July 21, 2012

Farleigh-Dickinson Poll Finds Dems Less Informed Than Republicans

 I've been wanting to write a post about the recent Farleigh-Dickinson poll, but haven't gotten around to it until now. I distrust polls in general, because when you start breaking them down, there's almost always some kind of bias inherent in them. The one in question is no exception. (Otherwise, why would I bother, right?) It proffers the claim that people who watch only Fox news are less informed than people who watch no news at all.

Well, they don't come right out and say that, but as you can imagine, that's what most of the liberal media and bloggers latched onto. For example, here's the headline at The Huffington Post:

And this one from The Nation:

It’s Official: Watching Fox Makes You Stupider
Of course, I have to point out that The Nation's headline is just factually incorrect. Even if the poll does find Fox News viewers to be least informed, a) being informed and intelligence are two different things, and b) correlation is not causation, and the poll shows no causation. Anyway, you get the idea. Most on the left were drooling over this. But maybe not so much by the time I'm finished...

There are a couple of problems I saw right off the bat. The sample is pretty small to represent the entire nation (1,185), and it does have a MOE of +/- 3%. I would also venture that most people would admit that among the cable news networks, Fox leans right and MSNBC leans left. Yet they include self-described Democrats who watch Fox and Republicans who watch MSNBC, with no indication of why those people were watching a channel they—at least on the surface—are opposed to ideologically. I think that’s important if you’re going to look at whether or not they’ve “learned” from watching. For example, if someone is watching for a news “watchdog” group, they’re watching for incidents of bias, not necessarily watching to glean information.  Should those numbers be included with these statistics? For example, on both international and domestic questions, conservatives watching Fox news scored better than "no news."

But more importantly, if you’re going to accept this as a valid examination of knowledge of current events, you’re going to also have to accept a few of the numbers that they buried. For example:
  1. There are eight questions (nine if you count the a & b parts of K6). On all but two of them (K1, K3, K4, K5, K6B, K7, and K8), a higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans answered that they “don’t know” the answer. On the other two (K2 and K6A), it was a tie.
  2. A higher percentage of Democrats than Republicans got 0 domestic questions correct, and got 0 international questions correct.
  3. A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats (52%-45%) got 4 or more questions correct.
  4. Finally, on every single question, a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats chose the correct answer (unless I missed one myself, but you can easily follow the link and check me).
Given that a higher percentage of Democrats "don’t know" the answers to these questions, a higher percentage of Republicans got at least half of the questions correct, and—when looking at individual questions—a higher percentage of Republicans got the correct answer on every question, if one argues that this poll is an accurate representation of knowledge of current events, doesn’t one also have to then accept that when looking at their respective groups, Republicans are better informed about current events than Democrats? What other choice is there? If the numbers are valid in one case, they must be valid in the other.

Obviously, I’m being a little facetious about this (hence my own biased headline), but that’s the problems with this type of poll: people can twist the numbers into whatever conclusion they want them to reflect. At least until someone else comes through and twists them another way. You might say, those who live by the statistics die by the statistics. Or maybe better said, those who live by the statistics must live by ALL the statistics.

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