Saturday, January 31, 2009

Secret Exit Poll

Interesting NYTimes piece today about a secret exit poll conducted in Kenya. Some argue that had the poll been publicized rather than kept secret, it might have forced the incumbent to not, ahem, swipe the election and also may not have resulted in riots that killed a thousand people. According to the story:
A year later, the poll’s fate remains a source of bitter contention, even as Kenya has moved to remake its electoral system. The failure to disclose it was raised at a Senate hearing in Washington last year and has been denounced by human rights advocates, who said it might have saved lives by nudging Mr. Kibaki to accept a negotiated settlement more quickly.

Polls play an important role. They give us a snapshot of public opinion outside what the pundits and politicians say (or wish) public opinion to be. Sometimes we don't like the results, but the things are uncanny in their accuracy -- if done well, by a pro.

When people argue about polls, it's usually because they don't like the results.

The federal government is probably the single largest polling operation, though most of it is non-political, such as the Census Bureau or other agencies measuring confidence in the economy and a million other topics, large and small. And even spooks do polling, though you don't hear anything about it. No doubt some NSA/CIA spook is reading this right now. Those polls are done to judge what people in another country think and to consider ways to shift opinion.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Newspapers and Knowledge

PR release for Newspaper Research Journal article that finds more or less the usual thing, that young people have dropped the paper over time. The authors used ANES data from 1948-2004 (which has crappy media items in the cumulative data set, particularly problematic in 1974). Here's an intersting bit from the release:
The researchers conclude that “because young Americans rarely read newspapers anyway, the lack of using [the] medium does not affect their political knowledge.”

Full disclosure: I'm on the editorial board of NRJ.

Trimming the Fringe

My hometown has been trimmed.

I grew up in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., a town of about 15,000 in southern Middle Tennessee. Not known for much except once boasting the world's largest bicycle factory, which cranked out bikes for nearly everyone who then put their own brand on it (Sears, Western Auto, etc.).

I also grew up delivering the Nashville Tennessean (mornings) and Banner (afternoons -- now defunct). At age 12 I got up around 5:30 every morning to bike my way around the streets, tossing the Tennessean on people's driveways. Did it again at 3 for the Banner. This paid for two motorcycles and a car for me before I was even 17 because my route got bigger and bigger. My dad was the regional circulation manager for both papers. I grew up in the circulation business.

Anyway, my mom told me today that the Tennessean will no longer deliver in L'burg.

A lot of metro papers are doing this. It's called trimming the fringe, a cost saving measure since city advertisers aren't really looking to reach people 70 miles down the road.

And it sucks.

It sucks because one of the first things I do when I visit home is walk to a nearby store and buy a Sun-Drop (greatest soft drink every made) and a copy of the Tennessean. It sucks because this was the only real daily serving my hometown. It sucks because with no circulation there, how likely is it the paper will truly keep an eye on the crooks and nuts who live and run L'burg? It sure as hell won't be the two little local weeklies.

It sucks in so many ways, I'm gonna stop now before I type suck one more time. Okay, once more. It sucks.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Newsroom Cuts, and Bagels Too

My local daily newspaper announced cuts, including five jobs out of a newsroom that could use 15 more people to adequately cover the University of Georgia, Athens, and its surrounding counties. Just another sign of the financial times, and yet I wonder about all the stories that will be missed out there -- the misdeeds of politicians and cronies, the businesses getting away with murder, and I suppose murder itself.

What we'll know about our community has been significantly harmed, all to service debt and feed the profit margin beast.

The paper will get slimmer, the price will probably go up, and the brainiacs and bean counters will wonder why circulation continues to drop. It's like McDonald's serving burgers cold and wondering why people stopped buying them.

Even my favorite local bagel place is closing at the end of the week. I plan on having lunch there today to see it off.

Why are the two related?

Simple. Zim's was a kind of community meeting place. If you visited in the mornings you'd see groups of people who often gather there to drink coffee, nibble a bagel, and share their lives with one another. Sorority girls, retirees, journalism professors who blog too much, you'd see them and a host of others at the cool custom-designed tables, chatting and eating and creating one of those "third places" where people visit and connect.

