Survey: NPR’s listeners best-informed, Fox viewers worst-informed

Fairleigh Dickinson University
People who watch no news at all can answer more questions about international current events than people who watch cable news, a survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind finds.

NPR and Sunday morning political talk shows are the most informative news outlets, while exposure to partisan sources, such as Fox News and MSNBC, has a negative impact on people’s current events knowledge.

People who watch MSNBC and CNN exclusively can answer more questions about domestic events than people who watch no news at all. People who only watch Fox did much worse. NPR listeners answered more questions correctly than people in any other category.

The survey of 1185 random people conducted by landline and cell phone in early February follows a similar poll FDU conducted last November, which surveyed only New Jersey residents and returned similar results.

Each respondent was asked four of eight questions, which are at the bottom of this post. “On average, people were able to answer correctly 1.8 of 4 questions about international news, and 1.6 of 5 questions about domestic affairs,” the report says. Here’s the breakdown by viewing habits.

The report explains:

The largest effect is that of Fox News: all else being equal, someone who watched only Fox News would be expected to answer just 1.04 domestic questions correctly — a figure which is significantly worse than if they had reported watching no media at all. On the other hand, if they listened only to NPR, they would be expected to answer 1.51 questions correctly; viewers of Sunday morning talk shows fare similarly well. And people watching only The Daily Show with Jon Stewart could answer about 1.42 questions correctly.

Interestingly, the results of the poll controlled for partisanship. MSNBC, Fox and talk radio consumers answered more questions correctly when their political views aligned with those of the outlets they preferred. Moderates and liberals who watched only Fox did worse than conservatives who watched it. This mirrored the results at MSNBC, where a conservative viewer could be expected to answer an average of .71 international questions correctly, for example, and a liberal viewer could be expected to answer 1.89 questions correctly. “None of the other news media had effects that depended on ideology,” says the report.

“On average, people were able to answer correctly 1.8 of 4 questions about international news, and 1.6 of 5 questions about domestic affairs,” but depending on the match between ideology and viewing habits, the score could be lower or higher.

FDU political scientist Dan Cassino said the results show “Ideological news sources, like Fox and MSNBC, are really just talking to one audience…. This is solid evidence that if you’re not in that audience, you’re not going to get anything out of watching them.”

News organizations’ tone and allocation of resources also apparently affected respondents’ abilities to answer questions. NPR has as many domestic bureaus as foreign ones; its listeners did best on questions about international events. “Daily Show” viewers were next. On domestic questions, people who watched Sunday news shows did nearly as well as NPR listeners.

Questions: (all but the first two were open-ended)
• To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak?
• How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad?
• Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?
• There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do?
• Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?
• In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what?
• It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?
• How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?
• According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed?

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  • Mitt Phoney

    Excellent post. Those are the facts. No if, ands or buts.

  • Anonymous

    Methodology, not the “headline,” is always the key to a full understanding of poll results.  One would really like to know: How much exposure the news items that led to the eight story-based questions received on each of the outlets.  Obviously, not all outlets gave exactly equal time to each story.  Too, when were these calls made?  Different people, with different lifestyles and different amounts of time to watch/listen will have different answers.  It is also highly possible (if not probable) that the pollsters got a fair number of people who have no real interest in news, which, it seems, most people today don’t.  Finally, where did the University get their respondent database?  Clearly, a poll can be ‘skewed’ one way or the other by simply ‘weighting’ respondents based on demographics, zip-code placement and socio-economic cells.  The only REAL poll that REALLY counts is taking place on the first Tuesday in November…and this from a guy who got at least seven-out-of-eight right on that poll.

  • Anonymous

    Gotta love the “open-ended questions”. When was this survey done? Who cares who won the Iowa Caucus besides Rick Santorum? And a Hosni Mubarek question? The real question is – where is Egypt heading, not whether Mubarek is long gone.

    And really, shouldn’t the survey included Comedy Central, where many of the 20-somethings I know go to get their daily news.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Donald-Frazier/534440771 Donald Frazier

    This could very mean nothing at all about Fox — just that the people who tune it in start off from a quite low base of knowledge and understanding. 

