Mississippi, Misinformation... Trumpism

"Tsunami" by Nancy Ohanian

Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union and the second least educated, after West Virginia. Also, the second least healthy. after Louisiana. It is also the most obese state-- both for children and adults. Although Mississippi is no longer the least vaccinated state-- at 49% fully vaccinated, it is now the 4th worst-- there are 16 Mississippi counties where less than 40% of the residents are fully vaccinated:

  • Smith- 33% fully vaccinated (77.5% Trump voters)

  • Itawamba- 33% fully vaccinated (87.2% Trump voters)

  • Choctaw- 34% fully vaccinated (71.1% Trump voters)

  • Issaquena- 35% fully vaccinated (45.6% Trump voters)

  • Greene- 36% fully vaccinated (82.5% Trump voters)

  • Perry- 36% fully vaccinated (76.1% Trump voters)

  • Lincoln- 37% fully vaccinated (69.0% Trump voters)

  • Alcorn- 37% fully vaccinated (81.2% Trump voters)

  • Wayne- 37% fully vaccinated (62.7% Trump voters)

  • Tishomingo- 37% fully vaccinated (86.8% Trump voters)

  • Union- 38% fully vaccinated (81.8% Trump voters)

  • Amite- 38% fully vaccinated (62.6% Trump voters)

  • George- 39% fully vaccinated (87.9% Trump voters)

  • Neshoba- 39% fully vaccinated (71.1% Trump voters)

  • Walthall- 39% fully vaccinated (59.3% Trump voters)

  • Carroll- 39% fully vaccinated (68.8% Trump voters)

Mississippi is also the single most conservative state in America. "Mississippi is the most conservative state in the U.S., with 50% of the population being conservative. 29% of Mississippi residents are moderate, and 12% are liberal, the smallest percentage of every state. With a gap of 38 points, Mississippi is considered to be "highly conservative." In the 2016 election, 57.9% of Mississippi voters voted Republican, which came as no surprise considering that Mississippi has not voted Democratic since 1976. Unsurprisingly, Mississippi has a high concentration of church-goers, which is significant as conservative politics are tied with traditions in the Bible." This is Mississippi-- and remember when you're getting to know these very typical Mississippians, they're the ones who elected the legislature and any of them could easy be members of the legislature:

On Wednesday, the state House approved a bill, 96-12, to eliminate the personal income tax and increase the state sales tax from 7% to 8.5% on pretty much everything but groceries, farm equipment and autos. There partisan breakdown of the state House is 74 Republicans, 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. So... it looks like a lot of Democrats went along with the GOP's regressive tax proposal, that will be even worse for the residents of the poorest and most conservative state.

A new national Quinnipiac poll was released yesterday. One of the questions caught my eye: "Which party in Congress do you think is more likely to protect your right to vote: the Democratic party or the Republican party?" 45% said Dems (the correct answer) and 43%... could all be from Mississippi. And the most ignorant demographic? White, male Republicans.

So how do people get so stupid? Nature is a British weekly scientific journal. Ask any of your scientist friends where they would most like to be published and chances are Nature will be on the short list. It's one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. So I was very intrigued to read the article, "Why Are Trump Supporters So Stupid." J/K-- the article that caught my attention this week is The psychological drivers of misinformation belief and its resistance to correction. It's long; you can read it at the link. I recommend it. Let's look at the abstract, in which the authors wrote that "Misinformation has been identified as a major contributor to various contentious contemporary events ranging from elections and referenda to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only can belief in misinformation lead to poor judgements and decision-making, it also exerts a lingering influence on people’s reasoning after it has been corrected-- an effect known as the continued influence effect."

Does that or does that not sounds like those Mississippi gentlemen from the little film? And from the state legislature? And like Trump voters in general?

