The Republican News Bubble

We're entitled to our own facts.

WaPo’s Philip Bump delivers the bizarre news that “Most Republicans aren’t aware of Trump’s various legal issues.”

There is an assumption, probably particularly among those who cover the news and those who read it, that Donald Trump’s legal travails are common knowledge. We talk about things like the potential effects of a Trump conviction on the 2024 presidential election with the assumption that this would be an event that rose to the nation’s consciousness, triggering a response from both his supporters and detractors.

But this is a sort of vanity: Just because it is interesting to us certainly doesn’t mean it is interesting to others. Polling released by CNN on Thursday shows that only a quarter of voters seek out news about the campaign; a third pay little to no attention at all.

As it turns out, even major developments often fly under the average American’s radar. New polling conducted by YouGov shows that only a bit over half of the country on average is aware of the various legal challenges Trump faces. And among those Republicans on whose political support he depends? Consistently, only a minority say they are aware of his lawsuits and charges.

YouGov presented American adults with eight legal scenarios to judge the extent of the public’s awareness. Two were invented: that Trump faces charges related to emoluments or related to drug trafficking. Happily, less than a quarter of respondents said those legal threats actually existed.

The other six were real. The one that was familiar to the most people was the federal classified-documents case that is moving forward in Florida; 6 in 10 Americans said they were aware of that case. The one that had the least awareness was the civil suit in New York in which a judge determined that he’d fraudulently inflated the value of his assets. Just under 50 percent of Americans knew about that.

But the pattern among Republicans is clear. At most, 45 percent of Republicans said they knew about legal issues: specifically, the documents case and his being found liable for assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll. Only a quarter knew about the value-inflation suit, and only 4 in 10 knew about the criminal charges in Manhattan related to the hush money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.

While this will naturally seem bizarre to the sort of people who read political blogs, it really shouldn’t shock us. It’s long been understood that most people ignore politics on a day-to-day basis. George Will was telling us decades ago that Americans don’t start paying attention to Presidential campaigns until after the World Series.

Way back in 1957, the political scientist Anthony Downs defended this as “rational ignorance.” After all, it takes a lot of time and energy to be well-informed and the net individual gain for knowing a lot about politics is negligible. It’s a major reason why most folks rely on shortcuts like party labels to inform their vote.

But Bump is going beyond that, noting that Republicans are more ignorant about a specific subset of the news than Americans overall. Here’s the visual:

In every single instance, Republicans were less knowledgeable than Democrats or Independents. Although, oddly, Trump voters were slightly more knowledgeable than Republicans writ large.

Were I to hazard a guess as to the reason, I’d say it’s a function of Trump’s legal troubles constantly being hammered in the mainstream press and Democratic-leaning outlets while getting much less attention on Fox News and other Republican-leaning outlets. And it turns out, Bump concurs:

It seems very safe to assume this lack of familiarity derives from disinterest in hearing negative information about Trump — and, probably more importantly, the disinterest of conservative and right-wing media outlets to report on them. In May, The Washington Post looked at the extent to which Fox News covered the documents and Daniels cases relative to other cable-news channels. It did so much less frequently.

Now, what all this means is unclear. Presumably, even Republicans will be more aware of Trump’s various legal fights as the election draws closer. Certainly, they will if he’s convicted of crimes.

FILED UNDER: Media, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. charontwo says:

    If you look at the responses to the two false claims there is also the effect of people just believe what they want to believe, so the differential is not solely because of the biased news media.

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  2. James Joyner says:

    @charontwo: That certainly seems to be the case. The emoluments question is understandable, at least, in that Trump routinely violated Constitutional norms in that area. The drug trafficking question is just bizarre.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Were I to hazard a guess as to the reason, I’d say it’s a function of Trump’s legal troubles constantly being hammered in the mainstream press and Democratic-leaning outlets while getting much less attention on Fox News and other Republican-leaning outlets.

    They also have to have to be ignoring most everything trump says because every other statement he makes is about how he’s being persecuted and the law has being weaponized against him and judges and juries have it in for him and ad nauseum ad infinitum.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Heh. When I read those 2 I was like “What???” Then I saw the ‘False’ when I reread them. Besides, it is difficult to keep all the charges straight.

    “More coming tomorrow!” seems perfectly reasonable at this point.

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  5. It’s a major reason why most folks rely on shortcuts like party labels to inform their vote.

    Exactly–and it is a core element to what I often try to get readers to understand about how we have ended up where we are, especially with two choices in an era of significant polarization.

