Monday, November 21, 2011

New PublicMind Poll attempts to show which media outlets produce the best informed viewers; 'there is something about watching Fox News...'

According to a poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey residents who listen to NPR or watch the Sunday morning news shows are far more likely to be informed on currently events, while those who depend on Fox News or local TV news are far less likely to have a good grasp of events.

"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."

The PublicMind Poll asked questions of respondents on events in Egypt and Syria, as well as about the OWS protests. These results were then compared with the news sources the respondents said they consumed.
"Sunday morning news shows tend to spend a lot more time on a single issue than other news broadcasts, and they are less likely to degenerate into people shouting at each other," said Cassino. "Viewers pick up more information from this sort of calm discussion than from other formats. Unfortunately, these shows have a much smaller audience than the shouters."

But the poll may be simply finding the "chicken or egg" part of news: viewers very interested in current events may be viewers of the Sunday news programs, or listen to NPR, while those with a political bent may be watching or listening to news sources that reinforce their own biases.

No surprise then that viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tend to be informed – viewers interested in political humor are more likely to already be informed of currently events, otherwise the humor would make little sense.

"Jon Stewart has not spent a lot of time on some of these issues," said Cassino. "But the results show that when he does talk about something, his viewers pick up a lot more information than they would from other news sources."

The poll also found that New Jersey residents are still misinformed when it comes to the Republican candidates for President, no matter what their new sources. Only 55 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify either Mitt Romney or Herman Cain as the Republican candidates most recently leading in the polls - and watching Fox News, the news network associated with the Republicans, didn't seem to help.

"Given the amount of time and effort the media spent covering these candidates, the fact that only about half of the public can name one of the front-runners is embarrassing," said Cassino. "The fact that Fox News, the preferred media outlet for many of the candidates, doesn't do better in informing viewers is very surprising."