    Perhaps something more meaningful would measure change:  when you take somebody who knows nothing, which news source works best to remedy that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jamesgkl James Klones

    Daily Show viewers got better scores than Fox viewers? How do you spell l-u-d-i-c-r-o-u-s ? 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HWXAVCP6RN6NDQDHG2WOAIUXWA Kirstin

     On the Today Show (NBC) this morning (May 29, 2012) they ran a short segment (2.5 minutes) on presidential politics.  In the course of 30 seconds they said that Romney’s “I like to fire people” was his biggest regret of the campaign thus far.  They then ran a soundbite with President Obama saying he wanted to preserve benefits for Veterans.

    Anyone who calls NBC fair is delusional.  They chose news about Romney that was unflattering and then chose a soundbite for Obama that put him in a good light.  It would have been just as easy for them do the opposite.  If you watch the Today show every day you’ll notice they never do.  They consistently put Romney in a bad light and Obama in a positive light.  For example, when talking about gay rights, Ann Curry said that Romney was veering further to the right to please the most conservative parts of the republican party while characterizing President’s Obama’s flip flop as a heart felt internal struggle.

    In this morning’s broadcast, they flubbed the reflective comment by Romney. If you read the full interview, Romney said that his quote was taken out of context. He really meant that he liked the right to fire insurance companies.  He wanted to kick himself in the pants for speaking in a way that allowed some in the media to misquote him.  NBC news didn’t mention the full context of his regret.

  • Derek Read

    I figure I’d have scored 7/9 after some Googling to confirm answers. I’d say that’s pretty good considering I’m Canadian and (technically speaking) all the questions were “international” for me. Though I have access to these networks I don’t watch any of them except the Daily Show (that’s probably where my 3/5 for the US questions comes in). Most of my news comes from CBC with a little bit from BBC International (both of which occasionally repackage NPR shows).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/WNVZB74DN6MSOEXRT7CI6BWPMY Landon

    What I get out of this is, if you want to be well informed on both domestic and international issues then get your news from more than one source.  If I were to label myself politically, I would say I’m an independent. I pride myself in watching/reading several news sources and then make up my own mind.  One of the biggest issues we have is too many misinformed folks blindly following a political doctrine without fact checking.  
    That goes democrats, republicans, liberal progressives, libertarians, independents and whom ever else is out there.  Cable news pundits can only carry you so far.  Remember their primary objective is ratings and viewership NOT necessarily facts. 

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/BOL7L5XTMLOSBJVYPMO3LZAG4M Duffman

    It doesn’t matter if you know who won the Iowa primary and who won the New Hampshire primary.  All you need to know is who won the entire contest, and who the other candidates were.  So those 2 questions weren’t good questions for testing people’s knowledge of the news.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KnippRS Randolph Knipp

    An interesting poll, but a poll that can be quite skewed by the questions asked, in my view.  For instance, of the above set of sample questions, the questions seemed to focus on the Republican primaries.  One might “expect” that conservative voters would answer them well, but that might not be the case at all.  (I believe that since I think that ideologues focus on their candidate, and to heck with news about other candidates.)  Then, if one interprets the results from one perspective, he might get the wrong answer.
    In other words, I question the questioners, the questions, and the conclusions.  I would love to take the poll, incidentally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580221540 Bruce Eckert

    I am an avid NPR listener … I also travel a lot, so I often read USA Today.  I was able to answer all of the questions correctly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=25905570 Tara Nelson

    People who watch no news at all can answer more questions about international current events than people who watch cable news, a survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind finds.

  • Anonymous

    Mark, buddy, we are talking NEWS here, not opinion. If I wanted opinion posing as news, I would turn to Fox exclusively. However, would rather NOT have opinion disguised as news. And your statement of the FACTS being all on one side makes no sense as a criticism of a news outlet. First of all, facts rarely all line up on one side; hence, the reason NPR “insists on presenting all sides” to inform rather than persuade. But let’s assume in a case all facts happened to line up one way, then by default, there is no bias in the reporting because it is not based on opinion because it reflects the facts as they present themselves. Your points would be pertinent to a survey asking viewers or listeners of ideologically base opinion platforms why they liked one or the other better, but this survey was on news not opinion platforms.

