Tuesday, May 31, 2011

City Survey Finds, Shockingly, the City is a Good Place to Live

I love spotting surveys like this -- a survey by city officials that discovers people who live in the city really like living in the city.  Below, I get into the methodology.  But first let's look at the city, in this case Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Here's a graph:
The survey was sent to 1,200 residents and 323 completed and returned it. A whopping 77 percent of them said called Fredericksburg an "excellent" or "good" place to live. The 20-question survey covered eight categories: community, quality, community design, public safety, environmental sustainability, recreation and wellness, community inclusiveness, civic engagement and public trust. 
Whopping?  Please, don't use whopping in a news story, even if something actually, um, whops.  Say instead: three-fourths of respondents called the town an "excellent" or "good" place to live.  Save the whopping for the city's PR folks.

The full report is here (annoying pdf format).  In it you'll find a few interesting tidbits, not because I care one way or the other about a city I've never visited, but it's telling for those interested in methodology and consultants who do this sort of thing.  There's nothing wrong with the survey.  It looks like a lot of similar projects.  But still, let's look deeper for the methodologically inclined.
  • It's a mail survey.  That's unusual in these times.  Mail surveys tend to have lousy return rates (that is, how many surveys you send out versus how many returned).
  • But this one has a great return rate, with 1200 households surveyed and 323 returns.  That's a 27 percent return rate.  Most mail surveys are lucky if they manage 10-15 percent.  They call it a "multi-contact" survey, meaning they annoyed people to up their return.  Which is good.
  • The results were statistically weighted.  That means the consultants took census numbers and corrected their results by key demographic factors.  So if you came up with too many men in your survey as compared to what the census reports you have in the city, you statistically downgrade the results of men (or increase the opinions of women).
  • There's a 5 percent margin of error, which is big but not huge.
  • They took out the "don't know" responses on individual items.  This is a bit odd because, depending on their distribution, this may significantly alter the results.  Some of the "don't know" results on individual questions ranged as high as 70 percent.
  • In the questionnaire, "excellent" is the first choice, followed by "good" and "fair" and "poor" and dunno.  By putting "excellent" first, you bias the results higher.  If you read the frequencies in Appendix A, you discover why they collapsed "excellent" and "good" together when reporting the results -- more people merely said "good."  A good reporter would have caught this and reported it as such.
Why am I picking on this town's survey?  Because lots of cities do this sort of thing, and lots of people do this kind of consulting, and I'm not against either.  But when reporting this journalistically, you have to dig into the methodological details to really tell what people think about an issue or place.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Newspapers + Government = Knowledge?

It's a holiday weekend, so I'm merely pointing at this column by the American Enterprise Institute that looks at newspapers and local governments and whether they can work together to improve knowledge and engagement.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Herman Cain Part 2

Despite living in Georgia and despite having eaten quite a few times in a Godfather's Pizza place, I don't know much of anything about Herman Cain other than his announcement recently to seek the GOP presidential nomination (lovingly covered by the press with no complaints by him) and his recent gaffe about the Middle East (less-than-lovingly covered, so therefore in his opinion biased). 

But since I write about what people know and how they learn from the media, and also about political knowledge, this brief piece caught my eye today.  In it, Cain says: "Knowing how Washington works isn’t necessarily an advantage."

Er, yeah, kinda it is -- if you're running for office in which you'd have to work in Washington, deal with people immersed in Washington, and basically run the nation from, yes, Washington.

I have no feelings one way or the other about Cain.  Let's face it, he's a non-starter as a likely GOP nominee.  But it's nice of him to provide blog fodder in the last couple of days as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann have been strangely unable to say anything really dumb or demonstrate a lack of political knowledge, thus fitting into this blog's theme.

I'll get back to writing about research on media and knowledge very soon, once the easy stuff (Cain) is over.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do Gaffes Matter?

The political chattering class loves it when a politician stumbles.  The most recent example is Herman Cain's gaffe, if you want to call it that, about a Palestinian right-to-return.  Sure, Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin get all the attention for saying dunderheaded things, and Vice President Joe Biden has turned the verbal gaffe into an art form, but Cain had loving attention all this weekend when he announced his unlikely bid for the GOP nomination. 

