Thursday, November 4, 2010

North Carolina and Political Knowledge

A study is out this week, reported here, press release here, about what people know in North Carolina and, namely, who knows the most.  The lede:
Here’s what you need to know about an Elon University Poll designed to test North Carolinians’ political knowledge — older over younger, men over women, and Republicans over Democrats or registered independents.
The survey of 515 adults used 10 questions to measure political knowledge.  The news story doesn't tell us what those questions are, but you can find them in a methodological report.  It's an odd group of questions.  Some of them are obvious (who is the VP? who is the speaker of the house?), but the rest are so North Carolina specific, and probably so under the radar for most regular folks, that the demographic relationships mentioned the lede are less than surprising.

Who is the North Carolina Attorney General?  Does anyone care?  Only 19 percent got that one right.  You can argue it's a question that provides good discrimination, separating the men from the boys, so to speak, in what people know.  I dunno that an item so difficult adds much.  And you'll be happy to learn 97 percent correctly identified North Carolina's capital city (isn't it Mayberry?).

So yes, I have a few quibbles with the questions.  Two ask about federal offices, one asks about the role of federal government (who interprets the constitutionality of a law), all good and fine.  The rest either ask about North Carolina officeholders (some vague, some less so), a bit of geography (state capital), and one asking folks to identify the initials SBI (it's the State Bureau of Investigation, no doubt improving the number of correct responses among felons included in the sample). 

I understand the N.C. questions.  After all, it's a N.C. poll.  But the analysis, basically crosstabs in the pdf file above, breaks voters down by party identification, by gender, by age ... but not by the single factor nearly every study in the history of the planet finds is the most powerful predictor of political knowledge -- education.  Maybe I missed it.  But if not, it's a curious omission given the power of education to explain what people know.  Often, when you break people down by education level, all those other factors mentioned above disappear.

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