Americans’ knowledge of national and international affairs has changed little in two decades despite the emergence of 24-hour cable news and the Internet as major news sources.
People surveyed in February were slightly less able than those polled in 1989 to name the vice president, their state’s governor and the president of Russia but slightly more able to answer other questions correctly about national politics, according to a poll released Sunday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Of the 1,502 adults survey in February, 69 percent correctly answered Dick Cheney when asked who was the vice president, compared with 74 percent who correctly responded Dan Quayle when the same question was asked in 1989. Two-thirds correctly named their state’s governor in February compared with three-fourths who got that right in 1989.
However, nearly half — 49 percent — correctly answered that Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House now, compared with 14 percent who in 1989 correctly named Tom Foley as speaker. Three-fourths — 76 percent — knew that Democrats control the House compared with 68 percent who answered that correctly in 1989.
In the latest survey, 93 percent correctly identified Arnold Schwarzenegger either as California’s governor or an actor and Hillary Clinton either as a senator, presidential candidate or former first lady. Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent, correctly identified Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, 62 percent identified Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and 61 percent identified Sen. Barack Obama correctly. Only 15 percent correctly identified Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Nearly nine in 10 — 88 percent — were aware of President Bush’s plan to increase troop levels in Iraq, and a third knew that the new minimum wage proposed in Congress would be $7.25 an hour.
The most knowledgeable — the 34 percent of those surveyed who could answer 15 or more of 23 questions correctly — were four times more likely to say they enjoyed keeping up with the news “a lot” than those who answered nine or less questions correctly.
More than half of those in the most knowledgeable category listed as news sources cable TV shows such as the “Daily Show,” the “Colbert Report” and the “O’Reilly Factor,” major newspaper Web sites, the “PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” Rush Limbaugh’s radio show and National Public Radio.
More than 40 percent of the most knowledgeable group said they regularly get information from news magazines, local daily newspapers, CNN and Web sites Google and Yahoo along with and TV news sites on the Internet.