their mind. Read Carl’s write-up of the findings here, read a partial transcript of our conversation below, and listen by pressing the play button above.

Jody Avirgan: You said that respondents said they feel well-informed and that they were able to find good information, but in many ways, there are still separate ecosystems, right? We’re not exploding the notion that people are living within echo chambers — it’s just that within those echo chambers, people [feel informed].

Carl Bialik: That’s right. If you ask people if they use social media — and the same percentage of Republicans and Democrats say “yes” — they are following different people. They are relying on different sites. Even television, there are different television stations that have different slants and will cover some stories that other stations won’t. One of the things that’s striking about this kind of study is that you’re asking people where they find information that they trust, but there’s really no way to know that they should be trusting that information.

Avirgan: That’s what complicates it. If you ask someone if they feel well-informed and they say “yes” — that might be the problem right there.

Bialik: Exactly. It also makes me think about the different levels of trust and trustworthiness. I might trust something enough that I would forward it to a friend but not trust it enough to change my opinion about something, which is a pretty high bar.

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Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.