Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Hiatus

I'm taking a brief break from writing about political knowledge and what people know.

Eat a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008


In what people know, sometimes what they know is how a candidate or public figure makes them feel. Emotion, or affect as it's called in social psychology, is an important part of how we process information.

The American National Election Studies have long asked a series of Affect questions about the major candidates. In other words, how a candidate made you feel. The affective responses are angry, hopeful, afraid, and proud.

What got me thinking of these was a graph in the latest copy of a book called Social Cognition that described a two-factor solution for the structure of Affect. I won't try to draw it here, but think of two intersecting lines. At the top is Strong Engagement and at the bottom is Disengagement. From left to right is Pleasantness and Unpleasantness. Then they put all these cool affective tags.

At the very top, in Strong Engagement, is "aroused" and "astonished" while at the bottom the Disengagement is "quiet" and "still." Okay, fine. At the far left in Pleasant is "content" and "satisfied" and a lot of others, and at the far right is "grouchy" and "sad" and the like. The fun is when you get high in one and low in the other, or some other combination. You'll find "enthusiastic" in the Strong Engagement and Pleasant quadrant, for example, or "hostile" when engagement is high but Unpleasantness has kicked in.

So look at the four ANES affective responses. Where do they fit? Best I can tell, all fall in the top half of the two-factor solution, where positive or negative affect come into play with Strong Engagement. In other words, the ANES affective responses fail to measure Disengagement that one may feel in relation to a presidential candidate.

That kinda makes sense, that you're trying to measure engaged affect, but I suspect we're also missing a lot here, a sense of alienation in affective response. If a candidate makes you feel relaxed or calm, we don't really get that, unless of course you count the opposite or low scores on the other affective tags. I'm not sure it works well, trying that.

What's this to do with media and political knowledge? A great deal given how affect and cognition can relate to one another, and the media play a significant role in not only what people know, but also how they feel.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

IM and Learning

Interesting mention of a study conducted in China and the effect of instant messaging and political knowledge. When you follow this link, scroll down to the section -- By-product Learning in the Communication Age: Instant Message Use and Political Learning in China. In one graph, the author writes:
I drew two major conclusions from the results. First, IM intensity – which is measured by number of instant messaging services a student uses, average IM friends, frequency of IM use, and IM attachment level – doesn’t predict political learning. Yet IM information use, which reflects a student’s inclination to obtain as well as publish information on IM, is a positively strong predictor of knowledge gain, political news seeking, and political

It's something I'd never thought of before, examining IM use, but then again IM and texting are both bigger deals elsewhere in the world than in the U.S., which is far far behind the rest of the planet in access to wireless and mobile technology.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bragging Rights

The Pew Center surveys on political knowledge get a lot of attention, and rightly so. Stephen Colbert half-mocked his audience and how well they did on the three-question survey.

And now, bragging rights.

Harper's Magazine put out a company profile today that notes "the Pew Foundation reported that Harper’s readers pay particularly close attention to national news and stand out for their political knowledge."

Yup, they stood out. As in tops. Number 1. But to be fair, the category was "The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Harper's Magazine." In other words, the so-called elite magazines. Harper's alone would not have been enough to generate a respectable number of respondents so the Pew folks collapsed the three together.

So yeah, bragging rights. Kinda, sorta. And while's it's a damn good mag, it's even more fun to see Pew survey results and what people know used as a selling point. Makes my weekend.

Not Push, but a Poll

Good column on the now infamous (at least among polling types) Zogby survey (conducted for a guy named John Ziegler) of Obama supporters finding them to be less than informed. I've blogged about it earlier in the week, so I'm not going to repeat the whole sordid story. The crux of the argument is this: are the "knowledge" questions really knowledge questions? Are they misleading? Debatable?

Probably. Perhaps. But if there's a doubt, then the questions aren't really tapping knowledge so much as underlying partisan preferences and misunderstanding of the news. When you select a handful of people and ask, at best, leading knowledge questions, you would expect this kind of result.

