Friday, January 4, 2008

Knowing the Court

When looking at what people know, we can explore lots of areas. The usual one is public affairs, but it's also important to understand what people know about lots of other domains.

For example, the courts. In particular, the U.S. Supreme Court. The author puts it well:

Two of the findings of this research run strongly counter to existing understandings of public knowledge of law and courts. First, these respondents demonstrate relatively high levels of information about the Supreme Court. To our knowledge, few prior studies have documented this level of information about the Court. We contend that this finding is in part a function of the method by which knowledge is measured, and we are consequently critical of most earlier efforts to document what citizens know about the Supreme Court. When citizens are asked reasonable questions about what they understand about the Supreme Court, most can answer accurately.

As I've mentioned before, it's often how we measure knowledge that matters most. Previous surveys and studies done by damn smart people tend to overestimate the public's lack of knowledge because of the way we ask questions.

In conclusion, the author writes:

Certainly there is little in these data to suggest that the views of the American citizenry are too ill-informed to be worthy of any serious consideration, both from the political process and from scholars of the judiciary. It seems that the American people may know enough about law and courts to be able to perform their assigned function as constituents of the contemporary judicial system in the U.S.

I would note that the data suggest a small decline in accuracy about the Supreme Court from 2001 to 2005. About 74 percent in 2001 correctly knew justices are appointed. About 65 percent knew it in 2005. Same is true for a couple of other knowledge questions.

And the old recognition versus recall issue is seen, with recognition proving superior at tapping what people know about the Court. I won't go into the r vs r debate. See my other posts.

What's missing here, for me, is media. I'd love to see how people to watch a lot of court programs or the news differ in these results. Alas, this is not to be seen.

A summary to the study is here. Scroll down and click any option to get a pdf of the study.

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