A good newspaper is kinda like that, or used to be. In some ways the Internet has blown up geographic communities and replaced them with communities of shared interests regardless of where one lives. That's good, and that's bad. We need both kinds of communities, but interest in news is hurting, at least the traditional way we provide news, and I'm not all that convinced that a sense of geographic community isn't also disappearing.

Today, I'm reading the Athens Banner-Herald in paper form. And I'm eating a bagel at Zim's.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Newsless in Missouri

An interesting piece about the intensive following of the traditional news and yet not feeling informed.
I’m beginning to question an assumption I’ve never really articulated, but always held. I’ve long assumed that if you followed the news, the stories behind the headlines would become plain. By reading your newspaper over time, you’d develop a high-level understanding of the issues. You’d have an idea of the characters involved, the dilemmas at hand, the consensus facts, etc. You’ll be armed with the information you need to make decisions on how to advance your society.

Read it through. Yes, reading the NYTimes helped him feel he understood national and international issues, but what he says has a great deal of truth to it, that reading local journalism, even okay local journalism, sometimes by its very nature leaves one feeling -- uninformed. In part he suggests this has to do with the way we tell news stories, and I have to agree. I've watched my own teenagers struggle to make sense of issues by reading my own local or my metro daily papers. We (the royal journalistic we) tell stories in such a way that suggests people already understand the background, which sometimes finds its way at the end of the story, not the beginning where some people need it. And "balance" often results in no real answer to the problem.

Ask people why they like The Daily Show and one thing that often comes up is, it tells the truth. By challenging assumptions, by pointed (and funny) questions, Jon Stewart often gets at truths that the nature of traditional journalism often does not allow.

And this guy is Matt Thompson, a serious news guy tied to Poynter and a major journalism program. His site, Newsless, is worth the read. Take the time to visit. He has an interesting response today to criticism that what he's describing is just bad journalism, not journalism. As he says near the end of today's piece:

What I’m saying is that I think those standards — the benchmarks of success systemic to journalism — are misguided.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Got what It Takes to be an American?

Take a version of the U.S. citizenship test, see if you pass
(fyi, I got 'em all right, even the weird one about what form you send in).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Education has always been a powerful predictor of what people know about public affairs. A study I missed somehow from a couple of years ago probes this relation ship and find some interesting stuff. As the authors note:

Our analysis has shown that the relationship between education and knowledge varies along with changes in the information environment. Increases in newspaper coverage primarily benefit the highly educated, thereby reinforcing the relationship between education and knowledge. By contrast, increases in the volume of television coverage benefit the least educated, in absolute terms, almost as much as the most educated.
We've known this from other studies, that TV helps most those who know little about politics and public affairs. But the above study, from a 2006 issue of American Journal of Political Science (volume 50, 266-282), goes into great detail, the kind that suggests we may now have a growing information underclass.

How do we fix this? How about providing more information? Nope. The authors write:

Simply providing more information is likely to reinforce the knowledge gap that exists between people with low and high levels of education.
In other words, no help there. The less educated -- those who have little motivation to keep up with public affairs or little ability to do so -- gravitate toward the spoonful of sugar of TV news, if they consume any news at all. Many use TV as a means of escaping any news content, thanks to hundreds of channels available via cable and satellite. And any TV news they do get, especially the crap on local tv news, won't do them much good when it comes to having a clue about politics and public affairs.

Cable news, CNN and Fox and all the rest, aren't much better. As newspapers die, I'm afraid for many, so will political knowledge.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

World Opinion About the U.S.

The fine folks at Pew have put together this neat map that allows you to scroll over and see public opinion results about the U.S. in general and specific political actors in particular, such as Bush or Obama. Useful not only for political types but also if you work in public relations, journalism, or plan to travel abroad for holiday.

Only thing missing is an option for missile attack. Click on a country that doesn't like us, then press "launch" and watch the fun. No doubt that'll be in version 2.0.