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  6. steve says:

    While you dont believe there is a Trump cult, I believe that if you just treat Trump followers as thought they are in a cult of personality most of what they do makes sense. However, would you make the case that if this was another Republican leader facing these same legal issues that the voters would behave the same? Maybe that’s a tough and unfair question. It’s hard to find that right combination of someone who is as sleazy and corrupt as Trump and as successful in the party. Still, there are a number of congresspeople and senators with issues they keep voting back in and support. At the state level you certainly find quite a number of truly awful people like the Indiana legislator cited yesterday who hold office regardless of their actions.

    Steve

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  7. Scott F. says:

    Way back in 1957, the political scientist Anthony Downs defended this as “rational ignorance.” After all, it takes a lot of time and energy to be well-informed…

    Is that really the case anymore? I recognize there is a BIG difference between being informed and well-informed, but we live in an age when information is so accessible, I can be watching Masters of The Air, wonder where Regensburg is, and find it on Google Earth without putting down my scotch. The means to be well-informed is there and easily available to anyone with a smartphone (granted that is not everyone but it’s a lot) and you don’t have to be addicted to doom-scrolling through political blogs like I am to know what is up in the world. You just have to be curious.

    What takes some willfulness is avoiding information that doesn’t comport with your existing worldview and, of course, the mental gymnastics one must do to rationalize defending the indefensible must be exhausting.

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  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    YouGov presented American adults with eight legal scenarios to judge the extent of the public’s awareness. Two were invented: that Trump faces charges related to emoluments or related to drug trafficking.

    To be fair, the first one SHOULD be true, but sadly our courts have turned the emoluments clause into dead letter law.

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  9. CSK says:

    Most MAGAs believe all the charges are trumped up–you should pardon the expression–and designed purely to persecute the totally innocent Trump.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @steve:

    if this was another Republican leader facing these same legal issues that the voters would behave the same?

    In the past there were pockets where corrupt, incompetent and ludicrous candidates have thrived, and not just in the Republican Party. Michelle Bachman in MN. Gaetz in FL. Marion Barry in DC. All elected and reelected despite proving themselves shambolic wrecks.

    I suspect Trump came along at just the right time. The destruction and degradation of the GOP took a long time. The Republican Party embraced racism and racial violence in 1964. They embraced both fraud religion and denial of reality as a method to win elections in 1980. And they fully embraced vilification and slander as routine political tools in 1995 with Gingrich’s ascension. It took until 2016 for more reasonable and moderate voices to be completely subsumed by the crazies, made possible in no small part by the gradual elevation of the primary process to be the sole selection mechanism for candidates. In other words, 2016 was the first time a Bachman-ish candidate could win despite everything the establishment could do. If it wasn’t Trump it would have been some other loon. Maybe it would have taken until 2020, but you only have to look at what is going on in the Nevada Republican Party to see the inevitability of the crazies assuming control once a party passes the point of no return.

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  11. gVOR10 says:

    @James Joyner:

    The emoluments question is understandable, at least, in that Trump routinely violated Constitutional norms in that area.

    I think a big factor there is what @OzarkHillbilly: said,

    Besides, it is difficult to keep all the charges straight.

    I’m a news junkie and I can’t keep the various cases straight. Pretty easy to have heard about emoluments and think maybe somebody finally did something about it.

    @Scott F.:

    I can be watching Masters of The Air, wonder where Regensburg is, and find it on Google Earth without putting down my scotch. The means to be well-informed is there and easily available to anyone with a smartphone

    This is where “the algorithm” becomes a problem. Without conscious effort and a realistic worldview, social media will lead the innocent down a self reinforcing rabbit hole.

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  12. @Scott F.:

    but we live in an age when information is so accessible

    Paradoxically, that makes it worse, not better. People pick their niche news. In 1972 we all read the same paper (or maybe picked from two) and watched one of three nightly newscasts.

    I used to think that the explosion of access to information would lead to a more informed populace. It has, unfortunately, led to the opposite (which the OP underscores).

    You just have to be curious.

    Most people aren’t.

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  13. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Well, anyone can overlook 91 felony charges and an $89 million dollar settlement, I suppose.

    Sure.

    On second thought, no. No way. F’ck no. They have to go totally to intentional ignorance. Hear it, but ignore it. See it, look elsewhere and dismiss it. Discuss it, and just call it propaganda.

    Faith in a cult leader makes all doubts go away.

    In corporate America, I have worked with Evangelicals. Their reality is not of this world, and they can believe anything that they are told for their faith, no matter how insane the concept. Trump love is the same.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    The means to be well-informed is there and easily available to anyone with a smartphone

    Niven’s Law: No method works if it’s not used.