What the writers endeavor to do is "describe the cognitive, social and affective factors that lead people to form or endorse misinformed views, and the psychological barriers to knowledge revision after misinformation has been corrected, including theories of continued influence." They discuss "the effectiveness of both pre-emptive ('prebunking') and reactive ('debunking') interventions to reduce the effects of misinformation, as well as implications for information consumers and practitioners in various areas including journalism, public health, policymaking and education." Here's their intro:

Misinformation-- which we define as any information that turns out to be false-- poses an inevitable challenge for human cognition and social interaction because it is a consequence of the fact that people frequently err and sometimes lie. However, this fact is insufficient to explain the rise of misinformation, and its subsequent influence on memory and decision-making, as a major challenge in the twenty-first century. Misinformation has been identified as a contributor to various contentious events, ranging from elections and referenda to political or religious persecution and to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The psychology and history of misinformation cannot be fully grasped without taking into account contemporary technology. Misinformation helped bring Roman emperors to power, who used messages on coins as a form of mass communication and Nazi propaganda heavily relied on the printed press, radio and cinema. Today, misinformation campaigns can leverage digital infrastructure that is unparalleled in its reach. The internet reaches billions of individuals and enables senders to tailor persuasive messages to the specific psychological profiles of individual users. Moreover, social media users’ exposure to information that challenges their worldviews can be limited when communication environments foster confirmation of previous beliefs-- so-called echo chambers. Although there is some controversy about echo chambers and their impact on people’s beliefs and behaviours, the internet is an ideal medium for the fast spread of falsehoods at the expense of accurate information. However, the prevalence of misinformation cannot be attributed only to technology: conventional efforts to combat misinformation have also not been as successful as hoped-- these include educational efforts that focus on merely conveying factual knowledge and corrective efforts that merely retract misinformation.
For decades, science communication has relied on an information deficit model when responding to misinformation, focusing on people’s misunderstanding of, or lack of access to, facts. Thus, a thorough and accessible explanation of facts should overcome the impact of misinformation. However, the information deficit model ignores the cognitive, social and affective drivers of attitude formation and truth judgements. For example, some individuals deny the existence of climate change or reject vaccinations despite being aware of a scientific consensus to the contrary. This rejection of science is not the result of mere ignorance but is driven by factors such as conspiratorial mentality, fears, identity expression and motivated reasoning-- reasoning driven more by personal or moral values than objective evidence. Thus, to understand the psychology of misinformation and how it might be countered, it is essential to consider the cognitive architecture and social context of individual decision makers.
In this Review, we describe the cognitive, social and affective processes that make misinformation stick and leave people vulnerable to the formation of false beliefs. We review the theoretical models that have been proposed to explain misinformation’s resistance to correction. We provide guidance on countering misinformation, including educational and pre-emptive interventions, refutations and psychologically informed technological solutions. Finally, we return to the broader societal trends that have contributed to the rise of misinformation and discuss its practical implications on journalism, education and policymaking.
Different types of misinformation exist-- for example, misinformation that goes against scientific consensus or misinformation that contradicts simple, objectively true facts. Moreover, the term disinformation is often specifically used for the subset of misinformation that is spread intentionally. More research is needed on the extent to which different types of misinformation might be associated with differential psychological impacts and barriers for revision, and to establish the extent to which people infer intentionality and how this might affect their processing of the false information. Thus, in this Review we do not draw a sharp distinction between misinformation and disinformation, or different types of misinformation. We use the term misinformation as an umbrella term referring to any information that turns out to be false and reserve the term disinformation for misinformation that is spread with intention to harm or deceive.

Drivers of false beliefs:

Yesterday, a friend of mine drove out to Suffolk County on Long Island. He called me at least half a dozen times during his adventure. Once was to note that the people he was meeting were incredibly stupid and backward-- maybe not as stupid and backward as the gentlemen from Mississippi but too stupid and backward to take in large doses. At least 2 of the calls were to complain about the slow traffic. I told him that most of the people on Long Island-- and I've lived for years in both Nassau and Suffolk counties-- were originally from New York City and neither completely ignorant nor completely backward-- although there was always the white flight aspect. But the hypothesis I asked him to consider was how the length of the lonely automobile commute 5 days a week for year after year after year-- with the only company right-wing hate talk radio-- eventually brainwashing hundreds of thousands of Long Island commuters. In 2016, Suffolk County, where there was years and years of evidence that Trump was a con man, gave Trump 51.5% of the vote. In 2020, Suffolk County, which had just experienced 4 years of his chaos and dysfunction, gave Trump 49.4%. He beat Biden marginally (about 200 votes out of over 560,000 cast). For comparison's sake, Mississippi voters gave Trump 57.9% in 2016 and 57.6% in 2020, even without the long daily commutes in mind-numbing traffic.