Ever wonder why people don’t recognize when “news” reports are blatantly, obviously incorrect, improbable or impossible? Or wonder why anyone in his right mind would vote for Michelle Bachmann or Louis Gohmert or Ted Cruz?
My working thesis is that folks who don’t know anything–who are hazy about history, have no clue about how government functions and have only the most tenuous connection to the Constitution–simply have no context within which to judge the reasonableness of assertions that more knowledgable people simply laugh at.
Recently, Bill Maher cited a study showing that fewer than 17% of incoming college freshmen knew what the Emancipation Proclamation was (he described the incoming class as “Basically, golden retrievers with smartphones”). Unfortunately, we have a lot of studies that conclude we don’t know anything. And the hits keep coming.
As if we needed even more evidence of Americans’ abysmal lack of knowledge, here are the results of yet another survey I stumbled across:
1. Only 45% of Americans were able to correctly identify what the initials in GOP stood for: Grand Old Party. Other popular guesses were Government of the People and God’s Own Party. Republicans obviously scored much better than Democrats did on this answer. [source]
2. 55% of Americans believe that Christianity was written into the Constitution and that the founding fathers wanted One Nation Under Jesus. This includes 75% of Republicans and Evangelicals. [source]
3. Although a “relatively” high 40% of people were able to name all three of the United States branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — a far lower percentage knew the length of a Senator’s term. Just 25% responded that a Senator’s term stretches for six years. Even fewer, 20%, knew how many Senators there were. [source]
4. Americans are known to pick recent heads of state as among the best president in history, which is why Clinton and Reagan regularly rank higher than Lincoln, FDR and Washington. However, Hoover used to routinely top polls of the worst, but today, just 43% of Americans know who he was, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania. [source]
5. When asked on what year 9/11 took place, 30% of Americans were unable to answer the question correctly, even as few as five years after the attack. This was according to a Washington Post poll conducted in 2006. . [source]
6. It’s not shocking that 80% of Americans believe that there is life out there somewhere, because it’s hard to look at a vast universe and think we’re completely alone. But 1 in 5 allege that an alien life form has abducted a friend or family member of theirs. Based on population estimates of around 300 million, that means that a terrifying number of people believe they have been probed. [source]
7. When looking at a map of the world, young Americans had a difficult time correctly identifying Iraq (1 in 7) and Afghanistan (17%). This isn’t that surprising, but only a slim majority (51%) knew where New York was. According to Forbes and National Geographic, an alarming 29% couldn’t point to the Pacific Ocean. [source]
8. 25% of Americans were unable to identify the country from which America gained its independence. Although 19% stated that they were unsure, Gallup findings indicated that others offered answers varying from France to China. Older folks scored much better than young people on this question, as a third of those 18-29 were unable to come up with the correct answer. [source]
9. Despite being a constant fixture in school curricula, 30% of Americans didn’t know what the Holocaust was. [source]
10. Even though we are a predominantly Christian country, only half of Americans knew that Judaism came before Christianity, because the words “Old Testament” are apparently very confusing in that regard. [source]
11. A surprisingly high percentage of Americans, 20%, believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, instead of the opposite, aka the correct answer. This is despite the fact that centuries of science have consistently proved otherwise. [source]
12. In 2011, Newsweek found that 29% of Americans were unable to correctly identify the current Vice President, Joe Biden, when asked to take a simple citizenship test. Although a relatively low 6% didn’t know when Independence Day was, a much, much higher percentage (73%) had no idea why we fought the Cold War. [source]
13. According to most polls, Americans didn’t know that Obamacare was scheduled to go into effect. Kaiser puts the number at 64%, whereas others say as few as 1 in 8. [source]
14. 2006 AP polls showed that a majority of Americans were unable to name more than one of the protections guaranteed in the first Amendment of the Constitution — which include speech, assembly, religion, press and “redress of grievance.” Just 1 in 1000 could name all of these five freedoms. However, 22% were able to come up with the name of every member of the Simpson family. [source]
And we wonder why we elect buffoons to high office.
Just kill me now.
87 thoughts on “Now I Understand Why People Believe What They Hear on Fox News….”
I would just like to point out that the Earth does not revolve around the sun. Both the Earth and the Sun revolve around the center of their mass, which just happens to be close to the center of the Sun since it is so massive relative to the Earth. ALSO, movement is just a matter of reference frame, so anyone can say other objects revolve around the Earth if they do so in an elliptical path. The Sun does.
However I doubt the people who responded in support of geocentrism believed it was a matter of reference frame or preference; they were probably just ignorant.