Are people paying attention?  Nope.  Do most Americans care deeply about the Israeli-Palestinian difficulties?  Hardly.  Will Cain's gaffe matter?  Not at all.  So in terms of what people know, the "gaffe" might as well be invisible.  I suspect the more the press hits him on this, the more support Cain will get from hardcore Republican voters who tend to participate in primaries.  In other words, piling on by the pundits will win the guy sympathy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Of Sex and Religion

A new study reported on this week finds members of certain religious groups to be more guilty about sex than other groups.  And then I thought of the study a few months ago that rated the various religious groups on their knowledge of, yes, religion.  Can the two be correlated?  Let's see.

  1. Atheist/Agnostic
  2. Jewish
  3. Mormon
  4. White Evangelical Protestant
  5. White Catholic
  6. White Mainline Protestant
  7. Nothing in particular
  8. Black Protestant
  9. Hispanic Cathlic
Guilt about Sex (in order of most guilt)
  1. Mormon
  2. Jehovah's Witness
  3. Pentacostal
  4. Seventh Day Adventist
  5. Baptist
  6. Catholic
  7. Lutheran
  8. way at the bottom, atheist/agnostic
So the smartest about religion has the least guilt about sex.  Coincidence?  You have to wonder if sexual guilt gets in the way of learning.  Hey, it's a hypothesis.

What's missing?  Jewish folks on the sexual guilt study.  I can't find, at least in the news account of the study, any mention of them.

So how does our correlation hold up?  Not so good if we collapse a few categories and take a few statistical liberties with the data.  For example, Mormons are high on the guilt scale but also awfully high on the religious knowledge scale, thus screwing up any potential correlation.  Catholics kinda hold up the correlation, falling in the middle on both scales.  All in all, not much of a correlation between what you know about religion and the role religion plays in your sexual guilt.

Data once again getting in the way of some good theories.  Or at least silly fun.

The Good (and Scary) of What People Search For

Google trends is a lot of fun, a bit comforting, and a lot scary.  According to today's hot trends, the #1 search is for Joplin, Mo., which makes good sense given the awful tornadoes that ripped through the town.  I feel comforted somehow, knowing people are searching for something so important and so devastating to others.

So what are the other hot searches?  Glad you asked.
  1. Joplin, Mo. (mentioned above)
  2. Memorial Day (makes sense)
  3. Joseph Brooks (who?)
  4. Bachelorette (sad)
  5. Living social (huh?)
  6. Tim Pawlenty (makes sense, GOP candidate)
  7. npc (again, huh?)
  8. ethanol (no idea why)
  9. You light up my life (awful song)
  10. weather forecast (sensical)
  11. Kansas City Star (good paper, dunno why listed)
  12. us map (weird)
  13. Iceland volcano eruption (makes sense, in the news)
  14. Sara Rue (who?)
  15. Sammy Sosa (why?)
  16. Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez (why?  why?)
  17. Bryan Stow (who?)
  18. Lance Armstrong (makes sense, given recent news)
  19. Danica Patrick (not sure why, but okay)
  20. Justin Timberlake SNL (I guess he was on the show?)
Many of the names above I've never heard of, so I actually looked them up.  Joseph Brooks was an Oscar winner who committed suicide.  Lots of backstory.  So I see why this is being searched for.  Sara Rue got married but I still don't know who the hell she is.  Bryan Stow I get now, after looking it up.

So there's a mix of the serious and the silly above (Beiber and Gomez?).  At least the serious is actually there, given the nature of the net.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Damn those UF Guys

A couple of University of Florida political scientists, Michael Martinez and Stephen Craig, stole one of my great research ideas.