Push the "change" button and check out the countries that think our change has been for the worse. Damn interesting, I think.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Double

Blogged on, er, blogging research and then this column caught my eye by Editor & Publisher:
The vast majority of major newspaper sites lost momentum in online traffic following the peaks of user interest during the fall campaign for the White House, according to new figures from Nielsen Online (owned by E&P's parent company).

Just passing it on. A double post Friday, costs ya nothing extra.

Blogs and Credibility

The credibility of blogs has increased of late, especially among the politically interested. A new study in Computers in Human Behavior supported this and went further. Here's a line that caught my eye (I removed the cites to aid readability, just trust me that the statements below are supported by scholarly work):

Past studies suggest that while traditional media sites are expected to uphold journalistic standards of fairness and balance such expectations do not extend to blogs. Indeed, supporters of blogs perceive bias, along with insight and analysis, as strengths over traditional media.

This says a lot, and of course it drives to tears the traditional journalists who wear out shoe leather finding stuff out for their stories versus sitting around and blogging about other people's work. What we often don't get in traditional journalism is that last line above, how people see this new (or old, if you're a historian and know your news history) approach as better than the vanilla-he said/she said approach to telling a story.

Blogs engage the reader. Traditional news approaches, sadly, often do not.

As more and more people get their news haphazardly, from bits on TV or from blogs or a snatch off an online site, we're going to see the depth of political knowledge decrease. But -- and this is important and I'll discuss it perhaps this weekend -- people may not know a political fact, but they'll know how to find out a political fact. Especially for young people, I may not know who my U.S. senator is, but I know how to find out.

And that's where we are headed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Black and White
and Blogged All Over

A story in today's New York Times is a perfect example of a world gone mad.

A printed newspaper. Full of blogs. According to the Times:
The Printed Blog, a Chicago start-up, plans to reprint blog posts on regular paper, surrounded by local ads, and distribute the publications free in big cities.

This will work, in the words of its creator, because it combines the best of both print and online worlds. Huh?

A new kid on a busy block. If nothing else, it demonstrates how confused the media models are out there, but it also shows yet another way people will pick up bits and pieces of news (or pseudo-news), which in turn influences their knowledge about public affairs.

Gonna be a weird paper. Most blogs are reactive, posting about what the authors have seen or read in other, usually mainstream, media. A newspaper about stuff gleaned from blogs in reaction to stuff the author's read probably in a newspaper or its online site? Seems odd to me, but hell, these days ya never know what's gonna work.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rushing Obama

Rush Limbaugh is a favorite of mine. He and a host of other talk radio blatherers helped win me tenure as I published several studies on what people know after listening to such programs. With Barack Obama, the talkmeister has a new friend and hobby. An LATimes piece does a nice job of outlining Limbaugh's new reason to live.

Hannity and Limbaugh. -- you can feel the spittle coming out of your radio speaker when they speak of Obama.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obamabilia and Bling

We don’t need a federal stimulus package to get this economy rolling again.

We have Obamabilia and Obamabling.

On this inauguration day, just moments after the swearing in, you can buy coins and plates and jewelry and pins and hats and just about anything adorned with the new president's likeness.

Save the economy? You bet.

An eBay search for “Obama” identified 22,002 items ready for purchase, and that doesn’t include all the high-quality stuff available off your TV, usually for $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

Want an Obama t-shirt. EBay has 2,756 different ones out there ready for wearing. Need a poster? The site has 1,767 waiting to adorn your wall. And while newspapers struggled to survive, you can find 1,015 different front pages reminding you that Obama won the election.

It gets even better. For just over $110,000 you can ride in Obama’s old 2005 Chrysler 300 Series C sedan. The seller promises to verify Obama drove this vehicle from 2004 to 2007. Really. He can prove it. And the car only has 20,000 miles, according to the seller. Obama probably found a really good parking space and visited the car on weekends.

Talk about a way to save the American car industry.