  • http://twitter.com/MarkGisleson Mark Gisleson

    You really need to qualify that statement to specify broadcast news only, and even then I think you’re ignoring a huge body of evidence that NPR’s Middle East coverage is incredibly biased.

    NPR is no longer capable of having an opinion, and insists on providing both sides of every issue, especially those in which the facts are all on one side, but the other side has a huge PR budget.

  • http://www.jobwaltz.com JobWaltz.com

    Several of these questions are framed in very biased ways. For example, #3 – “ Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt” – “deeply” is highly subjective. “have had to be bailed out by other countries.” – “had” is subjective; my POV is that the bailouts were optional. “which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries?” again, this assumes that the bailouts were mandatory. I could go on, but the only objective questions were about the House of Reps and who won New Hampshire.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Taysom/100000763950718 Eric Taysom

    I’m a big fan of BBC, and NPR. Huzzah for public news corporations! That last statement seems to undermine my conservative credentials.

    Would be embarrassed about our ignorance, but I’m too busy being confused about it. How can you not know about Egypt or Syria or Greece or Romney?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KMYXHTMIQE7BPIMKGOHFQLXX5A William M

    NPR is far and away the most unbiased factual source for news. Especially on foreign affairs.

  • Anonymous

     One problem with the questions though is that there are too few and not diverse enough. People have specific interests and are more likely to pay attention to some things over others. They should have taken things like occupation and leisure time into account.

  • Anonymous

     One problem with the questions though is that there are too few and not diverse enough. People have specific interests and are more likely to pay attention to some things over others. They should have taken things like occupation and leisure time into account.

  • Anonymous

     Really? In what city was a man stripped naked and beaten after St Patty’s day festivities?
    Who said that US law should not be solely based around the Constitution?
    Who won the first round of elections in France this year?

    I can ask a dozen “domestic ” and “international” fact based questions that depending on how thorough you are you can get right or wrong. None of the above questions scream liberal or conservative.

    And did you seriously just say that deficits mean nothing? (or were you joking?)

  • Anonymous

    First, I want to say that I got all the questions right.
    Second, the metric was terrible.  Who in their right mind thinks that we can only get our news from TV or radio? Not only that, but I bet many many of the people surveyed said that they watched or listened to more than just one station or channel. But they were not included in the results of this survey. This is basically a very poorly done survey riddled with bias.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/U5A65GQG4RHUMMZT72GF5AVFXU Jules

    I don’t watch TV.  Period.  I get all my news from NPR & BBC.  I got all 9 questions right.  The solution, it would seem, is to get rid of TV.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidjalsberge David Alsberge

    Considering I got every single question right in less than 10 seconds total, I have to say the rest of the population here is woefully uninformed.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve long suspected much of this.

    I do have to declare, that those who can spew the label “RINO” at lfie-long Republican conservatives is most probably actually a full-blown “reactionary,” masquerading under the lesser-frightful term.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Rout/100000096048032 David Rout

    As someone who has worked for years with dozens of NPR/Public Radio listeners I can say that this article was no surprise.
    NPR/Public Radio listeners have a better-than-average knowledge of current events and world affairs.  There is drawback to this however. 
    NPR/Public Radio listeners have detailed knowledge of books nobody reads, and music that nobody listens to.

  • Anonymous

    That makes a lot of sense. I guess I need to dust off my reading glasses and step away from the remote.

  • http://twitter.com/MarkGisleson Mark Gisleson

    The key to this survey is that people who don’t watch their news probably read their news, and that makes them better informed.

    NPR can be every bit as selective as Fox, and much more aggressive in drowning out facts with he said/she said reporting (esp. on the Middle East).

    Broadcast news is slow news. You get less of it, and what you get is dumbed down. And that’s not even counting all the mis- and disinformation spewed by corporate-owned news channels. And, as Napedia pointed out, even so-called objective news sources buy into highly subjective coverage of actual events.

  • http://twitter.com/justincalles Justin Calles

    Even if you only read or hear *headlines*, shouldn’t you be able to answer *at least* five of those questions correctly? My goodness, America.

  • First Last

    Of course, Fox viewers will claim “Liberal bias” claiming Fox News is the only “truth”.  They hate when you try to tell them Fox lies.