Okay, they didn't steal it since it's kinda obvious, but they conducted a neat little study similar to what I had blogged about here and here and here.  That is, examining how people answer political knowledge questions to get a partial knowledge, answers that are kinda sorta right, all thanks to earlier work that found serious issues in the ANES coding of responses about Chief Justice William Rhenquist.  As you may remember, since I've written about this a couple of times, scholars uncovered problems with the coding.  As the Martinez and Craig conference paper notes:
On this latter point, for example, responses in 2000 that identified Rehnquist as “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court” were coded as correct – but nine people who said that he was “the Supreme Court justice in charge” (or used similar language, omitting the words “Chief Justice”), along with nearly 400 others who named him as a justice of the Supreme Court (without reference to his role as Chief) or simply as a judge, were all coded as being no better informed than those who might have identified Rehnquist (hypothetically) as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Mayor of Phoenix, or Canadian Prime Minister. Counting the “justice” answers as partially correct, which they arguably were, would likely result in a more flattering characterization of the public’s awareness about the Supreme Court and politics in general (Krosnick et al. 2008).

In other words, kinda right should not be coded as the same as completely wrong.

In the paper, Martinez and Craig recode 2008 ANES data to see how a more careful coding scheme might change relationships among important variables.  The results?
  • The old coding scheme made it appear Americans were more dense than they really are, at least when it comes to identifying significant political actors such as the Speaker of the House.
  • The partial right folks resemble in many ways the traditionally correct folks in a series of political variables and sometimes those "partial right" respondents were actually higher in certain important variables.
  • As the authors note, we need to think about whether "partial knowledge" may have different influences on political choice as compared to full knowledge.
As the authors note:
Like Art Linkletter’s kids, survey respondents can say the darnedest things, as some respondents apparently confused Nancy Pelosi with Sarah Palin, recalled that Dick Cheney shot someone (without noting that he was also Vice President), and guessed that Gordon Brown might be somehow related to the godfather of soul, James Brown.

For me, I'd love to see how "partial" versus "full" knowledge stacks up against news media exposure, something not analyzed in their paper.  I have my hunches as to particular media being better at predicting full knowledge (print) versus other media being better at predicting partial knowledge (broadcast news).  This would fall neatly into the recall versus recognition work I did some years back.

In full disclosure, I should point out that I knew both of these
political scientists while a mass comm grad student at UF
a million or so years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the campus.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Academic Journals and Money

When you write, money should flow in only one direction.  That is, toward the author.  As Samuel Johnson (left) said:

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

And yet vanity presses litter the Internet, shady places where unscrupulous editors have the direction of cashology all wrong (well, except that they make money).  Basically, people pay to get their books published. Which brings us to academic journals that charge a "processing fee" if you are not a member of an organization.

Few if any academic journals pay the author, except of course in prestige and citations and all the stuff that helps a professor get promotion or a raise or whatever few kinds of goodies a particular university has to offer.  As an aside, I did get paid once by an academic journal called Gazette, which was kinda cool.  Anyway, I was journal shopping for a paper of mine and looking at two likely suspects.  I won't name the journals, but they're both about religion and have some form of that word in their title, both are tied to specific organizations, and both either require you to be a member of the sponsoring group or to pay a $25 or $35 fee, depending on which one you send your work to.

What bullshit.

Then again, I've never been a journal editor, never had to balance the academic books.  I serve on the editorial board of Journal of Media and Religion but you do not have to pay to have your work considered for publication, even if you don't belong to the interest group or AEJMC, the sponsoring organization.  As a member of that interest group I do receive the journal for free, but that's different.  Some organizations struggle, so part of me sees the twisted logic in charging for consideration.  Even some very good literary magazines charge a token $10 reading fee.  But academic journals?  This seems to me to be just a tad bit, I dunno, off.  I suppose it does cut down on the crap research editors have to send out to reviewers, but the whole idea of paying someone to consider your academic research strikes me as going against the very grain, the very idea, of academic research.

Or maybe I'm just cheap.


My latest scribblings about conspiracy theories.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Civic Knowledge

I'd blogged earlier about this, but here's another recent story about the problems of college kids not knowing much of anything about civics or government.  The theme is how to do you teach basic political science and government when students are so ill prepared?

I kinda love this line:
That many children don’t know how government works is one of the many things wrong with the American educational system, “But it’s not my main priority,” she (Anna Law) said. “I know it sounds strange coming from a political science professor.”

And you can see her point.   She's got so much else to work on, such as a decline in writing and critical thinking skills, that the nuts-and-bolts of government seem almost too mundane to deal with.