Interestingly, Zogby says the poll will not be conducted again, this time using McCain supporters. An interview with Ziegler, full of profanity, tells you all you probably need to know about the guy and his intentions in the survey.

I agree this was not a push poll, but it was also less a test of political knowledge and more a case of partisan hackery posing as a test of political knowledge.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

ANES and Knowledge

As we gear up for post-election analyses, a reminder that one of the dominant data sets used by many scholars has a problem in how political knowledge was measured.

This report outlines some of the issues, how they've been dealt with, or how to correct for them in analysis. I blogged about this quite some time ago but it bears repeating since, soon, a new set of ANES data will be available for those wanting to study the 2008 presidential campaign. I'm convinced the new data release will be clean and address all the issues in this report.

No official word on when the ANES data will be available. They released an early version of the 2004 election data on Jan. 31, 2005 (early meaning no coding of the various open-ended questions). In April a more full version appeared. This excludes various errata, corrections, and other tweaks that happen along the way.

Get those SPSS engines tuned up and ready to rumble.
Scholars will use lots of other data, but political scientists in particular love the ANES surveys. Media scholars? Not so much. The media variables tend to be less compelling, but that's another post for another day.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Beating a Dead Horse

Okay, okay ... I know, after yesterday's post about the documentary guy who asked Obama people a 12-question political knowledge test and made a video showing how much they didn't know, I really shouldn't do this. But hell, it's related, it's got Howard Stern, it's got political knowledge. And it's kinda funny, regardless of who you voted for in the 2008 election. The audio at the beginning is kinda screwed up, so be patient.

They took McCain positions, attributed them to Obama, and Obama supporters went right along for the ride. Now this is highly selective, non-random, and I have no doubt they plucked out the most idiotic-sounding folks to make this work.

That said, still silly and worth a listen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Electing Obama

A weird little polling tempest is at play based on a survey with results critical of those who voted for Barack Obama. The Zogby International site includes details of a survey and a defense of its questions as not being a push poll.

Lemme lay it out. You got this guy doing a documentary that essentially argues that journalists fawning over Obama practiced "media malpractice" and elected him. Here's a quote from our budding documentarian, John Ziegler:
"After I interviewed Obama voters on Election Day for my documentary, I had a pretty low opinion of what most of them had picked up from the media coverage of the campaign, but this poll really proves beyond any doubt the stunning level of malpractice on the part of the media in not educating the Obama portion of the voting populace," said Ziegler.

And the weird part is a defense on the same page by the Zogby folks swearing this was not a push poll designed to influence opinion rather than merely measure it.

The results of the poll make Obama supporters seem, well, less than informed. Well, not exactly. A bunch of them knew about all the bad stuff on Palin or McCain but curiously were unable to answer similar questions about Obama and Biden.

A pdf of the questionnaire and marginals
is here. I'll revisit this tomorrow in more detail after I get through meetings and can sit down, think it through.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Missing You?

Eight out of ten Americans say they won't miss Campaign 2008, according to a Pew survey. Only 17 percent say they'll miss all the craziness, the bulk of those made up of advertising executives, people who make and sell campaign buttons, and Wolf Blitzer.

It's important to note that people may not miss the campaign, but they did like it, they did follow it. Hell, they even saved the Wednesday post-election newspaper. Twenty-three percent said they're saving a copy of the Obama wins edition, and over half of blacks said they have a keepsake newspaper.

And sometimes it's interesting to look at what journalists cover and what people say is of interest to them. The same Pew study includes a nifty graphic:

It all makes sense, though journalists obviously got caught up a little more in the transition thing than did the public. Journalists are conditioned to look at the what next more so than the public, plus it lets them write those process stories.

