A year and a half later, analysts and academics still have reached no real consensus on how Donald Trump pulled off his victory in the 2016 presidential election. But three Ohio State University researchers have a new — and controversial — study showing that a key portion of the Republican’s voters were highly susceptible to the influence of fake news. Paul Beck, a longtime OSU political science professor, said the deep dive after the election focused on voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but not fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. About 77 percent of Obama voters stuck with Clinton, so if she had gotten only a relative handful more, she would be president. “The real key in 2016 is ‘What happened to the Obama voters?’” Beck said. The “fake news” accounts used by the OSU researchers were not from any major networks or newspapers, but rather a trio of false statements widely shared by individuals or groups on social media and through some broadcast outlets.
Beck stressed that the study did not prove a cause-and-effect directly linking false information and Trump’s victory. “Whether it’s large enough to really make a difference, we can’t say,” he said. “But it’s very conceivable that it really affected the outcome of the election.”
Beck noted that Clinton lost to Trump by a combined 77,744 votes in the closely contested states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — a mere 0.6 percent of the votes cast there.
“Even a modest impact of fake news might have been decisive,” concluded Beck and co-authors Richard Gunther and Erik C. Nisbet in what they say is the first examination of the effect of fake news on the 2016 vote.