You can download the entire report about how young people are doing when it comes to civic engagement and knowledge.  It's here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

No Donald Trump? 2012 Just Got More Dull

Of course we are all shocked, shocked, to discover Donald Trump will not seek the presidency.  Or as the lede in the NYTimes says today: "Donald Trump fired himself."

The 2012 race got a lot duller.  Yeah, we still have Gingrich.  But Palin is undecided, as is Bachmann.  If both of those get in the race, life as a political blogger just got easier.

Trump's rise, and fall, has been fascinating to watch as he rode the "birther" movement to its logical conclusion.  In a heavy dose of bullshit, Trump said: “I maintain the strong conviction that if I were to run, I would be able to win the primary and ultimately, the general election.  Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion, and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”  Translation: "I could win if I wanted to. So there."

Is Michelle Bachmann Smarter than a 10th Grader?

That's the question, right there above.  And I'm not the only one asking it.  Bachmann has been challenged by a high school kid to a debate.
"I have found quite a few of your statements regarding The Constitution of the United States, the quality of public school education and general U.S. civics matters to be factually incorrect, inaccurately applied or grossly distorted," Amy Myers wrote in early May in an open letter to Bachmann. "Though politically expedient, incorrect comments cast a shadow on your person and by unfortunate proxy, both your supporters and detractors alike often generalize this shadow to women as a whole."

Woo hoo, a political knowledge duel!   One, obviously, that is not going to happen.  But wouldn't it be cool if someone paid this kid's way to some standard Bachmann appearance, like a town hall, and she posed a question or two to the historically-challenged U.S. representative?  Great fun, but ain't gonna happen.

In all seriousness, I think we're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing.  So Amy Myers gets some attention today, but as others try the same thing it'll lose its luster and won't get reported on to the degree this did.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Are "Independents" Just Dumb?

In survey research, we worry a lot about no-opinion opinions.  That is, respondents who give an opinion without really having one, which is related (but distinct from) uninformed opinion.  And in that theme, there's this CBS News story that wonders who the heck are these "independents" that everyone is so worried about.

Why do we care about independents?  A CBS column by history professor Michael Kazin notes:
No group in American politics gets more respect than independent voters. Pundits and reporters probe what these allegedly moderate citizens think about this issue and that candidate, major party strategists seek the golden mean of messaging that will attract independents to their camp and/or alienate them from the opposing one. Presidential nominees and aides struggle to come up with phrases and settings that will soothe or excite them. But what if millions of independents are really just a confused and clueless horde, whose interest in politics veers between the episodic and the non-existent?
Elections, especially presidential elections, often settle on the swing voters, the self-styled "independents" who can be nudged, moved, shifted, or shoved toward one candidate or away from another.  Kazin notes that these "independents" tend to be accepting of a mishmash of political positions from the left and the right, from the Dems or from the GOPers.  As he puts it: "To a sympathetic eye, this result might connote a pleasant openness to contrasting opinions, perhaps a desire to give each group of partisans the benefit of the doubt. But I think it demonstrates a basic thoughtlessness."

This is nothing new.  Philip Converse wrote about this in 1964 in his seminal piece, "The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics."  Without getting too PhDweebish, Converse pointed out the inconsistencies in our ideological belief systems.  Later, folks dived into this and established, long ago, that a huge chunk of the American electorate (the "independents") held highly inconsistent beliefs.  Kazin reminds us of the infamous Lippmann/Dewey debates from the 1920s about whether the public was capable of understanding politics. 

It's an excellent piece.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Osama bin Laden's Porn

You know it had to be -- according to news reports, they found porn on Osama bin Laden's computers.

I find this somehow, curiously, reassuring.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Print vs Print

There's been a rash of recent studies to help us understand how people learn from television versus print news.  Basically, those with less education tend to learn more from TV news than other media, in part because of the way television tells stories is more easily digested by those with less knowledge or motivation to keep up with public affairs.

But what about print versus print?

