Wednesday, June 1, 2011

That Facebook Guy vs the Speaker of the House

We all use Facebook, and apparently more young people can name the guy who created it than can name the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, so says this new Pew survey

In all fairness, Mark Zuckerberg did have a movie made about him.  John Boehner?  Well tanned, he runs the people's house, and he tears up occasionally -- not the same as a major film or 500 million "friends."

The results are interesting, especially the age breakdown (see below).  Among 18-29 year olds, 63 percent correctly identified the founder of Facebook (Zuckerberg).  Only 21 percent in that age bracket correctly identified the Speaker (Boehner).  So let's jump to the 50-64 year olds.  Among that illustrious group (um, mine), 58 percent knew Zuckerberg (not half bad) and 58 percent knew Boehner (respectable).  In other words, older respondents have a more well-rounded knowledge, or at least that's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it.

A Washington Post blog discusses the results, with writer Scott Clement suggesting it has to do with education and interest.  As he writes:
Young people, on average, have lower levels of education, are more likely to identify with the Democratic Party and are generally less interested in politics — all of which are linked to lower levels of political knowledge generally and, at least for education and partisanship, knowledge of Boehner in particular. Wide awareness of Zuckerberg among young people may be due to the fact that 86 percent of Internet users ages 18-29 use social networking sites.
Plausible hypotheses, to be sure.  Ability (education) and motivation (interest) play key roles in predicting political knowledge and, in general, young people tend to score lower on tests of political knowledge.  A less likely hypothesis, also raised by Clement, is the role of party affiliation.  Yes, young people may be more likely to be Democrats, but I doubt they'd do any better identifying the Senate majority leader (a Dem) than they were in identifying the Speaker of the House (a Republican).

The full table is reproduced below.

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