So a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, while it may all eventually add up to real money, let’s get down to the real economic stimulus at work – people selling stuff associated with the first black U.S. president.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Sure, Sean Hannity whines on his daily talk radio show about people being bonkers for Obama, but nothing is as American and capitalist-friendly as finding a way to make a buck off someone else, especially if you don’t have to cut them in on the action.

I’m sorry, Hannity. Say what you will about the doltish Democrats, but to complain about people selling stuff, that’s just wrong. Selling is apple pie and capitalism at its best, so take care. In other words, Hannity, how dare you badmouth the United States of America.

Now that I’ve finished riffing off Animal House and making fun of a goofy talk radio guy, let’s return to the key point that Obama’s face and name will save our foundering economy.

People will buy anything. That’s well established by infomercials and the popularity of light beer, so it's time to widen the Obamabilia to include a bunch of new products, from the president's own person line of cars (if you'll buy an Eddie Bauer edition, you'll buy anything), hybrid vehicles that run on the promise of fuel. And there's Obamapizza (green olives and green peppers). The cash register industry can alter keyboards -- when it's time to give change, have a picture of Obama on the right button or key. We could even have inflatable Obama Christmas decorations.

The possibilities are endless.

Want the entire Animal House quote by Otter? Here it is:
But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Local News

Everyone preaches that local news, hyperlocal stuff, is the future of newspapers and successful news sites.

Yeah, but ...

Here's a story about the decline in the number of reporters covering LA. By LA I mean Los Angeles, not Lower Alabama. In the piece:
But now just four reporters tend this turf anywhere close to full time: two for The Times, one for eight dailies controlled by newspaper baron William Dean Singleton, and one for City News Service, although that young reporter frequently gets pulled off for other duty.Back in my day, as many as a dozen full-time reporters walked this beat, filling the row of cramped, glass-walled cubicles on the dimly lit fourth floor just above the supervisors meeting room.

Not a happy time, unless of course you're a cheating stealing politician who now has more free reign to do whatever the hell you want. And no, not many bloggers do the kind of legwork to make up the difference, not yet at least. I'm hopeful, just not convinced.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Remembering W

And now begins a host of books, magazine articles, online stories, and no doubt a glob of academic journal pieces on remembering President George W. Bush.

In a recent CBS News/NYTimes poll, 93 percent of Dems disapproved of how W did his job in the past eight years. No real surprise there, but 34 percent of Republicans disapproved. A third of GOPers. If we turn to the self-described "independents" for an answer, we find nearly three-fourths disapproved.

All in all, it's gonna be a tough few years for Bush's legacy.

Asked where W will rate historically, an ABC/WashPost survey found nearly a third described his two terms as "poor" and one-in-five said "below average." Only 4 percent said history will judge Bush as "outstanding." Hell, Bill Clinton gets an "outstanding" from 13 percent of adult Americans in a recent poll. Time heals all wounds. A quarter of adult Americans said Reagan will be remembered as "outstanding."

The journals I read, in political science and mass comm, will soon be filled with retrospective studies of what people know about Bush and his presidency and what they think and what it all means. It's the last part that matters, whether the attitudes people have about Bush and his two terms translate into something else -- confidence or lack of confidence in the political system, faith in the U.S. economy, and hope for Obama's presidency.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More on Canada

I blogged about this earlier, but here's the press release about the political knowledge of our friends to the north. A more complete version of the report is also available. Like many of the recent reports I've discussed, there seems -- to some -- to be a trend here among democracies and the political knowledge of its citizens.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kennedy Knows 'You Know'

Caroline Kennedy wants to, you know, be a, you know, U.S. senator. You know? I go on and on about political knowledge of the electorate. How about the political, you know, knowledge, of a potential senator? Count the "you know" and see if it's more than 25.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ANES and Knowledge

Quite some time back I blogged about problems in how the American National Election Studies coded responses to their political knowledge questions, a situation uncovered by a couple of scholars doing work on what people know about the U.S. Supreme Court.