Earlier studies looked at reading the news in print paper form versus online and tended to find paper worked better than pixels.  I've even blogged about one aspect of this.  How do we explain the difference?  Isn't print like print, regardless of whether it's ink smushed on paper or pixels painted on a screen?  My own hunch is it has to do with the way we approach the medium. Paper is seen, unconsciously perhaps, as more serious or more deserving of attention, thus we tend to process news in that form better and, hence, do better on tests of political knowledge.

And so comes this new study (abstract only, sorry), published in the latest New Media & Society.  It finds that among higher education subjects, the kind of print (paper vs pixels) makes no difference in comprehension.  But for those of less education, paper works better as a source of information, at least when measuring comprehension.  The medium, then, is part of the message, but only in that we approach different media in different ways, with different expectations and different consequences of that exposure.

Less education can mean a lot of things -- cognitive ability, for example, but never underestimate the power of motivation.  Folks with less education tend to be less motivated to keep up with public affairs, in part because they fail to see how fairly abstract stories are linked to their daily lives.  If I was to try and explain the results above, I'd say less educated respondents somehow view print as more deserving of their attention than a screen, while those of greater education are equally able to glean useful information regardless of the kind of medium they are confronted with.  It fits the earlier television news stuff discussed above and adds another brick in the wall of what we know about how people choose their news source, how expectations color the way they process information, and what the consequences of these trends may be in the long run.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Favorite Recent Studies

It's time for a little shameless self promotion, though part of me wonders whether that's why the Net gods invented Twitter.  Yes, it's time to note my favorite recent pieces of research, which are my favorites because they happen (ahem, coincidentally) to cite me. Yes, it's all about me.  So here we go:
  • "Stimulating or Reinforcing Political Interest: Using Panel Data to Examine Reciprocal Effects Between News Media and Political Interest" in the latest Political Communication cites a chapter I wrote on political interest that, honestly, I forgot I'd written.
  • "YouTube-ification of Political Talk: An Examination of Persuasion Appeals in Viral Video" written by Grady folks, so they felt obligated to cite me, especially since one of them is a doc student and I'm on her committee.  This one appeared in American Behavioral Scientist.
  • "The Electoral Consequences of Candidate Appearances on Soft News Programs" also appeared in Political Communication but cites a completely different study of mine, from 2005, which looked at what people learn from late-night programs.
  • "An Experimental Test of the Effects of Fictional Framing on Attitudes" out of Social Science Quarterly cites the same 2005 article as the one above.  Everyone loves that study.  It's the one that got me an appearance on Fox News.
There were a couple of recent thesis/dissertations that pop up, but even I'm not that shameless.  I only see this crud because at the moment I'm putting together citations for a package for promotion to full professor (oddsmakers have it at 3-to-1 against, so get your bets in early before the line changes).

Navigating Online News

How do people find the news?  What makes them stick around?  And where do they go afterward?  The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has a new report out, an extensive one that digs deep into the data, to answers these and other questions.  Obviously you can read it for yourself rather than me repeat what it says, but lemme hit a few high notes:
  • About 2/3 of all traffic to news sites is direct, about 1/3 comes from links.
  • Of the roughly 40 percent referrals, Google is the Gorilla.  No surprise there.  See this cool graphic.
  • While Google dominates, Facebook is the up-and-comer, often second or third place in referrals to the web sites studied.
  • What about Twitter?  Not so important.  For some reason, the LATimes gets a lot of traffic via Twitter compared to other major news sites.
  • Most users of news sites are "casual."  Among "power users" we see CNN first, followed by Fox News, Yahoo, AOL News, Google News, and MSNBC.
  • Here's a mind boggling statistic: 69 percent of visitors to Google News end up in one of three places -- nytimes.com, cnn.com, and abcnews.com.
It'll take some time to digest the entire report, but it tells us a helluva lot about how people navigate the newsverse.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

When you get my age, a favorite pastime is to bitch about how young people today, they don't know nuthin.  In that spirit I offer this New York Times story that confirms to the world that young people today, they don't know nuthin.

