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by Jim Lobe

Under-30 Crowd Gets News From John Stewart, Not Tom Brokaw (2004)

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Despite the emergence of 24-hour cable television news and fast-growing use of internet news sources, the U.S. public's knowledge of national and international personalities and issues is little changed from nearly 20 years ago, according to a new survey released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Indeed, the survey, which was conducted in early February, found that in some areas public knowledge may actually have declined somewhat.

While three out of four U.S. respondents could name their state's governor in 1989, for example, only two-thirds could do so today. Similarly, nearly half (47 percent) could correctly identify the president of Russia 18 years ago, compared to only 36 percent today.

Perhaps most remarkably, only 69 percent could identify Dick Cheney, who has been in office for six years, as the current vice president, while 74 percent correctly named then-vice president Dan Quayle in 1989, despite the fact that he had been in office for less than a year.

On the other hand, the 1,502 respondents in the survey were somewhat more knowledgeable about national issues than their counterparts 18 years ago.

"The survey provides further evidence that changing news formats are not having a great deal of impact on how much the public knows about national and international affairs," according to an analysis that accompanied the results.

The poll also found that respondents with the most correct answers were more likely to watch "The Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report" on cable's Comedy Central network and peruse the major newspaper internet websites.

Those respondents with the least correct answers, on the other hand, were more likely to watch the right-wing Fox News cable channel, local television news, or the major television network morning news programs.

The survey, which posed 23 core questions to measure knowledge of current events, found that correct answers correlated most strongly with education, income levels, voter registration, and gender. There was virtually no difference, on the other hand, between respondents who identified themselves as Republican, Democrats, or independents.

Among other things, the survey tested whether the respondent could identify key national and local public officials, such as Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Gates, Barack Obama, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; what party controls Congress; and the status of important pending legislation. It also asked several factual questions about the war in Iraq and the U.S. trade balance.

The average respondent answered 12 of the 23 questions correctly.

For comparison purposes, the respondents were divided into three roughly equal groups: the 35 percent who got 15 or more answers correct were classified as "high"- knowledge respondents, while another 31 percent, who answered 10 to 14 questions correctly, were classified as "medium." The remaining 34 percent fell into the "low" category.

The best predictor turned out to be education. Sixty-three percent of college graduates -- compared to only 20 percent of respondents with a high-school education or less -- fell into the "high" category.

Gender was also a significant factor: 45 percent of men answered 15 or more questions accurately, while only 25 percent of women did.

There were also major differences among age groups. The so-called baby-boom generation -- those aged between 50 and 64 -- were more than three times more likely (47 percent compared to 15 percent) to score in the "high" category than the youngest group, aged 18 to 29.

Those with annual incomes greater than 100,000 dollars were four times more likely to score in the "high" range than those respondents with annual incomes of less than 20,000 dollars, according to the report.

In addition, over 90 percent of respondents in the "high" category were registered to vote compared with about half of the respondents in the "low" category.

The poll found that those respondents who use more news sources to obtain their knowledge about the world knew more than those who use fewer sources.

The respondents were asked if they regularly watched, read, or listened to each of 16 different sources, including local television and newspapers, network morning and evening news, cable stations, National Public Radio (NPR), TV news, newspaper, and other internet blog or search-engine sites, and specific news and talk radio and TV programs.

Ninety-four percent said they regularly get news from at least one of the sources. The average number of sources regularly used was between four and five (4.6).

Local TV news was cited by 71 percent of respondents as one of their regular sources of news, followed by their local daily newspaper (54 percent), network evening news (46 percent), the Fox News Channel (43 percent), Cable News Network (CNN- 39 percent), and network morning news (34 percent).

Of those who scored in the "high" knowledge range, the most popular sources of news were the Comedy Central news shows, the major newspaper internet websites, public television evening news program ('NewsHour with Jim Lehrer'), the 'O'Reilly Factor' (a talk show on Fox News), NPR, and Rush Limbaugh's right-wing talk-radio show.

All of these, however, have relatively small audiences. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they regularly listen to NPR; 17 percent, the 'O'Reilly Factor'; 16 percent cited the Comedy Central shows; 14 percent, the 'NewsHour'; 12 percent, major newspaper websites; and eight percent, Rush Limbaugh. Among college graduates, meanwhile, all six sources were considerably more popular.

Ninety-three percent of respondents were able to correctly identify both Senator Hillary Clinton and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, while nearly two-thirds could identify Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senator Barack Obama.

Nearly half (49 percent) could identify the new Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, while only one in five identified Pentagon chief Robert Gates and even fewer -- a mere 15 percent -- the new Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid.

Nearly nine in ten respondents knew that President George W. Bush intended to increase troop levels in Iraq, and three out of four knew that the Democrats hold a majority in the House and that Clinton is running for president. Seven out of ten knew that more civilians have died in Iraq than U.S. troops and that Washington is running a trade deficit with the rest of the world. (

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Albion Monitor   April 16, 2007   (

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