So the election is over, and most people are glad to see it gone. Why? The Pew survey doesn't answer this -- and it should. The why is important. Here are some possible reasons:

  • A lot of people don't attend to the news all that much and they're tired of being caught up in it.
  • And a lot of the same people are tired of having their favorite fine television programming invaded by political campaign advertisements.
  • The whole news thing is exhausting to everyone -- the interested and the disinterested -- so it'll be nice to be "normal" again.
  • There is a sense of relief too, that the expected guy won, that there were no weird Election 2000 hanging chad moments, that we can move on with serious problems.
  • And the holidays are coming, but the economy sucks, and people have more important stuff to worry about than listening to Republican and Democratic candidates promise us anything to get our vote.

And so we move on, all but that 17 percent of Americans who still miss the campaign. I pray they find another hobby.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Post-Election Knowledge Blues

If you spend time analyzing data, especially survey data collected over time, you'll notice a funny thing -- in presidential years, many variables are higher (participation, interest, and yes ... political knowledge). Mess around with the American National Election Studies cumulative data set, yeah that's a mouthful, and you'll see a herky-jerky up-and-down trend line in data that has been collected every two years since 1948.

Yeah, I'm geeky when it comes to playing with data, and it's pretty damn PhDweebish to get a kick out of analyzing data collected across fifty years. I need another hobby besides Scotch.

But now we have the post-election blues. Interest for this election was high, turnout turned out okay, and I'm guessing political knowledge at least about the campaign's chief actors and issues were higher than a couple of years ago. So now, as the blues set in, issue knowledge will probably decrease. Won't it?

We'll have to see, but my guess is yeah, the news media will see dwindling advertising dollars, especially those local TV boob tube stations, and we'll see a smaller audience, and fewer advertisements, and subsequently less political knowledge. And so it goes.

Soon PhDweebs like me will be craftily analyzing the election data to find out if debates mattered, if advertisements mattered, if parodies like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report mattered, if the news mattered. Oh, and if SNL's Tina Fey mattered.

Pick your Dependent Variable, let a thousand studies bloom, many of which will barely deserve publication but a host of which will find their way to an academic conference near you. Looking specifically at political learning, I'm guessing advertisements will continue their growing role in what people know about the campaign, and debates will also predict political knowledge. I strongly suspect traditional news media exposure will continue to be a predictor, if only because the smaller number of people who rely on those sources tend to score the highest on such tests.

The Internet? When you control for other factors, reading blogs and the like tend to not predict all that much when it comes to knowledge, but that'll be fun to explore as well.

When you move beyond knowledge and look at attitudes and perceptions of the candidates and all that stuff, then it gets even more interesting. As studies roll out, I'll try to keep up here and let people know what's being found. Unfortunately it often takes a year or two before academic studies find their way to publication. The first conferences (ICA, AEJMC, etc.) will be a better source of early results. I'll keep my eye on 'em and let my tens of readers worldwide know what's up.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Palin Knows Africa

A few news organizations fell for a fake expert who fed them the idea that GOPVP candidate Sarah Palin thought Africa was a country, not a continent. A NYTimes article describes how this schmuck faked out Fox News, MSNBC, the LATimes, and a handful of others.

"Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.

So what people know about Sarah Palin isn't as true as some of us, let's face it, wanted to believe. I always thought it kinda dumb that she would be, um, that dumb. I figured it was more a slip of the tongue kind of thing, not something like this, but either way it explains a post-election story that never rang quite true.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A WSJ piece looks at research on young people and how technology has altered the way they think, behave, and process information. I've not read the original research yet, just this column about it. Some interesting stuff:
The research paints a generally encouraging picture. Those in the 12- to 30-year-old cohort prize freedom of choice, like to customize everything they do, collaborate, value integrity, and can live more easily than their parents with information overload and constant innovation. Mr. Tapscott argues that in contrast to earlier generations that took in information passively, such as through television, this generation "has been flooded with information, and learning to access, sort, categorize and remember it all has enhanced their intelligence." They "have had to search for, rather than simply look at, information."

