Saturday, December 18, 2010

Misinformation Abounds Concerning National Policy

...especially (but not limited to) from Fox News.

According to a recent study managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, misinformation and misperceptions about public policy are disconcerting in the general public on both sides of the fence...both from people who identify with Republicans and Democrats.

For example, this is from a study in 2003 concerning misperceptions about the Iraq war:

Misperceptions about the Iraq war by network television

I've talked to a number of people in my area that believe that NPR is filled with liberal propaganda, but in their reporting, which is generally authentically investigative in nature, seems to inform the segment of the population with the least number of misperceptions. This seems to hold true for this newest study. In contrast to NPR or PBS, Fox News has the most misperceptions, but the most opinion/editorial content too. Perhaps that is also telling.

The new study, which again also finds viewers of Fox to have the most misperceptions about national affairs and public policy, does find that people who voted for Democrats also have their misinformation too. For example, these where found about Democratic voters:

  • 57% believe that the US Chamber of Commerce spent large amounts of money raised from foreign sources to support Republicans. This was never substantiated with any proof.

  • 56% believe that Democrats did NOT favor giving TARP funds. In reality there was a lot of bipartisan support for TARP, a plan devised under the Bush Administration.

  • 51% believe that President Obama did NOT increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Actually he did.


So...everyone knows that my editorials here are more progressive in nature, so just being forthright about misperceptions that exist on what would be perceived as being my leaning. But honestly, the numbers from persons who primarily watch Fox News are startling:

  • 91% believe the stimulus legislation lost jobs (it actually prevented substantial job loss, and also created some jobs)

  • 72% believe the health reform law will increase the deficit (it is actually deficit neutral, and in the future will provide a reduction)

  • 72% believe the economy is getting worse (it is actually slightly improved)

  • 60% believe climate change is not occurring (overwhelming majority of scientists who study climate believe it is changing)

  • 49% believe income taxes have gone up (in reality 97% of households received addition tax cuts)

  • 63% believe the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (it actually did with earned income tax credits)

  • 56% believe Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout (it was initiated by the Bush Administration)

  • 38% believe that most Republicans opposed TARP (it was mostly favored by Republicans in the Senate, and slightly opposed by Republicans in the House, but overall it was favored by Republicans)

  • 63% believe Obama was not born in the U.S.,or that it is unclear (his birth was announced in a local paper in Honolulu, HI, his live birth recorded in state birth records, and received the only kind of reprint of a birth certificate that Hawaii Dept. of Health offers)


The study does make it clear that these misperceptions cannot be merely based on what source you get your national news from though, as exemplified by this mention of the lowest levels of misinformation by news source:

  • most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created only a few jobs or caused job losses: MSNBC, 65% misinformed

  • among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law, more think it will increase the deficit: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 38%

  • the bank bailout legislation (TARP) was passed and signed into law under Pres. Obama:
    MSNBC, 38%

  • the US economy is getting worse: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 34%

  • the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts: MSNBC, 34%

  • the bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under President Obama only: MSNBC, 32%

  • since January 2009 the respondent’s federal income taxes have actually gone up: MSNBC, 27%

  • it is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US: Public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), 24%

  • when TARP came up for a vote, Democrats were opposed or divided: Fox News, 21%

  • when TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it: CNN, 28%

  • it was proven that the US Chamber of Commerce was spending foreign money to back
    Republicans: Fox News, 23%

  • most scientists think climate change is not occurring or views are divided evenly: MSNBC
    and public broadcasting (NPR or PBS), both 20%


They continue by pointing out that though new sources are a large part of where we get our information, political candidates, political advertisements, editorials, and elected politicians are a big part of the equation.

Full study available here.