Americans Fail Simple News Test
A new Live Science survey of Americans’ political knowledge found what all such surveys find: Most people know very little about world affairs.
The survey, conducted between April 30 and June 1 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, measured the political knowledge of 3,612 U.S. adults. Participants were asked to name the controlling party of the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. secretary of state and Great Britain’s prime minister.
Overall, just 18 percent of participants answered all three questions correctly.
More than 50 percent of Americans knew that the Democrats have a majority in the House, while 42 percent could identify the secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice). Less than 30 percent could name the prime minister of Great Britain (Gordon Brown).
One wonders why it took four months to compile and release the survey results. Otherwise, I’m not particularly troubled by the findings.
In addition to the fact that we have decades worth of research telling us that most people lack detailed knowledge of this kind of trivia but that they have a decent grasp of the bigger picture items, they didn’t do all that badly. The Democrats had only been in control of the House for fifteen months or so and the presidential campaign reinforces the idea that the Republicans, under Dictator George W. Bush, are in charge.
It’s not all that embarrassing that two thirds of the country don’t know who Gordon Brown is. After all, as the same report notes, “Just 44 percent of BBC viewers identified the prime minister correctly. ” Now that’s embarrassing.
In other shocking news, we find that people did much better on this quiz if they are college graduates and regularly read or follow political news. People who read particularly highbrow public affairs magazines do superbly well across the board whereas those who listen to or watch partisan debate or comedy shows do better on domestic affairs:
- The New Yorker/Atlantic: 71 percent (correctly identified Democrats as the majority in the House), 71 percent (correctly identified Condeleeza Rice), 59 percent (correctly identified Gordon Brown)
- NPR: 73 percent, 72 percent, 57percent
- Hannity & Colmes: 84 percent, 73 percent, 49 percent
- Rush Limbaugh: 83 percent, 71 percent, 41 percent
- Colbert Report: 73 percent, 65 percent, 49 percent
- Daily Show: 65 percent, 48 percent, 36 percent
- NewsHour: 66 percent, 52 percent, 47 percent
- O’Reilly Factor: 70 percent, 60 percent, 41 percent
- : 63 percent, 59 percent, 35 percent
- Letterman/Leno: 51 percent, 42 percent, 31 percent
- CNN: 59 percent, 48 percent, 29 percent
- National Enquirer: 44 percent, 32 percent, 22 percent
I bet the Enquirer readers would be able to name John Edwards’ love child, though.