Photograph by Chris McKay/Getty Images.
Quick, were Egyptian protesters successful in their bid to overthrow longtime president Hosni Mubarak earlier this year?
According to a new poll (PDF) from Fairleigh Dickinson University, if you watch Fox News you are significantly less likely to know the correct answer to that question than if you mostly avoid news shows and newspapers all together.
After controlling for factors like partisanship, education, and other demographic factors, the pollsters found that Fox New viewers were 18 points less likely to know that the revolt was successful than their non-active news consuming counterparts. Fox News viewers were also 6 points less likely to know that the Syrian uprising has yet to succeed.
"Because of the controls for partisanship, we know these results are not just driven by Republicans or other groups being more likely to watch Fox News," said Dan Cassino, a Fairleigh Dickinson political science professor who took part in the analysis of the PublicMind data. "Rather, the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all."
The poll surveyed 612 adult residents of New Jersey (insert Snooki joke here), asking them where they got their news from in the previous week and then a handful of questions about current events. (The survey was taken last month, so the current Egyptian protests that broke out in recent days could not have added to the confusion). Respondents were given 12 possible news options: NPR, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a Sunday morning political news show, a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today, a political blog or news website, a national news broadcast, CNN, MSNBC, a talk radio show, a local newspaper, a local television news broadcast and Fox News.
For comparison, other media sources appeared to boost respondents' knowledge. From the PublicMind report:
[P]eople who report reading a national newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today are 12-points more likely to know that Egyptians have overthrown their government than those who have not looked at any news source. And those who listen to the non-profit NPR radio network are 11-points more likely to know the outcome of the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. However, the best informed respondents are those that watched Sunday morning news programs: leading to a 16- point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Egypt and an 8-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Syria.
One more interesting conclusion from the report (conducted Oct. 17 through Oct. 23 before Newt Gingrich's recent rise):
Only 55% of New Jerseyans are able to name correctly either Mitt Romney or Herman Cain as the Republican candidates most recently leading in the polls, with 37% saying that Romney is ahead, and 18% saying that Cain is. Watching Fox News didn't help or hurt respondents on this question. MSNBC, however, helped: Watching MSNBC was associated with a 10-point increase in identifying Romney as the leader, and a 5-point drop in the likelihood of identifying Cain compared to those who got no exposure to news at all.
"Given the amount of time and effort the media spent covering these candidates, the fact that only about half of the public can name one of the front-runners is embarrassing," Cassino said. "The fact that Fox News, the preferred media outlet for many of the candidates, doesn't do better in informing viewers is very surprising."
Fox News, however, wasn't the only cable news network to confuse some of its viewers. Watching MSNBC, for instance, was associated with a 10-point increase in the likelihood of misidentifying the Occupy Wall Street protesters as predominantly Republican.