Voters do not know very much

Much has been said of Romney’s basic lack of concern about facts in this campaign. All campaigns bend facts, misrepresent things, and occasionally lie, but few do so with the boldness of Romney. After picking Paul Ryan, Romney’s campaign, in a Rove-esque maneuver, blitzed Obama over Medicare. The campaign claimed Obama took money from Medicare to pay from Obamacare, when all it really did was reduce reimbursement rates for doctors, thereby saving money. The GOP convention decided to go with “we built it” as its slogan, a response to an out-of-context Obama quote from earlier this year. Finally, the GOP convention and Romney has claimed Obama has removed work requirements for welfare, which is false.

Amplifying the fascination around these lies is the fact that when confronted with the untruths, Romney’s own pollster replied “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.” All sorts of bloggers have been writing on the phenomenon of a post-truth campaign. Jonathan Chait has a good piece as does Brian Beutler. The real interesting question that comes out of Romney’s move here is whether this strategy will work. Can you tell lies, explicitly say that you do not care that they are lies, and get away with it? Will voters catch on? Will they even care?

Romney’s campaign is doubtlessly counting on the fact that most Americans know very little about even basic political facts, let alone complicated policy issues. If Romney and his associates claim that Obama stole money from Medicare, how many people know enough about the internal funding moves of Obamacare to realize it’s nonsense? Very few.

More than that, consider how one would even go about figuring out whether that’s true or not. There are prominent newspapers that have explained the Medicare situation on their blogs, but I doubt very seriously that reaches a big chunk of voters. Perhaps some newspapers will debunk it in their actual texts, but how many people read those, especially low-information independents? I imagine very few.

Additionally, if you watch right-wing media — and I watch a ton of it — you would know that it not only touts the Republican line, it also tries to inoculate its viewers against other media outlets. A great chunk of right-wing coverage is spent telling its viewers that all other information channels are liberal propaganda, and are not to be believed. For people in that camp, even outlets that reveal and explain the lies cannot actually change their mind. They don’t believe those channels tell the truth: only the right-wing ones do.

For right-wingers that are clever enough to figure out these are lies, does anyone think they actually care? Surely they will just chalk it up to the kind of things you need to say to win over the “dumb masses,” but still support the GOP for other reasons. Ultimately, I am not sure this will really cost Romney much. Most hardcore right-wingers will never believe that he is misleading them because they disregard the information streams that point that out. Hardcore right-wingers that realize he is misleading will vote for him anyways. Finally, voters know notoriously little, especially about policy minutiae, and the wishy-washy folks who might go either way pay attention the least.