A new report discusses these problems (a longer journal article is forthcoming). For those who rely on secondary data in general and ANES data in particular to examine political knowledge, this brief report is worth the read. The problem comes down to this -- coding for wrong answers included ones that should have been categorized as correct. In asking what office does William Rhenquist hold (he was chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the time), listed as wrong were such responses as "supreme court justice head honcho" and "supreme court justice, head." Should have been listed as correct.

To their credit, the fine folks at ANES have worked hard to understand and address the problem, even providing access to open-ended materials so people can more dutifully check whether a political knowledge answer is indeed incorrect.

All of us should appreciate the work of the report authors, James L. Gibson and Gregory A. Caldeira.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What People Think, and Know

Finding out what people think or know is becoming harder and harder, according to a Pew report.

A federal study found 18 percent of households are cell only, no landline. Exit polls in the last election found 20 percent of those interviewed say they have no landline. And those with a landline have become largely unreachable by that method.

So it becomes more difficult to gauge public opinion, to ask what people think, or what people know.

Are we reaching a representative sample with traditional telephone surveys? If we use cell (mobile) phones, how do we do that? Will political robo-calls, like telemarketing, cause people to ignore our requests for them to offer opinions on the issues of the day?

Polls matter. How else do we judge what people really think rather than what politicians or special interests say they think?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Direct and Indirect Info

Are there differences in how people evaluate and learn from politicians directly versus mediated versions of what a politician said through journalists?

Kinda. Sometimes. In certain ways.

Direct accounts from politicians are more convincing and inspire greater optimism about the political process, according to a spanking new study in American Politics Research. No doubt those pesky journalists create problems and conflicts, raise difficult questions, or simply quote the other side. The end result is rather obvious, I think. Instead of one side, one clear message, journalists try to round out the story and even raise criticism of the message. Can't say I'm overly surprised by this, but still it verifies what we all suspected.

While subjects in the experiment found arguments by a politician more convincing in the unmediated version, little overall persuasion was seen. I find this fascinating in and of itself, because you'd expect more.

Also little difference was seen in learning from the two messages.

But let's look at this last one more carefully. It's a self-report of learning, not an objective measure of what they took away from the stories. Below is the info drawn from the study methodology:

From reading this article, would you say that you have learned anything new about (the policy) controversy? That is to say, have you encountered novel or interesting ideas and facts? A good number of new ideas and facts, A few new ideas and facts, Not much new here.

As I've discussed before, this is more a measure of self efficacy or perceived knowledge than one of actual learning from a stimulus, so I don't think we learn a great deal here and we certainly can't say there is a difference in what people know about these issues depending on whether journalists mediated the message or a politician got to provide the message without dealing with those annoying journalists.

The study by Brian J. Fogarty and Jennifer Wolak is interesting and seeing an experimental approach is always welcome. At the end they say:
We expected that balance and objectivity connected to journalistic accounts would promote learning in a way political accounts would not. However, we do not find such normative benefits. Instead, the unique effects of media interpretation tend to be negative, boosting cynicism and weakening the perceived persuasiveness of claims.

They seem to act like this is a bad thing. Obviously I disagree, and "promote learning" is a huge leap given the way they measured learning. If there is a flaw in an otherwise good, solid study, it's this.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

King on What People Know

"I think there ought to be some serious discussion by smart people, really smart people, about whether or not proliferation of things like The Smoking Gun and TMZ and YouTube and the whole celebrity culture is healthy. We've switched from a culture that was interested in manufacturing, economics, politics - trying to play a serious part in the world - to a culture that's really entertainment-based. I mean, I know people who can tell you who won the last four seasons on American Idol and they don't know who their f—-—- Representatives are."

Stephen King, in 2007.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Economy

More bad economic news today, and as time passes people are more and more pessimistic about 2009. The last positive numbers in the consumer comfort index were recorded in December 2006. These range from -100 (awful) to +100 (wonderful). In 2008 a steep decline began and the latest number is -49. In fact the index has been either in the negatives or barely positive since 2002.

Asked if they are hopeful or fearful for 2009, national survey respondents were more negative about the state of the world then themselves personally, but even then the numbers weren't great. Personally, 35 percent were fearful, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll in December. In December 2004, 30 percent were fearful about their personal lives for the next calendar year.

