Monday, October 29, 2007

Colbert and Name Recognition

Stephen Colbert may (or may not) (or just may again for the hell of it) run in the South Carolina presidential primary as a Democrat (and a Republican) or (both) or (neither).

This blog is about what people know -- in other words, what they learn (or don't learn) about the correct use of parentheses. Oh, and what and how they learn about politics and public affairs. And Stephen Colbert.

Colbert is serious. He means business. And he will pander beyond compare, and that's saying a helluva lot given the cast of characters we presently have running for the second highest office in the land (after being a Red Sox starting pitcher). Fear him. Let's say for the sake of argument he goes through with it. Let's say he's on the South Carolina ballot, or ballots, in which tens of people statewide will participate come primary time. Who does he hurt? Who does he make cry?

Hell if I know. I live in Georgia.

From an academic PhDweeb standpoint, his candidacy offers all the theoretical juice one could hope for. He's got name recognition. He's got an arching eyebrow. He's got the vote of everyone -- except the bears. Lucky for him he is not running in a state loaded with the huge, dangerous, man-eating mammals. Like New Hampshire or New York or Iowa.

On a serious note, whenever someone like this does toss his arching eyebrow into the ring, it brings a few more people to the table to mix metaphors and pay attention to the campaign. It'll be interesting to see if Colbert's name recognition matches that of other well known candidates.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gender Revisited

Some time back I blogged about research in gender and political knowledge. The short version is this: studies repeatedly find guys do better than gals on tests of public affairs knowledge. One explanation? Men answer questions even when they don't know the answer and sometimes get it right, while women do not.

Here's another theory tested. Unfortunately I can only point to an abstract, not the full text, but the upshot is you can improve how women do when you ask questions that include female politicians.

This makes perfect sense.

One of my own studies explored with conservative Christians do so poorly on tests of political knowledge. In part it's demographics, but when you ask religious questions about candidates (their affiliation) versus what state they are from, the conservative Christians do not fare so poorly. The upshot? Ask people what they know, in a certain domain, and they do better than previous research suggests.

This has a lot to do with cognitive accessibility and all that rot. Fun stuff if you're into research, but translated it just means we have certain things that are important to us and when questions are posed in such a way as to tap those interests (versus those of scholars and news junkies) then we do okay. Better. Not great, mind you, but better.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

People Know Toys

Check out the results of a Pew study results above.

People know toys.

Eighty-eight percent knew tainted food or dangerous toys were from China. And 78 percent knew the Democrats control the House.

Toys and the House of Representatives. Kinda fits together.

Frankly I am surprised 41 percent correctly identified the U.S. Sec of Defense and about a third knew a Hispanic was running for president (though I kinda like the guy).

Six percent of U.S. adults surveyed answered all 12 knowledge questions correctly. These are people who need to get a life. In the good news department, only about 1 percent could not answer any of the questions correctly. For the mathematically inclined, the average was 7 of 12 correct, with men slightly outscoring women, older respondents outscoring those irritating youngsters, and better educated people besting those with less education.

All stuff you'd expect. No surprises there.

The report is available online, for those who like to keep up with what people know.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Civic Literacy

A report suggests that students at elite universities are either dumb or not getting their money's worth, at least when it comes to the ability to answer basic civics questions accurately. The questions focus on America's history and institutions, the kind of stuff we ask in surveys to discover what people know, their basic "civics" or "textbook" knowledge.

Who sucked? Yale, Duke, and Cornell.

Who kicked ass? Eastern Conn. State University, Marian College in Wisconsin and Murray State in Kentucky.

The appendix to this study is damned confusing. What the hell is "value added" and why are the numbers lower for the supposedly bad performers? It's not explained very well and like a lot of pr releases, the quality is -- ahem -- missing. And there is probably some political axe to grind her, one I don't have the time or energy to chase down. And there is the question of how well those Yale, et al., kids might do compared to those Marian College grads in synthisizing a lot of information and composing arguments.

In other words, it's unclear what we're measuring here other than ability to answer straightforward factual questions. Still, you'd think those Ivy guys and gals would do better. Wassup with that?

Take the quiz yourself if you want to be humbled.

Oh, and my school, The University of Georgia, scored #32. Beat out again by the University of Florida, at #22.

At least we beat Duke.