Based on this survey, the story points out a few distressing factoids:
  • Three-quarters of high school seniors could not name a power granted to Congress by the Constitution
  • Fewer than half knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights
  • Only 1-in-ten knew anything about the checks and balances among the three branches of government.
Which leads us to suspect that young people today, they don't know nuthin.  As the NYT story reports:
“Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, who last year founded icivics.org, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through Web-based games and other tools.  
Of course we don't really test on civics knowledge, at least not in a world of No Child Left Untested. My own high school children would do well, but they have the advantage of taking AP American History and a class in Government.  Apparently most do not, because some of the questions are so straightforward as to be, well, straightforward.

Osama bin Laden -- in Hell?

When it comes to what people know, at least among U.S. adults, partisan differences get set aside for one clear answer -- Americans think Osama bin Laden is resting uncomfortably in Hell.

A May 2 CNN poll (warning, slow to load pdf) asked the following question:

Do you think Osama bin Laden is in Hell, or don't you think so?
  •  61 percent say yep, he's toast
  • 10 percent said he's not in Hell
  • 5 percent said they don't believe in Hell
  • And 24 percent had no opinion on his eternal damnation status
It's possible among the 10 percent who said he's not in Hell answered that way because they don't believe in the place.  The 5 percent who said they didn't believe in Hell volunteered this response rather than accept the either/or answer provided to them.  And the 24 percent "no opinion" folks?  My guess is, having read a lot of survey data over the years, that some simply do not want to judge his status, some don't care, some don't recall who he is, and some honestly have no opinion about pretty much anything.

What can we take from this?  Absolutely nothing, beyond noting that three-out-of-five Americans are willing to guess the eternal fate of an infamous (and yes, now dead, sorry deathers) terrorist.

How about partisan and demographic breakdowns?  If you scroll to the bottom of the pdf, you'll find some crosstabs.  Lemme save you some time and give you the highlights.
  • Men and women, about the same on thinking bin Laden would love a glass of ice water
  • Age?  No big difference seen.  General Hell agreement.
  • Dems and Republicans, roughly the same, at least well within the margin of error.
  • Same with income.  Some differences, but within the statistical margin of error.
  • But ... those Tea Party folks are significantly more likely to assign Osama to the hot place than those who do not identify themselves as Tea Partiers (75 percent in Hell to 43 percent in Hell, with a 7 percent margin of error).
 I suppose it's nice to see Americans coming together on something.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Obama Bump II

    I wrote a day or so ago about the Obama poll bump after the Osama bin Laden takedown.  That one was based on a new Pew poll and my big point was the lack of a GOP bump for Obama (it all seemed to come from Dems and Independents).  Well, today the NYTimes/CBS poll shows a bump across the political board.

    Or, as the Times puts it:
    The glow of national pride seemed to rise above partisan politics, as support for the president rose significantly among both Republicans and independents. In all, 57 percent said they now approved of the president’s job performance, up from 46 percent last month. 
    Among GOPers in the Pew poll, 16 percent "approved" of Obama both before and after the death of bin Laden.  The NYTimes poll has it differently:
    The increase in Mr. Obama’s ratings came largely from Republicans and independents. Among independents, his approval rating increased 11 points from last month, to 52 percent, while among Republicans it rose 15 points, to 24 percent. 
    It may be that the NYT/CBS poll is a bit later, so people have absorbed the death of bin Laden and thus we're seeing more of an "approval" effect.  It's a reasonable hypothesis.

    We Can't Not Watch

    It's easy to say, as in this survey, that the news media focused too much last week on the royal wedding and Obama's birth certificate fiasco.  Yep, easy to say.

    But watch we did.

    In the Pew survey, nearly two-thirds say there was too much royal wedding coverage.  In part this can be explained by the fact there indeed was goo much royal wedding coverage.  It can also be explained by the fact our own weddings got no such coverage.  And finally, it can be explained by the eerie similarities between the royal wedding and that seen on The Princess Bride.

    And over half of those surveyed said the Obama birth certificate nonsense got too many pixels, too much time, and too much ink.  But again, could you not watch?

    The news is like this.  We grow frustrated by too much coverage while being unable to stop watching or reading all the coverage.

    Let's be fair, though.  The royal wedding was third in total news coverage, following the storms that raked the South and oil/gas prices.  Then came the problems in the Middle East.  Then Obama and the Birthers (good name for a pop band).  In other words, the complaints are more a matter of perception than reality.  Perception, though, always matters more. 