One-third say it's "very likely" and another third say it's "somewhat likely" we'll see a depression. About half favor an economic stimulus. A third say no.

So what people know about the economy is in part what they see or read about, but more important is what happens to themselves, to family, to friends and neighbors and local businesses.

There is no mixed message here. The news media and the real world agree, it's damned ugly out there.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Colbert, Take 2

"By attempting to mock conservative commentators, Colbert may unintentionally be helping these commentators sway potential voters to the right."

That's one of the conclusions to a study I discussed in detail yesterday. Published in the latest JOBEM, the research suggests that channel-surfing young people may not quite get what Stephen Colbert is up to as he plays a far-right, self-obsessed, TV talking head, or at least the effects of Colbert's comedy may have unintended consequences.

Watching Jon Stewart's faux news show? No such effect, suggesting something about playing an Archie Bunker-like role can have the opposite effect than you hoped for. Or maybe this is actually some kind of secret Colbert plot? A conservative, posing as a liberal, playing a conservative, and ... er, never mind. Getting a headache.

The mixed message is no doubt the root of the problem.

The authors hypothesized that Colbert's mixed message would lead to a decrease in internal efficacy, the idea that one is capable of participating in politics. The hypothesis makes sense. But Table 4 reports the results on "Internal Efficacy" and the standard question "Agree that politics and government seems too complicated." High scores mean low efficacy and there is a positive relationship between watching Colbert and this measure, meaning viewing it leads to less efficacy. But the authors say their hypothesis was not supported. It's confusing as hell, or I'm just confused. Clarification needed. They would have been better served by flipping the measure, recoding it in such a way that high meant greater internal efficacy, otherwise their table title is misleading.

Enough quibbles. It's a fascinating study, thus getting two days of discussion from me. Hell, might get a third if nothing better shows up.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Colbert and the Dangers of Satire

While skimming the latest issue of the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (transparency alert -- I'm on the editorial board), I noticed the final article on the effects of Colbert's program on American youth. Everyone knows Colbert's shtick, playing a far right, self-obsessed TV commentator. He makes fun of political conservatives by playing one. Damn funny.

But do people get it? Especially young viewers?

I thought so, but a study by Jody C. Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris suggest otherwise. Using a controlled experiment, the viewers of the Colbert Report were found to NOT be more critical of the far right and instead there was an increased affinity for President George W. Bush, Congressional Republicans, and policies favored by the GOP.

What the hell?

Even more interesting, the authors argue this is opposite the effect found for viewers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, who plays a faux news commentator, but without posing as a conservative.

These "unintended consequences" are fascinating. Do some young people not get satire? Are some of them politically unsophisticated, enough so that they actually move in the direction of the political position being mocked? I suspect so. This reminds me of the response to All in the Family and the infamous main character,
Archie Bunker. Remember him? He played a bigoted, narrow-minded guy who, every episode, turned out to be wrong. Except -- and this is important -- for many who shared his views, they actually thought him right, winning the debate, and there was some suggestion that he moved viewers to the right, not left.

Coincidently, Leonard Pitts has an interesting column today that mentions Bunker and he discusses showing the program to his students, and how they were apalled by the humor. Also discussing the new film Gran Torino, he asks are we at the point now of political correctness that satire won't work if it touches on race. Are we awash in sensitivity?

I think some of this is related, but I'm going to have to think through exactly how, and what it all means. Basically I suspect some people just don't get satire and, today, we're often afraid of anything that comes close to negativity toward any racial, ethnic, religious, or other kind of group. That's good, but there are side effects.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Offered With No Comment

Of Partisanship and Participation

A fascinating piece in The American Prospect analyzes the civic decline debate and asks whether political parties and partisanship should be written off as important factors in increasing political participation. At its heart, author Henry Farrell argues theorists failed to understand the power of technology, particularly the Internet, to foster participation.
Political blogs don't fit well with deliberation theory. They are rough, raucous, and vigorously partisan.

