Month: December 2010

Lack of Knowledge, But Plenty of Passion

I’ve suspected this to be true.  We don’t know what we are talking about, but we sure make our voices heard.


When the facts are debatable, it only adds to the confusion.  Then if someone thinks their favorite commentator is a reliable, fact checker, who presents info without bias…. you get ignorance.


From my email today:


Waddaya Know ?

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, in a new study, the public knows basic facts about politics and economics, but struggles with specifics. Few are aware of inflation rate, TARP, the deficit, or who’s in charge. The quiz is composed of 13 multiple-choice questions about current events.

The public sees the big picture when it comes to the changing balance of power in Washington as fully 75% say that the Republican Party is generally regarded as doing best in this month’s midterm elections. But far fewer are familiar with the specifics relating to the GOP’s victories. Only 46% know that the Republicans will have a majority only in the House of Representatives when the new Congress convenes in January, while 38% can identify John Boehner as the incoming House speaker.

About one-in-seven say the GOP won both the House and Senate; 8% say they won just the Senate; 5% do not think they will have a majority in either chamber, and 27% do not know.

77% say correctly that the federal budget deficit is larger than it was in the 1990s and 64% know that in recent years the United States has bought more foreign goods than it has sold overseas. In addition, 53% estimate the current unemployment rate at about 10%.

27% of those younger than age 30 know that Republicans captured just the House; 19% say that they won both the House and Senate while 42% do not know. By contrast, 45% of those ages 30 to 49, and majorities of those ages 50 to 64 (55%) and ages 65 and older (57%), answered this question correctly.

While 69% of college graduates know that the Republicans won only the House, only 31% of those with no more than a high school education know this. And, while nearly as many women as men know that the GOP is generally regarded as having done best in the elections, just 39% of women know that the Republicans won just the House, compared with 53% of men.

The public struggles with questions about the Troubled Asset Relief Program  known as TARP: Just 16% say, correctly, that more than half of the loans made to banks under TARP have been paid back; an identical percentage says that none has been paid back. In Pew Research’s previous knowledge survey in July, just 34% knew that the TARP was enacted under the Bush administration.

The new survey finds that an overwhelming percentage (88%) identify BP as the company that operated the oil well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year. But the public shows little awareness of international developments:

  • 41% say that relations between India and Pakistan are generally considered to be unfriendly
  • 12% say relations between the two long-time rivals are friendly
  • 20% say they are neutral
  • 27% do not know

Just 15% know that David Cameron is the prime minister of Great Britain; about as many say it is Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP. The proportion correctly identifying Cameron as the British prime minister is about the same now as it was in July (19%).

On a different subject, 26% of Americans know that Android is the name of the Google operating system for smartphones. As in past news quiz questions about technology, there is a sizable age gap in awareness of Android. Far more people younger than age 50 (37%) than those ages 50 and older (11%) correctly identify Android as the Google phone’s operating system.

On the subject of government spending, 77% of Americans are aware that the U.S. has a larger budget deficit today than in the 1990s, yet far fewer correctly answer a question about what the government spends more on: national defense, education, Medicare or interest on the national debt.

Overall, 39% of the public knows that the government spends more on national defense than on education, Medicare or interest on the national debt:

  • 23% say the government spends more on interest payments
  • ·15% say Medicare is the largest expenditure of these four alternatives.
  • Government accounting estimates indicate that the government spends about twice as much on defense as on Medicare, and more than four times as much on defense as on interest on the debt.

More Democrats (46%) than Republicans (28%) know that the government spends more on national defense than on the other items listed. Republicans are as likely to say the government spends most on interest on the debt (29%) as on defense (28%). 44% of independents know that the government spends most on national defense.

About six-in-ten Republicans (63%) correctly estimated the unemployment rate at about 10%, compared with 48% of Democrats. A wide partisan gap is also seen in awareness of the U.S. trade deficit: 72% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say that the U.S. buys more good from abroad that it sells.

Who Knew (% of Respondents Answering Correctly)
Party Affiliation
Question Correct Response Republicans Democrats Independents
Current unemployment rate 10% 63% 48% 54%
Int’l Trade: US buys/sells more Buys 72 58 67
Seen as winning 2010 elections Reps 88 77 71
Reps will have majority in… House 55 45 46
New House speaker will be… Boehner 47 38 39
India/Pakistan relations? Unfriendly 45 40 43
Deficit compared with 90s is… Larger 81 78 78
Ran oil well that exploded in Gulf BP 90 90 89
PM of Great Britain is… Cameron 14 14 18
Google phone software is… Android 23 24 29
TARP loans repaid > Half 16 17 17
Current inflation rate 1% 14 15 16
US Gov’t spends most on… Defense 28 46 44
Source: Pew Research Center, November 2010

Republican are also  more likely to know than the GOP was perceived as winning the midterms and to know that the Republicans won a majority in the House. And while only about half of Republicans could identify John Boehner as the next House speaker, slightly fewer Democrats know this.

As in previous knowledge quizzes, young people struggle with many questions about politics, economics and foreign affairs. Just 14% of those younger than age 30 know that John Boehner will be the next House speaker; about as many say it will be Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker. Among older age groups, Boehner is far better known.

Just 27% of those younger than age 30 say Republicans will have a majority in the House, and 27% say that India-Pakistan relations are generally regarded as unfriendly. On each question, at least four-in-ten among older age groups answered correctly.

However, 45% of those younger than age 30 know that the government spends most on national defense, about the same percentage as those ages 30 to 49 (41%) and slightly higher than those 50 and older (35%).

And about four-in-ten young people know that Android is the operating system for Google smartphones, compared with 34% of those ages 30 to 49, 16% of those ages 50 to 54, and just 4% of those ages 65 and older.

How The Public Scored
Respondent Average Correct of 12 Questions
Total 5.0
Men 5.6
Women 4.5
White 5.3
Black 3.8
18-29 4.0
30-49 5.1
50-64 5.5
65+ 5.3
College grad+ 6.8
Some college 5.2
HS or less 3.8
Republican 5.5
Democrat 5.0
Independent 5.2
Correctly answered at least
2 questions 89%
4 questions 69
6 questions 41
8 questions 22
10 questions 6
All 12 questions < 1%
Source: Pew Research Center, November 2010

Pew acknowledges that this was a difficult quiz. Americans answered an average of five out of these 12 questions correctly. That means the public averaged fewer than half right answers (42%). Less than one percent of the public answered 12 correctly while 4% missed them all.

If you haven’t memorized the answers, or sped-read the report, you can test your own News IQ by taking the quiz. The short quiz includes the same questions that were included in the national poll. Participants will instantly learn how they did on the quiz in comparison with the general public as well as with people like them. To take the latest quiz, click here.

Read more about the study and access the PDF file by visiting PewResearch here.