From Primary to Presidency: Fake News, False Memory, and Changing Attitudes in the 2016 Election


  • Rebecca Hofstein Grady
  • Peter H. Ditto
  • Elizabeth F. Loftus
  • Linda J. Levine
  • Rachel Leigh Greenspan
  • Daniel P. Relihan


During a contentious primary campaign, people may argue passionately against a candidate they later support during the general election. How do people reconcile such potentially conflicting attitudes? This study followed 602 United States citizens, recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk, at three points throughout the 2016 presidential election investigating how attitudes and preferences changed over time and how people remembered their past feelings. Across political parties, people’s memory for their past attitudes was strongly influenced by their present attitudes; more specifically, those who had changed their opinion of a candidate remembered their past attitudes as being more like their current attitudes than they actually were. Participants were also susceptible to remembering false news events about both presidential candidates. However, they were largely unaware of their memory biases and rejected the possibility that they may have been susceptible to them. Not remembering their prior attitude may facilitate support of a previously disliked candidate and foster loyalty towards a party nominee during a time of disunity by forgetting they ever used to dislike the candidate.