Wednesday, May 16, 2012

America's Level of Political Literacy

A recent poll by the Pew Research Centre regarding what the public knows about the political parties makes for a very interesting read, particularly in this age of 24 hour a day, 7 day a week news saturation.  As a reader of many of the nation's online newspapers, periodicals and blogs, I am generally drawn to the comments section of each with an eye to seeing how informed people are about the issues and what ends they will go to to defend their belief system, whether they are right or wrong about a given issue.

As suggested on the Pew website, you may wish to take the poll before you read this posting to see how you stand on your knowledge of American's political issues compared to the public and your political peer group.  Here is the link to the questionnaire.  There are only thirteen questions in total and it took me about a minute to complete it.  By completing it, you will find the remainder of this posting far more relevant.

The 17 questions in the official survey covered the standing of the political parties on various issues including gay rights, the size of government, taxation of the rich, immigration, abortion, the political affiliation of past and current political leaders among other issues.  The survey covered a number of what will be hot-button issues during the 2012 campaign cycle and it is surprising to see how few respondents got the answers correct as shown on this graph:

I was particularly surprised that the fewest correct responses (53 percent) were given to the question regarding which political party is more supportive of reducing the size of the federal government, an issue that has received very wide mainstream and not-so-mainstream coverage in the past couple of months.  The second worst response was to the question regarding the stance of the parties on reducing the size of the defense budget with only 58 percent of respondents answering correctly.  In third last place was the  question regarding the stance of the parties on drilling in the Arctic Refuge at only 60 percent followed closely by the stance of the parties on restricting abortion at only 61 percent.  It seems surprising that these issues that are the foundations of the Republican and Democratic platforms are still confusing to a high percentage of the voting public.  Even more surprising is the fact that 29 percent of Americans are confused as to whether the more conservative party is the Republicans or the Democrats.

Here's a summary showing how the respondents identified the party affiliation of some very high profile American political figures both past and present:

Despite the fact that the names of Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner are in the news on a daily basis, just over half of those surveyed knew that Mr. Boehner was a Republican and only 61 percent knew that Ms. Pelosi was a Democrat.  Not surprisingly, 85 percent of respondents knew that President Reagan was a Republican (probably not by today's standards!) and 84 percent knew that President Clinton was a Democrat.

Here is an interesting chart showing how well those who state that they are Republican, Democrat or Independent know their own parties's policies as well as that of their political opponents:

Overall, Republicans answered correctly more often than Democrats on issues of reducing the size of government and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge by a wide margin and they were well aware that their party was the more conservative of the two.  Out of the seventeen questions asked, Republicans were correct more often on 12 questions, five of them by a margin in excess of 15 percentage points over the Democrats.

The survey also looked at demographic factors affecting respondents answers.  I won't go into the details here, however, while it is generally found that younger respondents are not as politically astute as their older counterparts, this poll found that young Americans under the age of 30 are relatively well informed about the Republican and Democrat stance on most issues and are better informed on half of the eight issues than their senior counterparts aged 65 and older.  The biggest demographic difference in the number of correct answers was found in educational levels of the respondents.  Those with high school or less were far less likely to respond correctly than those with either some college or those who were college graduates.  Those respondents who were college graduates answered correctly between 12 and 36 percentage points more often than those with high school or less.

In light of the fact that we are just 6 months (that can seem like an eternity) away from the 2012 Presidential election, it will be interesting to see if the less than 60 percent of Americans who take the time to vote also take the time to inform themselves about the important issues that will impact their futures before they "make their mark" on November 6th.  We can only hope.

1 comment:

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