Friday, December 17, 2010

Study Shows Fox Viewers Most Likely to Believe Misinformation

This may not be a surprise to anyone, but I appreciate when scientific studies support what I have always thought to be true. A study recently completed by World Public Opinion based at the University of Maryland found that voters are misinformed at a substantial level and that Fox News viewers in particular, are most likely to believe misinformation. After the Citizens United decision which enabled corporate contributions to political campaigns to increase, the researchers wanted to discover whether the level of misinformation disseminated to voters had increased and if so, whether or not it was effective (to be effective, it must be believed).

Image: jugbo

Some of the results are remarkable. I know that I stopped watching network broadcasts because most of what I was hearing was either incorrect, incomplete, or slanted in favor of the Republicans, but unless people are willing to devote a lot of time to the quest for information, cable or network news is probably their best best for political news. Using data gathered by government agencies who are generally believed to be non-partisan, questions about issues of the day were asked.

A few findings include:

  • Though the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the stimulus legislation has saved or created 2.0-5.2 million jobs, only 8% of voters thought most economists who had studied it concluded that the stimulus legislation had created or saved several million jobs. Most (68%) believed that economists estimate that it only created or saved a few jobs and 20% even believed that it resulted in job losses.
  • Though the CBO concluded that the health reform law would reduce the budget deficit, 53% of voters thought most economists have concluded that health reform will increase the deficit.
  • Though the Department of Commerce says that the US economy began to recover from recession in the third quarter of 2009 and has continued to grow since then, only 44% of voters thought the economy is starting to recover, while 55% thought the economy is still getting worse.
  • Though the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that climate change is occurring, 45% of voters thought most scientists think climate change is not occurring (12%) or that scientists are evenly divided (33%).
For people who watched Fox News, the results were to be expected. They were:
  • 12 points more likely to believe that the stimulus bill caused job losses
  • 31 points more likely to believe that the health care law would worsen the deficit
  • 26 points more likely to believe that the economy is getting worse
  • 30 points more likely to believe that there is no climate change occurring
  • 14 points more likely to believe that the stimulus bill did not contain any tax cuts
  • 14 points more likely to believe that their own income taxes have increased [we actually paid the lowest amount in 60 years]
  • 13 points more likely to believe that the auto bailout was an Obama initiative
  • 12 points more likely to believe that most of the Republicans were against TARP
  • 31 points more likely to believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.
The most remarkable point above, is not the distance between what a Fox News viewer is likely to believe compared to someone who receives their news from other sources, but that party identification did not seem to matter. Democrats were just as likely to believe misinformation if they were regular Fox viewers.

When the results of this study were released, Fox News senior vice president for news Michael Clemente responded by stating that the University of Maryland was highly ranked as a school for Students Who Study the Least, and being the Best Party School (it is actually one of the highest ranked state universities in the east) and therefore, "...given these fine academic distinctions, we’ll regard the study with the same level of veracity it was ‘researched’ with..." It should be noted, that rather than dispute the findings of the study, Fox chose to attack the study itself. This is a classic strawman fallacy as Clemente creates something to attack to deflect attention from the issue.

I see as I finish this that Countdown did a segment on this report and I've seen a few tweets about it, but the whole article is well worth a read. I didn't think it would get this much attention or I would probably not have written this, but it's nice to have something I've believed validated by scientific research.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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