Facts don’t matter… Or do they?

Many sociologists have conducted studies which show that factual accuracy doesn’t matter to most people, that facts themselves don’t really matter in determining people’s social/political views. What matters is images.

That is kind of depressing for Marxists, who hope to win people over based an an accurate representation of the world. Here is an article in today’s Washington Post entitled “Why facts don’t matter to Trump supporters.” The article is a summary of a study done on the issue. It explains that when you refute the “facts” stated by a politician – Trump, for example – what happens is that after a day or so what the Trump supporter remembers is the statement of the alleged fact, not the refutation of it.


Maybe this is more common in the United States – home of surface imagery due in part to the power of Hollywood – but anyway it turns out that things are more complicated than that. As the article explains: “People are more likely to accept information… if the factual presentation is accompanied by “affirmation” that asks respondents to recall an experience that made them feel good about themselves.
“The final point that emerged from Graves’s survey is that people will resist abandoning a false belief unless they have a compelling alternative explanation.”

In other words, as far as working class whites who support Trump: Yes, we have to refute the lies and distortions of Trump. But we have to put it in the context of their lives as workers, “a compelling alternative explanation” in other words. What is that alternative explanation? The class divide that exists, the crisis of the capitalist system itself and that the capitalists are trying to make workers pay for that crisis, the fact that workers will never advance as long as they allow one sector of the working class to be singled out for special attacks, etc. etc.

That approach was reinforced by the experiences of a black socialist who was campaigning for his presidential candidate in Minnesota’s Iron Mountain Range. This is an economically depressed mainly white working class area, where many miners have lost their jobs. As he writes: “As most Minnesotans know, there aren’t many people on the Range who look like me” in that area. Trump country. The only problem this brother encountered was that he couldn’t get away from people in order to continue campaigning; they all wanted to keep on talking.

He describes his encounters: ‘“Hi, my name is August. I’m here on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party,” I began on the steps of a house of a very young mother, a 5-month-old in her arms…. 

“The young woman was attentive and engaged during the entire 10 or 15 minutes we connected, despite her needy baby. At the end, she agreed to sign a petition to put on the ballot in Minnesota the SWP presidential and vice presidential candidates, Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart. The campaign literature I pointed to displayed prominent pictures of both candidates. Hart is African-American.

“That’s how my two-day experience on the Range began; it only got better.

“The next person I found… was a retired male in his mid-60s. After hearing my introductory rap, he insisted I sit on his porch to continue the discussion. He struck me as a possible Tea Party supporter because of his complaints about taxes he pays on family property on a nearby lake. After about 20 minutes, he, too, signed the petition. The exchange ended only because I wanted to go to speak to others in his neighborhood.”


A key, I think, was this: “most, I believe, were appreciative — and probably surprised — that someone wanted to hear their opinions.” In other words, affirmation of their experiences and their value.

The author also explains how those workers were interested in international affairs, especially the struggles of Chinese workers.

Categories: politics

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