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011

    An Obama Bump

    President Obama got a public opinion bump -- hardly surprising -- after the killing of Osama bin Laden, according to a new Pew poll.  His "approval" numbers went from 47 percent in April to 56 percent on May 2.  Republicans were unchanged.  The "approval" jump came from Dems and, to a greater extent, self-described Independents.  In other words, no matter what Obama does, the GOPers aren't really going to change their mind.

    "Disapprovals" did inch down from Republicans (81 to 79 percent), but that's well within the margin of error.

    All age groups moved up in "approval" of Obama.  He got his biggest bump from non-whites, at least compared to the bump from whites.

    In terms of what people know, or where they heard what they know, it's interesting to note that young people heard about the bin Laden news from social media significantly more than other age groups.  Not surprising, mind you, but interesting.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    What the Pundits Know

    Pundits love to predict.  But which of them is actually any good at it?  Luckily, a Hamilton College class took on the pundit predictions of 26 folks to see which prognosticator gets the prize.  Who won?  Who sucked?  You can read here, or just see my partial list below.
    1. Paul Krugman
    2. Maureen Dowd
    3. Ed Rendell
    4. Chuck Schumer
    5. Nancy Pelosi
    I have a hard time considering politicians as pundits, but let's go with it.  Who were the worst?  In order with #1 going to the last place, and so on, it's:
    1. Cal Thomas (just read his column and you'll know why)
    2. Lindsay Graham (sigh, another politician)
    3. Carl Levin (dittto)
    4. Joe Lieberman (ditto again)
    5. Sam Donaldson (no surprise)
    6. George Will (ditto)
    What can we take from all of the above?  Politcians make lousy predictors, but then again so do journalists and their fellow travelers.  Even the best, it seems, were no better than a coin toss in accuracy. 

    Four-Year Anniversary

    I started this blog on May 2, 2007, with a post entitled Yet Another Blog because, let's face it, did the world really need another blog?

    Here are a few (less than) vital statistics about What People Know.
    • Every month I posted at least three times, but the record busiest was August 2008 when for some reason I posted 46 times.  Guess I had a lot to say.  The average is about 20 posts a month.
    • Most of the visits to my site come from the U.S., followed by Canada, the U.K., Australia, and India.  In all, I had visits from 94 countries.
    • Among the U.S. states, Georgia obviously dominates since I live and teach there.  Next comes California, New York, Florida (lotsa people), and interestingly -- D.C., no doubt due to the political nature of my many posts.  Every state is represented, even 63 visits from my home state of Tennessee.  But, he added in frustration, not a single visit from my hometown of Lawrenceburg. Mom, I'm disappointed.
    • My greatest traffic was on Monday, Jan. 25, 2010.  As this entry shows, it's because I wrote about a bogus "Census" document sent out by party hacks and posted it online and also to a discussion group I'm a member of, hence a lot of visits to check out the political silliness. 
    • While most traffic came to the blog's main page, the most popular specific pages had to do with the entry above, and also about cognitive mobilization, knowledge versus emotion, recall versus recognition, and of course that favorite -- titular colonicity.  Search the blog yourself for an explanation of the latter.  It's fun (and a study needing to be done on mass comm journals).
    • Visits to the blog was lowest, obviously, in 2007 since I didn't start until five months into the year.  It went up in 2008, up again in 2009, a little down in 2010.  It's too soon to say about 2011 but I'm behind the same point in 2007, so that's not good.
    • Google led to 37 percent of my visits, followed by my own web page (19 percent) and direct traffic (18 percent).  Other sources were blogger, Grady College, Facebook and Twitter, and a sprinkling of others.
    • I don't have specific numbers of comments, but they're few and far between (positive, or negative).  Negative ones tend to be by people whose books or comments about political knowledge I'd criticized.  
    All in all, the reason I do this is as a resource for those interested in mass comm research to get leads on stuff they need for their own work, especially grad students.  It also forces me to keep up with the literature and sometimes to comment on the day's events.  Does the blog actually influence anything?  Nope, not at all, other than to generate comments by a handful of thin-skinned academics.

    So Happy 4th Birthday, What People Know.