In the run-up to the November elections much was made of perceived media bias that treated President Barack Obama with kid gloves while savaging Senator John McCain. We won’t get into that here, but one public opinion survey in particular sheds an interesting light on media coverage.
 
A Zogby poll conducted shortly after the election may say more about how we’ve dumbed down the media and media consumers, than anything about media bias. The national poll was administered November 13-15, 2008 to 512 voters who cast ballots for Obama, and covered a number of the more sensational points about the candidates.
 
A few of the more interesting and bizarre findings are summarized in the accompanying chart. It appears the electorate may not be well informed about some of the more arcane political views of the candidates, but seem to have a clear grasp of “Jerry Springer” issues.
 
Question: Which candidate currently has a pregnant teenage daughter?
 
Nearly 94% of all respondents got this one correct. An analysis of the cross-tabulation of results shows that only 83% of respondents without a high school degree got it right, but this is a far higher “correct” percentage than this group got on any other question.
 
NASCAR fans, weekly Wal-Mart shoppers and respondents with no investments also had high levels of correct answers.
 
Question: Which candidate said they could see Russia from their house?
 
This “gotcha” question got a lot of people. In fact, nearly 87% of respondents incorrectly attributed this comment to Governor Sarah Palin.
 
It was actually said by Tina Fey imitating Palin in a
Saturday Night Live skit. Nonetheless, a lot of people think Palin said it. Interestingly, only 50% of those without a high school degree tagged Palin with this statement, while more than 70% of NASCAR fans and frequent Wal-Mart shoppers were wrong, and over 80% of those with no investments.
 
Question: Which candidate wore clothes their political party reportedly spent $150,000 on?
 
Score another hit for NASCAR fans, Wal-Mart shoppers and non-investors. At least 70% of each group got this one right, while non-high school grads only got it correct 48% of the time.
 
 
Question: Which candidate could not say how many houses they own?
 
Over 80% of all respondents got this one correct, and the only sub-group which bonked was the weekly Wal-Mart shoppers at 63%.
 
Question: Which candidate said the government should redistribute wealth?
 
Wealth redistribution must be a hot button with most respondents, as most got this one right. Of course, this is an issue in which most people think they have a stake, either as a giver or receiver.
 
Question: Which candidate started their political career at the home of two former members of the Weather Underground?
 
Only 44% of all respondents got this one right. Remember, the poll was conducted among Obama voters, so this could reflect a bit of selective memory or just ignorance of the facts. Less than 15% of non-high school grads got this one.
 
Question: Before this past election, which political party controlled both houses of Congress?
 
Only 43% got this one…ouch. NASCAR fans and non-high school grads were even worse, at 26% and 13%, respectively. The Democrats’ strategy to pillory George Bush and the Republicans for the country’s economic woes certainly gained leverage from this lack of knowledge.
 
There is no guarantee the same questions put to McCain voters wouldn’t produce similar results, and this survey is not examined here to mock Obama supporters. Rather, it seems to point to a high level of awareness of issues unrelated to the job of president or vice president (pregnant teens, clothes budgets, SNL skits), and poor knowledge of some fundamental issues related to governance and the economy (control of Congress).
 
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