How many lies can a pollie tell?

How many lies can a politician tell before Australians lose faith in his or her ability to do their job? Does the truth matter to voters?

In a survey conducted by Australian and US psychologists, Does truth matter to voters? The effects of correcting political misinformation in an Australian sample, 370 Australians were asked how many lies it would take before a voter lost trust in a politician.

In the US, which is believed to be in an era of ‘post-truth’ politics, it seems that voters will back their candidates no matter how much they mislead and lie to their constituents. Aussie voters, however, say the facts actually matter to them.

Here, voters will admit to being duped if they discover they’ve been lied to and will even change their vote if a politician is repeatedly found guilty of lying or not following through on campaign promises, according to the survey.

The paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, revealed analysis of Australians’ responses to certain claims made by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and current Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Some of the claims were true, others were lies. When the survey participants were shown fact-checks of those statements, the corrections “strongly reduced” belief in the “myths” disseminated by both parties, meaning voters were willing to accept that they had been duped.

The survey also showed that, in Australia, once politicians were caught out lying around four times, support for them declined.

A follow-up study in the US showed that even when politicians lied up to 80 per cent of the time, support for them barely wavered.

According to RMIT ABC Fact Check chief academic investigator Gordon Farrer, this is where Australia’s compulsory voting system may be better than the voluntary system in the US.

“The trick [in the US] is to get people out to vote and, to do that, people often say wild and misleading things,” said Mr Farrer in a Fairfax article.

He also said that Australian politicians may often “cherry-pick” facts to spin their arguments and policy benefits, but the most successful pollies “pitched to the middle”.

The paper raised the question about the importance of fact checking politicians, with findings showing that many voters came to a decision based on “emotion and gut feeling” rather the facts. Mr Farrer highlighted the importance of ensuring that lies and false claims were kept out of the political sphere.

“The best thing you can do to deal with the issue of fake news, misinformation, alternative facts, post-truth, all that sort of stuff, is not to try to correct misinformation after it’s out in the public,” he said.

“It’s to stop it from getting out there in the first place but, also, to give people the tools to deal with that information.”

In the survey, Australians were found to be more politically discerning than their US counterparts; however, respondents were unable to avoid fact-checks.

“In reality, some people may not encounter any fact-checks at all,” the paper reads.

And this is what most worries Mr Farrer, who believes that without such fact-checking, voters will fall back to their default positions.

“Politics is in danger of breaking down if people aren’t able to or willing to make determinations based on factual information,” Mr Farrer said.

“We don’t know what is true any more and it is going to get harder and harder.”

How many lies will you weather before you lose faith in a politician? Or are you just used to political misinformation and untruths?

Related articles:
Over 65s distrustful of politics
Do our pollies deserve their perks?
Australians tired of rigged system

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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