Paul Waldman has a strong post today pointing out that “there’s no poll trutherism on the left.” I think he understates the case.
Waldman is correct that while it’s a normal instinct of all partisans to be skeptical of information (polls in this case, economic statistics on Friday) that they don’t like, we’ve been inundated for the last month with a series of conservative arguments that the polls are deliberately and conspiratorially “skewed,” and Democrats generally don’t do that.
What I’d emphasize here, however, is how information flows to Republican rank-and-file voters. And for that, it’s almost irrelevant what “arguments” are. What matters is what filters down to voters, and I think in many cases what filters down is pretty crude indeed. For example: On Friday evening, I happened to flip over to my local conservative radio talk show and the host simply ridiculed the “supposed” employment numbers. No argument; he just treated the numbers as inherently phony. It was amazingly efficient: We went from no one ever questioning the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers on Friday morning to a fully accepted (and, it should be pointed out, totally false) story by Friday evening. I have no idea whether the host knew that he was repeating a lie, or if he had just foolishly trusted something he had read or heard earlier in the day — but anyone listening, any regular listeners who basically trusted what they hear, would have assumed that he was telling the truth and that the numbers were in fact phony.
The point is that there’s simply no equivalent institutional support for smears and falsehoods of this kind within the much more rudimentary Democratic-aligned partisan press. Most liberals don’t get the bulk of their information through liberal talk shows and blogs; they use the neutral press and supplement it. Conservatives, however, have been warned for 40 years that they can’t trust the “liberal” media (never mind that academic studies generally show that the neutral press contains all sorts of institutional biases but not partisan biases). Nor do Democrats in responsible positions – members of Congress, for example – repeat the more crazy things that fringers might come up with.
So I don’t think there’s anything at all that’s inherently virtuous about liberals or nefarious about conservatives that produces the clear different between what rank-and-file voters get exposed to. Indeed, I strongly suspect that if you crawl around the less-respectable precincts of the intertubes, you would find plenty of crazy left-wing conspiracy junk. The difference is that most liberal voters get minimal exposure to those theories and generally can check them against the (flawed, but not partisan) versions of the news in “mainstream” newspapers and TV news. And that’s all the difference in the world.