To the people who read and could process only the headline but not the article, Fox News was not referred to in the article–only in the headline, and then as an example, which might indicate a bias by the author(s)/editor(s) of the headline and the first two sentences. Bias in reporting by any news source was not a subject in the article—the ignorance apparent in the USA populace which would be one reason why people could not process or understand the difference between factual reports versus bias and/or propaganda is the theme/subject of the article. Good luck to us all.
To the people who could not process the content of the article: only the headline mentioned FOX News, the article was not about bias in FOX News reporting. The article addressed the studies that demonstrate the apparently wide-soread ignorance of the USA populace, which may be the reason why so many people can not discern the difference between a factual reporting from bias and propaganda. Good luck to us all.
Must admit that I too am a little unclear about the Cold War…
One can debate the question as to the order of Judaism and Christianity. If one is referring to Rabbinical Judaism, the developmental period was contemporary with that of Christianity.
Your blog was brought to my attention by one of my Facebook followers. By using Fox News in your headline – than say, MSNBC, which is even more biased on the left accord to a recent Pew Research Center analysis than Fox News on the right (http://bit.ly/H0xtEJ) – you show your own inherent bias.
Low-information voters are now an overpowering presence, at both extremes. By mentioning just Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert and Ted Cruz instead of balancing it out with the ideologues on the left, you undermine your own conclusion.
But then I looked at your Alexa rank (4,663,013) and realized that your musings are reaching only a small handful of readers, probably the same 22 viewers that watch Disrupt with Karen Finney on MSNBC on Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
It is easy to understand when you see leaders like Congressman Mullins (R) who uses poor grammar. No concept of perfect tense–says had ran rather than had run. Worse than that he believes there are 4 branches of government rather than the 3 I learned about in high school government. He is so convinced of it he gives talks and draws on easels. The shocking part is that no one in his base EVER corrects him at all, telling me that they wouldn’t recognize his stupidity if it literally had wheels on it and ran over them. We are living in sad times.
Umm…I grew up watching Fox News. Although it wasn’t the same as it is now but…
I definitely knew all the answers to these polls. Plus, I teach so I guess it’s required since I have to know everything.
for those that are pointing out that Fox news was sited in the title but not mentioned in the body of the article, other surveys have shown that while news sorces in general have provided fewer facts than in previous years, those people that relied on Fox news as a source scored worse on current event surveys than people that didn’t watch any news or read papers at all. This would correlate closely to a “News” organization purposefully and deliberately misleading their viewers.
To those complaining about the content’s bias, they would do well to remember that this is an OPINION piece. Opinions are written from the writer’s point of view. You are not required to accept the bias, and since she sources all the stats she used, you can easily get to these to verify.
It is no wonder that so few know the content of the Consititution. So many here can’t even pass reading comprehension.
This has become book length; think I will wait for the movie to come out:)
This is to Richard Truesdell about MSNBC being more biased on the left, than FOX is on the right. I find that a little hard to believe. I’ve watched both and I’ve never have really though that MSNBC was divorced from reality, which in viewing FOX it is astonding at times the disconnect with reality. Now maybe that is a different subject than pure bias. FOX presents themselfs as “fair and balance”, “we report you decide”. That of course is total nonsense. Their reporting is extremely slanted and has been show often to be inaccurate. Now MSNBC is biased. There is one big difference. They do not pretend not to be. One of their host Cris Hays seems to like to point out how liberal he is. One thing that I do know is they seem to be able to back up what they report as fact. They don’t not have a reputation of falsehood as does FOX.
I need to look at the survey you posted and will but if it is a survey of which is the most biased, it may not be an objective survey. As the example of survey questions in the article, people are both ill informed, but also easily swayed. Just the motto “fair and balance” is enough to prejudice some people to assume FOX to be lessed biased than an MSNBC that is honest and makes no bones about its bias.
It is frightening to me that a law professor could pen such a logically flawed article. This same methodology could be used to prove the opposite point.
And quoting Bill Maher as a credible source? Yikes! Even when correct, Maher’s flawed and inherently biased methods should be objectionable to any reasonable person.
How many of those pointing out the bias in this column recognize that most of what Fox News does is not really news. There is a snippet of news followed by “experts” who tell the listeners what to think about the news they just heard.
I miss the days when “news” meant news, and editorials were clearly indicated. I miss Walter Cronkite.
This is intentional, of course. They don’t want smart, informed voters. Dumb ignorant ones ( you know, Fox viewers) are much more easily manipulated into voting against their own interests. This is why Tea-publicans want to defund education (and every other part of the government that helps the average people).