There is some suggestion of how patient younger people will be with Obama if he reverts to "politics as usual," as well as interesting ideas on how people learn. If I read the updated Growing Up Digital I will blog about it in more detail, but my own sense from other data is young people learn in very different ways that drive some of us crazy.

My take -- they tend to be skimmers rather than deep readers, searchers rather than seekers, and are more capable at learning about something than they are learned in the classical sense. What does that all mean? Tomorrow, more thoughts.

Knowing . . . They're Out to Get You

Interesting British study on just how paranoid people can be. You can can versions of the story scattered across the Net. Here's one version, or another. Or another. Just in case any of the links die. One interesting number: 21 percent of Brits think at some time people were acting against them.

Here's a scary bit:
Surveys of several thousands of people in Britain, the United States and elsewhere have found that rates of paranoia are slowly rising, although researchers' estimates of how many of us have paranoid thoughts varies widely, from 5 percent to 50 percent.

You have to wonder if the Brit study is less likely to be replicated in the U.S., particularly given the amount of people using the tube in London. I wonder what those other people are thinking and doing too when I'm waiting or riding on the tube.

As one guy says, maybe it's not such a bad thing:
"In a world full of threat, it may be kind of beneficial for people to be on guard. It's good to be looking around and see who's following you and what's happening," Combs said. "Not everybody is trying to get you, but some people may be."

Essentially people are suspicious, and given the times who can blame them? If there is a rise in paranoia that's easily explained given 9/11, given the attack on the London tube and buses, given the times in general. So in this case, what people know is that they know, or think they know, someone is out there watching them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama the Marxist?

Such thoughtful political pundits as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been ripping Barack Obama as a Marxist.

Even my U.S. Representative, Paul Broun of Georgia, has called Obama not only a Marxist but also another potential Hitler (never mind how Hitler and the Communists never mixed and calling someone both at the same time makes you either historically challenged or intellectually dishonest).

I'm not here to get into this so much as to see whether this charge sticks. If this pounding continues, does it have an affect on what people know about Obama?

And thus, a Google trends image. I searched for "Obama" and "Marxist" and the result is below.

So take heart, Limbaugh/Hannity/Broun fans, if what people search for on Google is any indication (and it often is), you're having some kind of effect regardless of the intellectual inconsistencies involved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Favorite Wrong Answer

Was looking through some stuff today and came up with my favorite wrong answer to a political knowledge survey. Respondents were asked who is the prime minister of Great Britain? Just over a quarter of them got it right and over half didn't know. A couple of other names popped up.

And then this -- five percent said Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News, et al) is prime minister.

Gotta love it, an Australian-turned-American media mogul, prime minister.

What People . . . Trust

It's well established that trust in various institutions, including the news media, has seen a steady decline. No news there.

But you might think the wacky, wild west world of the Internet would boast higher credibility ratings than the evil mainstream news media.


In the Pew Center's latest big report on media consumption, there's an interesting table on page 60 (of 129 pages!) with the title: Most Online Outlets Not Considered Credible. The highest online ratings go to aggregators like Yahoo or Google, which basically repurpose content from mainstream news media (a fancy way of saying they use other people's stuff rather than do their own news gathering).

The other four online "news" sites don't score quite so well. Asked how often you "believe" these sites, the responses were:

Drudge Report 7%
Salon 7%
Huffington 6%
Slate 4%

Ouch! For comparison, Google got only 13% believability, Yahoo 11%. Most newspapers doubled this, with the Wall Street Journal the highest at 25%.

The Drudge/Salon/Huffington/Slate group does about as well as People Magazine and a little bit better than the National Enquirer.

Says a lot, I think.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Good News, Bad News, and HyperHype

We know people are less interested in news -- but what kind of news?

  • Interest in Local News remains largely unchanged from 1998 - 2008. That's good news, you'd think, for newspapers.

