Monday, December 20, 2010

The Quickest Way To Get Misinformed

Is to watch Fox news 24/7. A recent study on political misinformation found evidence that voters of all types are misinformed (perhaps willfully?) on their pet issues:

...including the stimulus legislation, the healthcare reform law, TARP, the state of the economy, climate change, campaign contributions by the US Chamber of Commerce and President Obama’s birthplace. In particular, voters had perceptions about the expert opinion of economists and other scientists that were quite different from actual expert opinion.
But more interestingly, those who watched Fox News a lot were more misinformed than everybody else:

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that:

most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely)

most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points)

the economy is getting worse (26 points)

most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points)

the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points)

their own income taxes have gone up (14 points)

the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points)

when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points)

and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points)

These effects increased incrementally with increasing levels of exposure and all were statistically significant. The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.
The only polite conclusion to be drawn from that is that Fox misleads its viewers on purpose. That's fair-and-balanced?

Why does this matter? Because we have come to a place where people not only hold different opinions but where facts themselves have become just a part of those opinions. How do we debate politics under those conditions? It's nigh impossible if different people have different ideas of what has happened.
A summary of the study can be found here.