In many ways this is a defense of blogs and blogging. Hell, I can hardly blog an attack on a defense of blogging, plus there is a navel-gazing aspect to doing so that irritates the senses. Not going there. Finally:
That said, however, there remains a tremendous inequality in participation and political knowledge. While millions of Americans are engaged as never before as volunteers and debaters, millions more lack the time, the passion, or the patience for such intense engagement. We may be moving toward two economies of political information, one in which voters are intensely involved and informed, and the other in which they are not and are perhaps turned off by the strong opinions and intimidating voices of the well-informed.

I buy into the argument above. The red state/blue state dichotomy is becoming less geographic and more an individual difference. Huge chunks of the country will care less and less, or be less and less involved. But, and this is key, that leaves them open to all kinds of nasty little persuasion tricks. A Republican who looks at the Obama campaign and, if well read in Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion, sees the success as a case study in low involvement persuasion can work. Peripheral cues and emotion play well in low-involvement, low-knowledge audiences. The GOP has used this as well. We're going to see a helluva lot more by the next election.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Egypt Too?

In my tour of commentary about other countries and worries about a lack of political knowledge, I can now add Egypt to the list. Says one commentator about leaders in that country:

On the other hand, they have no trust in the masses of the Egyptian society who have been so successfully drained of political knowledge. Politics is forbidden from entry into universities, and if allowed to enter, it is limited to the politics of hearing not listening, to the politics of talking rather than taking actions.

No real parallel to the U.S. given the religious and cultural differences -- and I know little about Egyptian politics -- yet we see the same concern again and again, about a dwindling of what people know about public affairs and politics. Coincidence? Typical grumbling, especially about younger adults? Or are we seeing a worldwide trend? That's a big question, one worthy of study, but I'm not sure exactly how you'd get at it, at least with a small research budget. We'll have to rely on big institutional data centers to spend the cash to collect these kind of data, and then the rest of us can feed off them and make sense of the world.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Most Admired

Part of what people know is what they feel, or what they think of others. Hence, my attempt to tie the "most admired man and woman" into this blog and fill some white space. Yeah, shameless.

Okay, so the Most Admired Man of 2008? Easy. You guessed it -- Barack Obama, according to a USAToday/Gallup poll. Nailed 32 percent, followed by George W. Bush with 5 percent. Down a couple of places, tied for the same spot, is an ironic combination of the Pope, Billy Graham, and Bill Clinton. Gotta love a good juxtaposition, or what sounds like the beginning of a damn funny joke: "The Pope, Billy Graham, and Bill Clinton walk into a bar ...".

Most Admired Woman? Again, almost anyone could predict this -- Hillary Clinton with 20 percent, followed by Sarah Palin with 11 percent. Oprah comes in third, followed by an unsurprising cast of characters except perhaps Margaret Thatcher in sixth place. Haven't thought of her in years. No Tina Fey.

By the way, "W" has dropped steadily from year to year from 29 percent in 2003 to his 5 percent this year. Still, every year but this one he won among men. The "most admired" is more a function of publicity than anything else (though Margaret Thatcher?), media coverage and agenda-setting at work.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Even in Japan?

I've pointed to and blogged about what people know in the U.S., in the U.K., in various countries of Europe. Even Africa. So add Japan to the list. Like many, this brief piece is about the political knowledge of young people, a consistent concern no matter what country we look at.

As news consumption among the young suffers, so apparently does their political knowledge, or at least our perception of their political knowledge. As I've discussed many times before, sometimes this is right on target, sometimes it has more to do with the kinds of questions we ask rather than the answers they give. In truth this also explains, in part, the consistent finding that females know less about politics than males -- ask questions in which respondents are asked to identify female politicians and women do very well, thank you. I suspect if we construct political knowledge indices having to do with the public affairs issues that matter to younger adults then we may see a very different result. Certainly young people did better than ever before on quizzes about the recent U.S. election, an Obama effect.

It's another year, and the story remains the same. I'll try for something fresh in a couple of days, once I recover from overeating and over drinking and overspending.