Which party got the most wrong answers?
Ours is a doomed nation.
The words ‘fair’ and ‘balance’ cannot be joined by the conjunction ‘and,’ as one is an adjective and the other is a noun. Either one must say, ‘fair and balanced’ (two adjectives) or ‘fairness and balance’ (two nouns). Nonetheless — grammatically, metaphorically, factually, or not — we’re screwed.
And there is some reasonably well-done research on the “fair and balanced” issue–documented at various times, systematically done, etc.–that demonstrated Faux News is far from being “fair and balanced”, but they go deeper to show exactly how it’s biased, not just the “commentators” and such. Minorities are shown when talking about crime, etc. Vile medium which works against the development of an informed public. Against the common good.
Great piece. The other part is new research that indicates that when people are presented with data that are contrary to their deeply held beliefs, they don’t change their minds. In fact, they become more reluctant than ever to accept the contrary info. So, denial and cognitive dissonance work hand in hand to ensure that their internal agenda stays intact.
Why Fox News and not any other source? Aren’t college students in general “liberal” and highly influenced by their teachers, so they are fed more stories by their teachers than their what they learned on their own?
Recently, Bill Maher cited a study showing that fewer than 17% of incoming college freshmen knew what the Emancipation Proclamation was.
What is sad is that Senators are directly elected. They should go back to being elected by the State’s as originally designed in the Constitution.
MSNBC makes no apologies about its politics but it goes out of its way to make sure the facts they base their opinions on are true. Between the GOP and Faux News you could burn out three fact checking agencies no matter how they lean. Remember God talks to Bachman personally and I am convinced Gomert is from Bizzarro World.
I would love to see a break down of these studies split into liberal versus conservative. I think the percentages of correct answers would be so much higher on the conservative side. That would make this article useless since the point seems to be that conservatives believe and vote without knowledge.
Seems to me that this shows what a terrible state our educational system is in, and for that I believe the progressive movement and the teachers unions are directly responsible. The unions have been in control of our education for generations now. Great work!!
The connection between Fox and the article is clear to me. Why are we avoiding talking about the actual content of the article. If you are not concerned about the state of our educational system then you should be based on the information in the article. Most folks consider themselves educated but are we? It is pretty dang scary if you ask me.
Gee, what fun. Now I can preen about how much I know and enjoy the knowledge that I’m doing everything right while my ignorant fellow Americans are dragging this country down.
It might spoil the fun if I mentioned that surveys like this have been turning up equally dire results since the 1910s. Somehow, in spite of our withering ignorance, the republic struggles on.
But it’s more fun to think that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.
The teachers’ unions have not been in control of our education for generations now. They’ve been spending generations trying to fight the stupidity coming from the school boards and boards of education– such as banning logic or critical thinking from being taught. They’ve also been fighting stupid policies that have been driving good teachers from ages past out of teaching. But go on and blame the unions even though they’re NOT the decision makers in the education system.
As for bias– particularly this comment from Walt above, “It is frightening to me that a law professor could pen such a logically flawed article. This same methodology could be used to prove the opposite point.”
What methodology? Great, you know a fancy word, but you don’t appear to know what it means. No methodology exists in the article at all– it’s a person on a blog posting an opinion piece regarding several bits of data that show how ignorant Americans are. The methodologies would be present within those surveys and studies, not in an article writing about them.
As for bias? You see liberal bias in an article that clearly states with regard to one of the studies that Republicans scored better than Democrats. How does that work exactly? Saying that conservatives did better in a survey shows that the author is biased towards liberals? Obviously not enough studies were done on conservatives and intellect, comprehension, or critical thinking skills. But were those studies to be conducted, they would almost certainly confirm a pre-existing bias of there being liberal bias.
Truth today tends to have a liberal bias, not because liberals are biased against conservatives, but because conservatives– as a population– are biased against reality.
You wrote all that just to attack Republicans? I never heard of Louis Gohmert until I read his name in your paper. You must have personal grudge against him. With the press so deeply involved in the dumbing down of Americans and the stranglehold the Democrats have on the Federal system I’d say your Communist plot is working perfectly. The more uneducated aliens your system brings in the lower the aggregate level of awareness will be and the stronger your cause will become. If I were a true Democrat I would be angry with you for pointing out my best recruiting tool. Seems to me the more empty heads (and bellies) the more Democrats, if you go by the last 7 years.
Good grief, can’t these conservatives find new buzz words? You can tell from the comments who watches faux spews just by the words they repeat over and over.
