The power of political journalists as deception detectors and how politicians reactivate voters’ truth-default

Abstract: Journalists serve as deception detectors for voters. Sometimes politicians refute journalists’ assertions. How do voters discern whom to believe? Based on cognitive sequences posited by truth-default theory (TDT), experiments tested voters’ reactions to alleged deceptiveness in a political news interview. In Study 1 (N = 209) perceptions of a politician being truthfully or falsely accused of deception depended on voters’ projected motive for deception by journalists. In Study 2 (N = 259) voters did not vary in their reactions to a politician whether or not the politician refuted a bogus allegation of evasion—with the exception of voters who perceived very low or high deceptive demeanor from the politician. Consistent with TDT: (a) voters seem to automatically believe journalists, (b) projected motive for deception buffers against being misled, and (c) a politician’s believability is largely based on misleading demeanor cues.