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Uninformed Why People Seem to Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It$
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Arthur Lupia

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190263720

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190263720.001.0001

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Political Knowledge Scales: Something Doesn’t Add Up

Political Knowledge Scales: Something Doesn’t Add Up

(p.218) 16 Political Knowledge Scales: Something Doesn’t Add Up
Uninformed Why People Seem to Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It

Arthur Lupia

Oxford University Press

In 2012, a Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) survey made head-lines. The headlines questioned Fox News viewers’ intelligence. The Nation’s headline read: “It’s Official: Watching Fox Makes You Stupider.” It claimed that “[a] ccording to a new study by Farleigh Dickinson University, Fox viewers are the least knowledgeable audience of any outlet, and they know even less about politics and current events than people who watch no news at all.” It concluded that Fox News “fails the fundamental test of journalism: Are you informing your audience?” The Huffington Post (2012) claimed that “people who only watch Fox News are less informed than all other news consumers.” The New York Times’ Timothy Egan (2014) repeated the assertion. Conservative-leaning publications interpreted FDU’s findings differently. The Examiner’s headline read “Democrats Use Biased ‘Study’ to Smear Fox News.” It claimed that the pollsters “abandoned all integrity to vindictively trash Fox News and peddle the partisan smear that anyone who watches ‘right-wing propaganda’ (anything that includes multiple sides of the story) is stupid.” FDU’s report on its Public Mind Poll (2012) focused not on how respondents answered individual recall questions, but on an aggregate PK scale that FDU manufactured. Like nearly all published PK scales, FDU’s scale was formed by adding the number of correct answers respondents gave to a small set of recall questions. Such scales typically range in value from zero-to-five or zero-to-seven, with the high number representing the total number of recall questions included in the scale. If a respondent answers no questions correctly, they get a score of zero. If they answer all questions correctly, they get the highest possible score. PK scales are regularly used to represent “the range of factual information about politics that is stored in long-term memory.” FDU’s report and the subsequent media reports are based on the finding that Fox News viewers scored lower on FDU’s PK scale than did viewers of other networks. In this chapter, I examine this case and other claims that are based on PK scales.

Keywords:   Examiner, Nation, Pew Research Center, economic enlightenment, factor analysis errors, journalism, myside bias, p-hacking, reading problems, reification, significance fishing, wording of variables

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