Monday, March 29, 2010

Local vs. National Political Knowledge

What people know about local politics is apparently different than what people know about national politics, according to a really good study published this week.  And asking about one versus the other can have interesting methodological and theoretical ramifications.

In the new Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly is a study by Lee Shaker that I wish I had done.  There's enough material here for two or three posts, but for today I'll focus on the difference between local and national political knowledge and some key findings.

In the analysis of national knowledge, the usual suspects appear. Greater national knowledge, even in a model in which factors statistically control for one another, is associated with being white, male, older, of higher income, or greater education, and having an interest in national (but not local) politics.  No surprise.  BUT, for local political knowledge, race and sex disappear.  In other words, when it gets closer to home, those don't seem to matter all that much, and whites or men don't outperform those who are not white or male.  And, hardly surprising but worth mentioning, local political interest predicts local knowledge, but national political interest is not related to local knowledge.  This suggests separate interest groups that we often miss in broad studies of what people know.

As to media factors, only Internet access was a predictor of national political knowledge but newspaper delivery (an odd way to measure this, but that's for another post) is the only media factor that predicts local political knowledge.  In other words, access to the Internet contributes unique variance to the model on national political knowledge.  No doubt newspaper "delivery" (a stand in for exposure, I suppose) is explained by all those other factors -- income, education, etc.  On local political knowledge, however, access to a daily newspaper still explains something unique above and beyond all those socio-demographic factors.  In other words, reading the newspaper still matters despite income, education, and all the rest, at least when it comes to local knowledge of public affairs.  Not surprising, but important to establish.

More on this study another day.  Worth the read.

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