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.

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