Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who Knows More About Politics? Dems vs Republicans

Every election cycle, or maybe every time a new poll comes out, someone asks who knows more about politics -- Democrats, or Republicans?  A glance at the surveys produced by such excellent polling outfits as the Pew Center would lead you to believe Republicans know more than Democrats, at least by a little.  For example, see the table below:

As the accompanying report tells us, GOPers did better than Dems on just three of the 11 questions asked, at least beyond the margin of error.  Dems didn't outscore Republicans on any question beyond the margin of error, though it got a bit close on the obesity question.

So our conclusion is that Republicans are politically smarter than Democrats, at least a little?  Maybe. 

To test this conclusion, I plucked the three questions out of the data that demonstrated a Republican advantage (Republicans control House, source of electricity, reason for Wisconsin protests) and subjected them to a quick-and-dirty analysis that controlled for one obvious factor -- education.

It's an accepted truism in hundreds of academic studies that education remains the most persistent and significant predictor of what people know.  The greater the formal education, the greater the political knowledge, at least in how it's measured in most polls.

So how'd it come out?  Through the magic of multivariate analysis we find that if we enter education first in a logistic regression model, being a Republican (versus Democrat) still predicts greater knowledge in all three questions. 
  • What part of Congress do Republicans control?  In this question, even controlling for education, being a Republican makes you twice as likely to answer the question correctly.
  • What's the cause of the Wisconsin protests?  Same analysis as above, being Republican makes you 1.5 times more likely to answer correctly.
  • On the primary source of electricity, same as the Wisconsin results, with GOPers 1.5 times more likely to be right.
Our takeaway?  On certain questions, being Republican matters.  Now on the control of the House, it's rather obvious why GOPers would do better -- the question asks what do Republicans control.  Let's toss that one out.  But the Wisconsin protests?  You might argue Republicans did better there too given the nature of the controversy and how important it was to partisans, especially a Republican governor.  Let it go too.  But on energy and electricity?  I can't think of any reasonable excuse for Republicans to outscore Democrats, at least in the nature of the question.

Our final takeaway?  Republicans do a wee bit better on a few questions, most of them explained by the nature of the questions themselves, but controlling for education doesn't make these differences go away.

If I were scoring this, I'd call it mostly a tie, but with the slightest of nods toward the Republicans.

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