  • But ... interest in Community News has dropped. Weird. And bad news.

  • Also largely unchanged, interest in: crime, health, business, culture & arts, and consumer news.

  • Okay, so what's dropped then? Politics and Washington news (pre-prez campaign), international news, sports (I find this one hard to believe, but there it is), and entertainment (thank god!).

The results are based on Pew's study, conducted every two years, of media consumption. The usual caveats apply, such as social desirability, but there is no reason to believe people are more or less socially desirable in their media answers in 2008 than they were in 1998, so we have to accept the trends for what they are.

What are they, then? Interesting. I can't figure out the difference between "community" and "local news" and why there'd be consistent interest in one, decreasing interest in the other. The "community" interest has dropped over 10 years from 31 to 22 percent. Interest in local news remains consistently hovering at about 20 percent across the same time. Weird. Odd. Unexplainable.

And of concern to people who sell newspapers or who think hyperlocal is the way to go. These results suggest, as do some recent newspaper numbers and the lack of success by certain hyperlocal projects, that the hyperlocal angle has been hyperhyped.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Going Newsless

People don't read the newspaper as much as they used to. Nor do they watch as much TV news.

But wait! There's the Internet! We're saved!

Despite a growth in the ways to find out what's happening in the world, the proportion of young people who get no news has grown. Among 18-24 year olds, the proportion who went newsless increased from 1998 to 2008, from 25 to 34 percent. That's a scary number. From what was one-quarter of young people going newsless has grown to one-third of young people.

What's worse -- they're not alone.

Nearly every age group shows a growth in no news, all except the 50-64 year olds. Thank goodness for that brilliant and stunning age group.

The growth in online news consumption is not making up the difference. Not in time spent, and for struggling news organizations, not in advertising dollars either.

So when we ask what people know, the answer may turn out to be -- not a helluva lot.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Objective and Subjective Knowledge

There's what you know, and what you think you know. And the two are sometimes related.

A recent meta-analysis of 103 consumer research studies found that what they call objective knowledge (or actual knowledge) is strongly correlated with what they call subjective knowledge (or perceived knowledge).

The paper, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, isn't really political. It looks at mostly at commercial products -- though I can make a good argument that politicians are essentially commercial products. Still, I believe there's a lot to be learned in examining non-political research and swiping the theory, moving it over to politics and media.

So what's the takeaway here? The correlation between what people know and what they think they know is higher on products than non-products (such as health or services). People's estimate of their knowledge more matches actual knowledge on "fun" products.

Yeah, yeah ... but what's the takeaway? They ask whether subjective or perceived knowledge can be a surrogate for actual knowledge. You sometimes find perceived knowledge in political studies as a surrogate for those nasty, hard actual knowledge questions. So, can it work? They say maybe, if you're studying "durable and hedonic products, as well as public, luxury, and search goods." I'm not sure how that translates into political candidates or issues. I'm thinking not. Best stick with actual knowledge.

There is an interesting part of this study that I don't quite grasp, something to do with whether you're judging subjective knowledge about yourself or people in general (or at least I think that's what they're trying to say). Incorporating the "self" seems to weaken the relationship. I've got to give this one more thought. Read the link above and if you can figure out a political angle to that, lemme know.

As an aside, I've always preferred perceived knowledge, or PK, as a concept than subjective knowledge. The latter fails to capture the perception involved in estimating one's own opinion, plus PK is a great acronym that takes me back to my early gaming days.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

College Students and Election News

UCLA's college paper conducted 816 exit interviews with students on how and why they voted in the U.S. presidential election. That's a damned impressive undertaking. Their top sources of info were the TV debates, TV news, and word of mouth. The least likely sources? Church, junk mail, newspapers, YouTube. The pdf is here.

Will People Remember Palin?

Will people remember Sarah Palin in 2012?