  • Anonymous

     Facts are, Democrats are traitors who will be removed by force in the future. Civil war is coming.

  • Anonymous

     Facts are, Democrats are traitors who will be removed by force in the future. Civil war is coming.

  • Anonymous

     Muh right wing conspiracy!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MT5ABCW3RY2BXB3RNDZMY7TCMI Mark

    What I think he means is that NPR and NBC tend to stick with the facts without significant spin or bias, and it is well know that just tell the news story based on the facts has an inherent liberal bias.

  • http://twitter.com/barryhollander Barry Hollander

     It’s technically open-ended because no cue is provided.  In other words, no multiple choice format (1) Democrat (2) Republican (3) Libertarian etc. etc.  It’s no surprise that open-ended questions get fewer correct responses than multiple-choice questions, often significantly so. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicolai-Alatzas/1353587530 Nicolai Alatzas

    <— Lib who watches Fox.  Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.  I read multiple sources and watch a bit of all the spinsters be it at Fox, CNN, MSNBC etc….

    Here are my answers, Does anyone want to grade them?
    Questions: (all but the first two were open-ended)• To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak? YEs• How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad? No• Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries? Germany?  Bailing out Greece…• There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do? Suppress ability to create nuclear weapons.• Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now? Republicans• In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what? PErmit the Keystone Pipeline• It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner? Michelle Bachmann• How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?  Ron Paul• According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed? 8.1 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nicolai-Alatzas/1353587530 Nicolai Alatzas

    <— Lib who watches Fox.  Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.  I read multiple sources and watch a bit of all the spinsters be it at Fox, CNN, MSNBC etc….

    Here are my answers, Does anyone want to grade them?
    Questions: (all but the first two were open-ended)• To the best of your knowledge, have the opposition groups protesting in Egypt been successful in removing Hosni Mubarak? YEs• How about the opposition groups in Syria? Have they been successful in removing Bashar al-Assad? No• Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries? Germany?  Bailing out Greece…• There have been increasing talks about economic sanctions against Iran. What are these sanctions supposed to do? Suppress ability to create nuclear weapons.• Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now? Republicans• In December, House Republicans agreed to a short-term extension of a payroll tax cut, but only if President Obama agreed to do what? PErmit the Keystone Pipeline• It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner? Michelle Bachmann• How about the New Hampshire Primary? Which Republican won that race?  Ron Paul• According to official figures, about what percentage of Americans are currently unemployed? 8.1 

  • Anonymous

    That is exactly what I was thinking! I’m a liberal who watches MSNBC, The Daily Show and listens to NPR and I take ZERO solace in these depressing statistics. Especially because I would likely fare just as badly even though I like to think I’m well-informed. Yeesh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Nieckarz/44105831 Peter Nieckarz

     I am sure there is a confounding variable there. NPR listeners tend to be of a higher socieoeconomic status and higher level educational attainment, so while I love my NPR I would hesitate to say they are that magical. They are more than fallible

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Peter-Nieckarz/44105831 Peter Nieckarz

     I am sure there is a confounding variable there. NPR listeners tend to be of a higher socieoeconomic status and higher level educational attainment, so while I love my NPR I would hesitate to say they are that magical. They are more than fallible

  • http://twitter.com/kathyannlong Kathy Long

    Sorry, but these are just facts…  no one expects a conservative or Republican to pay attention or learn anything. Facts, like deficits, don’t mean anything.

  • Anonymous

     It took a long time to get the final results of the Iowa caucuses for Republican candidates. In the end, who was declared the winner?
    - Poynter was likely looking for the answer: Santorum.
    - Based on delegate counts the correct answer is: Paul

    Some countries in Europe are deeply in debt, and have had to be bailed out by other countries. To the best of your knowledge, which country has had to spend the most money to bail out European countries? 

    - Poynter was likely looking for the answer: Germany
    - Actual answer is: USA (via Fed’s bailout of ECB)

  • http://twitter.com/arothman Andrew Rothman

    I don’t see how this survey makes a causal connection unless it asks people who answered correctly where they got that piece of knowledge. It’s not possible to say from these results whether watching FOX makes you ill-informed, or whether FOX-watchers are just ill-informed people to begin with. A better study might be to take people who have zero news exposure and have half of them watch FOX and half listen to NPR and see who’s best informed afterwards. Asking people what news they follow and then asking them to answer questions about the news doesn’t reflect on the news source so much as it reflects of the survey respondent, no?

