It’s common knowledge that Republicans’ support for President Donald Trump is impervious to facts, reason, or discussion. No matter how many corruption scandals, national security breaches, or racism-fueled tweets come from the president, they will stand by him. Nothing will shake loose their loyalty.
Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests that for some Trump supporters, that is true. But a study analyzed in the Washington Post tells a different story: While partisan bias certainly makes Republicans resistant to bad information about the president, learning about Trump’s scandals actually pushes down their approval of the president more than Democrats or independents.
The real issue, the study suggests, may simply be Republican voters’ media diet, which largely consists of Fox News and Facebook memes — and rarely shows them negative info on the president in any capacity.
“Currently, Americans distrust the media along partisan lines,” wrote the authors. “Many selectively read sources with which they already agree. An incredible number of sources offer information (and misinformation) about national politics; half of Americans get their news from Facebook or other social media sites; and local news outlets are disappearing precipitously. A polarized and nationalized politics is the result: Americans are hearing more and more about the president and Congress and liking them less and less.”
The study enrolled around 1,200 Americans in a news portal service that deluged certain subjects in nonstop information about the Russia scandal and the Mueller investigation, and showed less it for others. Information was recorded about their demographics and political affiliation — and their approval of Trump was carefully tracked over the course of several weeks.
“We found that only Republicans were significantly influenced by the scandal coverage or lack thereof,” wrote the authors. “Those who saw comparatively more Trump-Russia stories rated his job performance 7.6 percent lower than Republicans who did not read those stories, and rated their positive emotions toward him (such as pride, enthusiasm, and hope) 10.9 percent lower than those kept in the dark. Democrats had non-statistically significant reactions. Republicans did not change their attitudes toward the media, and our results did not change based on whether they clicked on the stories.”
“In other words, simply changing the balance of scandal headlines that they saw was enough to change Republicans’ attitudes toward Trump,” wrote the authors. “Exposure to sustained coverage of a Trump scandal had detectable, negative effects strong enough to overcome Republicans’ partisanship.”
The authors cautioned that the study was conducted two years ago, so it is not certain whether Republicans’ views are as malleable today as they were then. But, they concluded, “it is simply not true that Trump is not hurt by his scandals or that Republicans never change their opinion of him. Trump pays a price when a scandal attracts intense media attention — particularly among those who are supposed to be most loyal to him.”
“Though resilient, Trump is not Teflon,” they added.