The GOPVP candidate and Alaska governor is positioned to make a run for president then, or so goes the rumor, but a brief CNN story this morning asked people who was John Kerry's vice presidential running mate in 2004.

Three people they asked, three people whiffed it.

Now I know how TV works -- more may have gotten it right but didn't make it past the editing booth. TV is more about compelling video than actual news. But let's give CNN the benefit of the doubt and look at this incredibly minuscule survey of three people as somehow educational and informative (stay with me, I know it's a stretch, but stay with me). Edwards was the running mate, obviously, and he even hit the news again recently when an affair became public knowledge. So you'd think he would be memorable, what with that perfect hair and screwing around on his wife and all that.

So again I wonder, will people remember Palin?

My answer: Yep, you betcha!

She's no John Edwards. She'll remain a media darling, she still has public office, and although there will be a stretch there where she kinda disappears from the radar she will re-emerge and play a role in the 2012 campaign. But I don't see her as the nominee. Political parties tend to move on, and there are a few good candidates waiting for their chance for the GOP, like the governor from Louisiana.

My interest here, obviously, is on what people know. So that small, insignificant, completely unscientific poll this morning on TV tells me something -- that people quickly forget. Palin will have to fight that, maybe by being Alaska's U.S. senator, maybe by doing something radical in Alaska, maybe by starting a talk show or appearing in a film. But we forget those VP types quickly, even the quirky ones, so to stay in the public mind she'll have to work at it.

Can she do it? You betcha.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Now That It's Over ...

Now that the election is over, what the hell do I write about? All the stuff I wrote about before the election.

This blog is about whether and how people learn from the media, not really about presidential elections, though we often focus on campaigns as a way to understand how people make sense of their political world. I'll return now to looking at studies of political knowledge and, soon, an examination of how people learned about McCain and Obama. I want that data to settle a bit before I start messing around, peeking under the hood.

But what people know is also more than politics. I love looking at how people learn about geography or history or science, what they know versus what they think they know, and of course examples of truly dumb or truly smart folks. And no doubt there will be a cottage industry of new books to soon emerge and if they touch on this subject in any way, I'll cover them as best I can.

Now for a brief presidential moment. It'll be interesting to see how people's perception of Obama changes once he shifts from campaigning to the hard work of governing. Campaigning is about poetry, someone once said, while governing is about prose. The flourishes of the stump speech disappear when it gets down to the nitty gritty of compromise and sacrifice and playing political poker. What people know about Obama, or think they know, will change. That's part of the fun, studying this stuff.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Prediction Time

My prediction, for what it's worth:

Obama wins with 53 percent of the
popular vote and 315 electoral votes.

In the What People Know category, by sometime tonight we'll know because the networks and various political web sites are trying to decide when to "call" the election. CBS may go earlier than other networks, relying heavily (too heavily?) on exit poll and other data. CNN may report when other networks make the call but play it a little more conservatively when it comes to their own projections. No word yet from Comedy Central and their strategy, other than to be really really funny.

Watch for code words from analysts who already know the numbers but aren't sharing them. "John McCain looks to have a really long night" or something like that, or "The Obama campaign can't help but be happy." Code phrases that really say the analyst has seen the numbers and wants to look particularly smart when he or she gets around to sharing them with the unwashed.

It's always been done this way, but average viewers never knew it until fairly recently. Another layer, another curtain, pulled away. The result ain't pretty, but then again neither is making sausage.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Schools of Thought

We have two schools of thought about tomorrow and how the election comes out versus what the polls have been telling us:
  1. The Bradley Effect kicks in and all those people who said they would vote for Obama find they cannot vote for an African American. The election turns out closer than expected. Questions asked of the polls, the media, and democracy.
  2. A effect opposite from #1 above is seen, that the polls underestimated a runaway Obama victory. Questions asked of the polls, the media, and democracy.

Or it could be your basic result similar to the one we see in the polls and electoral vote counts and all the rest. Then we can all move on.