    Kathy’s First Law: everyone proceeds through the path of least resistance.

    At the office, everyone sits at a PC, and everyone has a smart phone. Several times per week, someone will ask anyone who is listening some question that can be easily answered by a web search in under ten seconds.

    Even I sometimes ask questions here I could web search for.

    I forget who said sometime int he early 2000s that the internet has made us all omniscient. Alas, it has not given us the habit of looking info up. It’s as if it’s raining soup, and we all have forks.

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  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    @gVOR10:

    This is where “the algorithm” becomes a problem. Without conscious effort and a realistic worldview, social media will lead the innocent down a self reinforcing rabbit hole.

    This is wrong on two points:
    1. The algorithm at most social media sites doesn’t actually reinforce information bubbles, although it is a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reason: the primary goal of “the algorithm” is to increase engagement, and getting people into arguments is a good way to do that, as people keep coming back trying to get the last word in. So a lot of sites are basically the IT equivalent of a high school gossip going “OMG, did you hear what Becky just said to Alan about you?”
    2. Contrary to popular opinion, exposure to alternative viewpoints appears to actually increase polarization, not weaken it: https://www.pnas.org/doi/pdf/10.1073/pnas.1804840115

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  16. Andy says:

    The other way to look at it is the extent to which Trump is living rent-free in the heads of Democrats who hate him.

    More seriously, this is just cognitive psychology 101.

    People are better informed about the things they care about, and the things they care about are often the things that get them riled up. When it comes to politics, it’s not exactly a surprise that partisans are highly motivated to learn about and understand all the defects of political opponents and thereby become better informed about them, albeit in a one-sided way. If you hate Trump and like Biden you’re just a lot more likely to read a story about the latest Trump outrage or legal trouble than you are about anything negative about Biden.

    Filter bubbles are a thing! There is Fox News, but there is also MSNBC!

    And then you add in social media, which knows, probably better than we do, what engages us individually and makes sure we see that content. If we keep clicking on all the content about Trump’s legal issues, then that’s what are we going to see more of. Conversely, if we don’t click on that and instead click on the stuff about Taylor Swift or Hunter Biden, we’re going to see a lot less content about Trump’s legal issues.

    This ain’t rocket science folks.

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  17. Modulo Myself says:

    Rational ignorance seems more to refer to a person who trusts the FDA and doesn’t want to waste the time to know about the additives listed on their food. The ultimate goal of the rational ignorant is independent of the FDA, and presumably, if they keep on getting sick, they will no longer have a reason to trust the FDA.

    Except they may have a reason: they don’t want to be a mark. And the person who doesn’t want to be a mark will keep on trusting the FDA (or Fox, the cult leader, the climate ‘sceptic’ industry, etcetera) even if the original purpose of their ignorance is gone.

    The question is whether it’s possible to distinguish a rational person who wants to be healthy without having to figure out some ten-syllable synthetic ingredient from a person who doesn’t want to feel as if they were the mark in the endeavor.

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  18. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Most people aren’t [curious].

    Indeed. I don’t disagree with any of what you write here.

    But, I was responding to the idea that being well-informed required significant investment in time/energy and that simply isn’t the case. Voter ignorance is a choice, so it won’t be improved by making access to information easier. There needs to be some other incentive to get a well-informed electorate. Maybe we should try shaming?

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  19. JKB says:

    Well, there are so many cases. And now, after all the hype, they are meeting reality.

    Fani Willis, darling of Atlanta, may herself end up with felony charges of corruption in hiring her inexperienced, and unqualified “lover” to head the RICO case.

    Just yesterday, the DC case, set to splash on the day before Super Tuesday, has been indefinitely delayed over the immunity claims.

    And all to “get Trump” as Alan Dershowitz wrote the book on while the cases have destroyed the ability of the foreign policy elite to lecture Putin and others on putting the opponents on trial.

    And really, what do you think happens if you try to frog march Trump into a prison? Especially after he wins the landslide in November.

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  20. Kurtz says:

    @JKB:

    And all to “get Trump” as Alan Dershowitz wrote the book on while the cases have destroyed the ability of the foreign policy elite to lecture Putin and others on putting the opponents on trial.

    Jailing opponents on illegitimate charges and failing to prosecute legitimate charges because of political affiliation both violate the rule of law.

    But let’s be honest about foreign policy ‘elites’ biting their tongue to avoid accusations of hypocrisy. When has the perception of hypocrisy ever stopped American IR policymakers from speaking out against the actions of foreign leaders?

