Who Knows News? What You Read or View Matters, but Not Your Politics

Source Organization: Pew Research Center


10/15/2008 - When the Pew Research Center tested the public's political knowledge earlier this year, the best-informed news audiences crossed the ideological spectrum. Nearly half of regular readers of The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper's Magazine (48%) answered three political knowledge questions correctly. Regular listeners of NPR (44% three correct), and regular viewers of Hardball (43%) and Hannity & Colmes (42%) also fared well compared with other news audiences.

The survey, conducted April 30-June 1 among 3,612 adults ages 18 and over, found that about half of Americans (53%) knew that the Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives, while 42% could identify the secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice). Fewer than three-in-ten (28%) could name the prime minister of Great Britain (Gordon Brown). Just 18% of the public answered all three questions correctly.

While majorities in most news audiences knew that the Democrats have a majority in the House, regular viewers of Hannity & Colmes (84%), and listeners of Rush Limbaugh's radio program (83%) scored best on this question. Large proportions of regular Hannity & Colmes viewers (73%) and Limbaugh listeners (71%) also identified Rice as the secretary of state; regular NPR listeners (72%) and readers of The New Yorker and other elite magazines (71%) also did well on this question.

But most news audiences struggled to name the current British prime minister, Gordon Brown, who replaced Tony Blair in June 2007. Majorities in only four news audiences correctly identified the British prime minister: regular readers of The New Yorker and similar magazines (59%); regular NPR listeners (57%); regular readers of political magazines, such as the Weekly Standard and New Republic (54%); and regular viewers of Hardball (53%).

The survey included some unexpected findings: C-SPAN viewers were not particularly well-informed about which party controls Congress -- 63% of regular C-SPAN viewers knew that the Democrats controlled the House. And fewer than half of regular viewers (44%) of the BBC correctly identified Gordon Brown as the British prime minister.

Read the full commentary Who Knows News? What You Read or View Matters, but Not Your Politics on the Pew Research Center Web site.

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