Voting, or Not

I blogged yesterday about John Stossel asking whether there are not some people who simply should not vote. Here's a link to Stossel's ABC bit (thanks to Jon-Michael). See my post below for the link to Stossel's column.

To pick on a rock concert to question young people on their political knowledge, that strikes me as unfair. I notice Stossel didn't go to a nursing home and quiz old people. Why not? Maybe because they're the only ones still watching ABC.

Are some people simply so politically disconnected that we're better off not having them vote?

That raises the counter question -- would you have a test for who can vote, who cannot? The typical response is to spit and sputter and explain how that's not what he or she is proposing, not a test. Not a Jim Crow test. But it comes down to that, doesn't it? Hell, even Jon Stewart posed this one to Rick Shenkman, who wrote Just How Stupid Are We? The book details the political ignorance of the American electorate. I blogged about it some time ago. In that blog you'll find a video link to Shenkman's funny The Daily Show appearance. Watch it. Shenkman doesn't agree with a test either. But it is the natural consequence of asking this kind of question.

People who can't answer how many U.S. senators there are -- and we agree everyone should know this -- can still vote their economic self interest, or at least their perceived economic self interest. There is no constitutional requirement for basing your vote on specific criteria such as those approved by political scientists and journalism professors who blog too much. Sure, this leads to ideological inconsistencies and unexplainable voting patterns, but let's face it -- that's good fodder for political scientists who study this stuff, yet more academic articles to be read by tens of people worldwide.

In a perfect world we would have a deliberative democracy, and in a perfect world Georgia would not have lost to Florida. But the world ain't perfect, and neither is democracy. It's messy, and people who vote who don't know a hell of a lot, and they vote for what some may think are the wrong reasons. I suspect this has a lot to do with Stossel's problem. He'd be less concerned about the youth vote if it was going one way and not the other.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Clueless Stossel

John Stossel, the TV guy, has a column in my local daily today. The local headline, and the gist of the column, is: 'Clueless' folks shouldn't vote Tuesday.

Stossel appears on 20/20, a show I could never take seriously.

He or one of his minions wandered around rock concerts asking young people random political knowledge questions. How many U.S. senators are there? Who's this lady in the photograph (Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Sarah Palin). Does John Stossel look better on TV or in person? From this, the estimable Stossel generalizes to the youth population as a whole, or tries to.

Too bad he relies on this questionable sampling and doesn't look at the (I agree) odd real surveys that show young people are more knowledgeable about the campaign than older voters. He writes:
Is it elitist to say only some people should do brain surgery? If you don't know what you're doing, you are not doing the country a favor by voting."

An old, tired argument. Then again, is it elitist that journalists know what the hell they're doing before getting into a topic they don't grasp?

I sympathize a little. Democratic theory rests on the idea of an informed electorate, but as I've blogged about for a million years now there is a lot of debate on what qualifies as "informed." Some doofy TV guy, no doubt innocent of this debate, is not a source of information or judgment.

Clueless? Methinks a mirror would help him find a lack of cluedom.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pickin' on Palin

I hate to pick on Sarah Palin. She's been victim enough, but a Newsweek poll asks respondents if Palin is "well informed about major domestic and foreign policy issues, or not"?

Thirty-five percent say she's well informed. Fifty-seven percent say -- not. Eight percent don't know, are unsure, or couldn't care less. No breakdown by presidential preference or party identification, which is too bad.

Again, not gonna pick on Palin. She's brought a lot of energy to the McCain campaign, and some damn good SNL skits. But it's always interesting when people judge the knowledge of others. The ANES surveys include a question I truly love, one in which the interviewer estimates at the end of the survey the intelligence of the interviewee. It's a damned good predictor of lots of other factors, from education to how well those respondents answered other knowledge questions.

In other words, people can sometimes be pretty good estimators of this kind of thing, even people they barely know.

So am I Pickin' on Palin? Maybe. Then again, who hasn't?