    Were you trying to illustrate @Scott F.‘s point?

    But, I was responding to the idea that being well-informed required significant investment in time/energy and that simply isn’t the case. Voter ignorance is a choice, so it won’t be improved by making access to information easier. There needs to be some other incentive to get a well-informed electorate. Maybe we should try shaming?

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  21. Mister Bluster says:

    what happens?

    Obviously your boyfriend Trump will make you the Minister of Truth. You will be sent to North Korea so you can learn from his other lover Kim Jong-un as he trains you how to behave in Trump’s presence.

    “He speaks and his people sit up at attention,” Trump said. “I want my people to do the same.”

    I am sure you will be up to the task.

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  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: You know if you had even a passing acquaintance with reality, you never would have speculated as you did here. For the sake of brevity I’ll stick to just one point:

    And really, what do you think happens if you try to frog march Trump into a prison? Especially after he wins the landslide in November.

    Ok, never mind your delusions of frog marching* lets just stick to the “trump wins in a landslide come November.”

    Have you been paying any attention at all? trump won NH with 54.3% of the vote, which means 45.7% said, “Please, any other GOP is better than that asshole.” Meanwhile Biden got 63.9% of the DEM vote and he wasn’t even on the ballot in a vote that counted for nothing.

    Now, what does this mean for a general election? Eliphino, but the results so far speak to a waning enthusiasm for trump in the GOP. Which is not to say Biden doesn’t have a few issues with the DEM electorate, but they pale in comparison to the loser, corrupt, sexual predator, lying pos stink following trump everywhere he goes.

    *when it comes to trump being “frog marched into prison”, please, lets get real. There is a very real possibility/probability of his being convicted on a plethora of charges in his multiple indictments and as much as it pains me I will repeat myself again:

    That ccksckng pos will never spend a single day in prison.

    At worst he will get house arrest in some 1960s suburban home w/ WalMart toilet paper and walMart canned veggies w/ undercooked ground beef and Kraft Mac and Cheese for dinner every night. SS guarding every approach with Walt Nauta, Alina Habba, and Jr. ducking plain label ketchup. Melania will be long gone. Ivanka will be an orphan (“Daddy died” snif snif), and Erik… Who cares what happens to Erik?

    And when/if that day finally arrives, you will still be just as deluded as ever.

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  23. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    The drug trafficking question is just bizarre.

    The Trump White House had a problem with the doctor handing out prescription drugs like candy. There was a flurry of reporting about this not long ago mostly on the left (and after the headlines, it mentions that the doctor had been doing it in the Obama administration too). So, it might just be people hearing that reporting and bundling it in with everything Trump.

    The doctor in question is now in the House of Representatives. It may have been more than just him, I skimmed one article about it a while ago and recalled when Trump wanted to make him head of the VA that similar stuff about him being the candyman came out then.

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  24. DK says:

    @JKB:

    Well, there are so many cases. And now, after all the hype, they are meeting reality.

    The reality is that cases have ended with Trump — a pederast who repeatedly and publicly admitted finding his daughters sexually attractive — being found liable for sexual battery and widespread businesses fraud.

    Being defended by Alan Dershowitz is hardly a flex, given that both are pervs who were paling around with Jeff Epstein, of whom Trump remarked, “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”

    Ew.

    Rapist, con artist, and traitor Trump has about as much chance of winning a “landslide” in November as Republicans have of winning a big giant Red Wave election in 2022.

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  25. Zachriel says:

    @gVOR10: Without conscious effort and a realistic worldview, social media will lead the innocent down a self reinforcing rabbit hole.

    Bot: “We see you are interested in blowing up government buildings. Perhaps you would be interested in other people with similar interests. Please click here to follow.”

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  26. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    “And all to “get Trump” as Alan Dershowitz wrote the book on while the cases have destroyed the ability of the foreign policy elite to lecture Putin and others on putting the opponents on trial.”

    Sorry, which candidate has his supporters chant about locking political opponents up in his rallies? The irony of a Trump supporter lecturing anyone else about putting opponents on trial is just too much.

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  27. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: Oh, for sure. But the net result is that Republicans are woefully uninformed on a rather major set of relevant voting considerations and Democrats aren’t.

    @Gustopher: Ah, yes. That made news while Jackson was still in the Navy working at the White House and has resurfaced of late. But I’ve never encountered a suggestion that Trump was in any legal trouble for that.

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  28. Pylon says:
  29. Ken_L says:

    THE EXTENT OF VOTER IGNORANCE IS SHOCKING!!!
    And the suggestion I should know what the “Superbowel” is is classic diflection.

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