To Ray H. Noblit, I can only suggest that you read the Pew report before you go attacking my position. I think that you will be surprised.
Fox News tagline in “Fair and Balanced” while MSNBC’s is “Lean Forward.” For a long time I would argue with my girlfriend that Fox News should be sued for false advertising. But after consuming a wide variety of media of all viewpoints I’m convinced that all are inherently biased like this article and have their own agenda. What I pointed out here is that the author served her argument poorly by only citing Fox News and not balancing it out with by citing examples from the ideologues on the left.
I am amazed that the article didn’t even bother to hide their own bias. In the very outset, it stated in its title, ” Now I Understand Why People Believe What They Hear on Fox News….” Why didn’t it open with, “Now I Understand Why People Believe What They Hear on ABC News….” Liberals can be just as ignorantly biased as conservatives.
It’s an opinion piece stating FACTS about polls with links provided. It’s not biased unless you can’t comprehend basic English!
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Now we know why Obama was elected twice to the Office of the President.
I spent way too much time reading a great deal of the comments on this article. What I noticed is the continuing trend that politics in this country are strictly divided into 2 camps. Which means if I choose to be involved I have to choose what I perceive is the lesser of 2 evils. I’m 55 and have changed my views on issues a coupe of times in my life but almost have them nailed down. Anyway, any set of numbers, polls or whatever can be slanted. That’s just fact. So many folks today think if they throw out some numbers it’s proof, it’s not. And when the numbers go against them they suddenly realize this or think their numbers are somehow “truer.” This goes for both sides. Today I am quite concerned about those who claim to be “liberal.” Liberals are slowly eating away individual freedoms in this country. They claim tolerance but then are shocked and offended when someone has the nerve to think differently. (William F. Buckley.) News outlets today all seem to belong to someone. My personal opinion is that MSNBC is hands down the worst, doesn’t hide their agenda and does a poor job in every phase. It’s like it’s run by a bunch of high-school kids. I try to watch all the outlets and try to compare. It’s amazing how so many people think if they read it or heard it it must be true. Today we have to dig deep on every issue to find the reality. Keith above, wrote clear observations, and ruined it with his final sentence. What is the reality your using as a baseline? Many have somehow got it in their heads that they are somehow morally superior and for that reason it is acceptable to take away the rights of those who disagree with them. There is no difference from that and any other type of bigot. I defer to the constitution. Liberals love to refer to the right as Nazis but if one actually understand what Nazis were, liberals are very close to being able to fill those shoes. Willing to silence people strictly because they have a differing viewpoint. Wanting the federal government involved in all aspects of our life. The Fed is so huge now I am unsure that we will ever be able to corral it. But it’s this concept that liberals think of their moral superiority that is the problem. Like small children they say “look everyone, I am being nice to these other types of people and helping them along because they need it and I am really great like that.”
“It would be better if they would just go ahead and think like I do and we would have utopia, my way.” I could write on this for days with real facts and solid foundation but don’t have that much time and no one reads more than a paragraph anymore.
The fact is numbers and polls can be all twisted and the left has that mastered. You can not have freedom of speech only when you find it unoffensive. These days you criticize the president you are a racists. No I am not. He’s just lousy leader. Harry Reid stands before a joint session of congress and blatantly lies to sway an election well aware there is no legal recourse. The democrats all use Alinskys tactics. Divide the people, repeat a lie long enough it will be accepted, avoid the issues and continue personal attacks and you will gain power. I think Fox is the only network that would take on anyone. The rest are so full of hero-worship for Obama-Clinton, they can’t see 2 feet. And I just don’t understand why? Socialism doesn’t work. It’s been failing for over a hundred years. Honestly, what are these people thinking? Why do they hate their own a country, a great place I might add. The left is basically apologizing to ISIS for us being American while they slaughter innocents everywhere. We must have hurt their feelings so that makes it ok to rape, destroy, burn people alive and kill anyone who is different. These are hard-core liberals. That state department spokesperson summed it all up a couple months back when she said we needed to get to the root of the problem and maybe help them find jobs. I was rolling on the floor with that one. They have no idea what there doing but that’s fine because in their minds they know whats best for all of us, “the common good.” What a bunch of bull, some will always be more equal than others. The article above which has garnered a great deal of feedback proves it. Lie long and loud, divide the populace and have them turn on each other, keep the attack dogs on 24/7, there is no need for truth or accuracy, avoid real issues and you too can be king or queen. But it a starts with them thinking they are in some way morally superior and thus have the right to squash any opposition. Their entire thought process itself is a lie.
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