Trust and Truth During America's Age of Anxiety
26 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2022
Date Written: June 1, 2022
Well before COVID-19 skepticism or the January 6 insurrection, Al Gore (2007) warned of “amygdala politics” animated by fear rather than facts. Research has since noted the rise of “post-truth” politics and “truth decay” across America (Kavanaugh and Rich 2018). We argue the convergence of different types of vertical mistrust generates “epistemic fragility,” driven by partisanship as well as a strong psychological desire for predictability that weakens epistemic judgement. We use tax and Census data to proxy for trust in government, and mask wearing and vaccination variables to capture trust in scientific authority. Tests demonstrate a robust relationship between mistrust and support for Donald Trump but a weaker association with Republican registration. Next, psychological distress also adversely impacts trust. Controls show vaccine hesitancy among evangelicals and some minorities, and unequal access to health care among Latinx. We conclude that epistemic fragility is a symptom of a public health crisis.
Funding Information: Our only funding came from a Dean’s Summer Research Award Grant, from the dean of the School of International Service at American University.
Conflict of Interests: None.
Keywords: COVID, post-truth, conspiracy, populism, Trump, voting, democracy, epistemic democracy, trust, political trust
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