  • http://www.allourlives.org/ TooManyJens

     Wow. You think that FOX News viewers are less informed about whether Hosni Mubarak and Bashar al-Assad have been overthrown, or about who won what Republican primary, because FOX is somehow heroically telling the truth that nobody else will tell? How does that even work? Are you trying to claim that the truth is that Hosni Mubarak still the president of Egypt and Michelle Bachmann won Iowa, and anything else is a bullshit cover up?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OHX276A4HJ325ROHLQPAMZSZ64 KittyCr

    I think these results are more about the type of people who limit themselves to just one source of information. People who listen to NPR are getting more actual news and less opinion. Fox and MSNBC devote a great deal of time to opinions. Stewart viewers appreciate the comedy because they are more well informed and open minded. Both Fox and MSNBC are biased, although Fox wins the award for constant and deliberate dishonesty. Fox should not be allowed to call itself “news”. People who watch no news either have no interest in what’s going on with the world and politics OR they read the news on the internet or newspapers and magazines.

  • Anonymous

    The open-ended nature of the questions ensures that the responses are in fact correct and tests one’s knowledge rather than recall.  It also ensures that bias is not introduced in the survey.   A mark of a well-constructed study. Kudos to the researchers!The first two questions are yes/no responses, however, the others are not.  For example, one may not recall who won the Iowa caucuses, but when they see the possible responses it may trigger their memory OR they could guess and may have a chance of being right.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OHX276A4HJ325ROHLQPAMZSZ64 KittyCr

    Fox LIES – Period. If you believe Fox is giving you the truth, then you are very sad and I feel sorry for you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_J3PKQX2KA6CO4F2SA3O6YH4GXY Brian Fantana

    How is the question “Which party has the most seats in the House of Representatives right now?” open-ended?

  • Anonymous

    Care to pass along any of these examples of media bias at NPR or NBC? Seriously, any? For each you can come up with, I can assure you that 10 examples of FOX’s bias at play FROM TODAY ALONE exist.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/BL3JFX7MNVB6EWVQMFD3BLI4MQ Glenn Walker

    I look at several news sources and routinely find the newsmen at Fox news much stronger than most others.  The bias displayed by NPR, NBC, MSNBC is atrocious for someone claiming to be an objective newsman.  By the way I knew all but one of the answers to the questions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/speeds.racer.mach.5 Jeff Bandalo

    thats cause fox news is trying to keep up with all the bull shit our own president and the democrats are doing to destroy  this country. if you ask a fox news observer about the truth of whats going on in this country you will get better results.remember i said the truth. not some bull shit cover up.  

  • Aaron Bell

    I think the real takeaway is that the average person asked could answer less than 40% of the total questions right.  Is it really worth arguing over who is the “tallest midget”?  We should all be embarrassed for our ignorance.

  • Lurch

    and its not just fox, its the whole newscorp regime of newspapers, and other media. also the [bain capitol owned] clear channel, that owns stations even in the same market, and will program shows like  limpbo on 3 stations at the same time! add the fact that drudge/ and other rightwing blogs, only aggregates to other like minded blogs that proliferate the lies started by one of their own outlets, only make the situation worse.  if you even have a doubt about this study, just read these blogs comments, and you can read the illiterate ramblings of the right…..  all brought to you by their sponsers, the plutocrats…

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    the open ended nature of the questions make it easy for the survey takers to skew the results any way they want.

  • http://twitter.com/barryhollander Barry Hollander

    I wrote about this survey a couple of weeks ago ( http://bit.ly/MnosDC ), so I don’t want to repeat myself.  But it’s interesting that all but two of the questions listed are open-ended.  There are real differences between how well people answer open-ended versus multiple choice or closed-ended questions.  To get a bit PhDweebish, you’re tapping different kinds of knowledge.  The table above suggests when you watch TV news you disagree with, that gets in the way of learning.  But it could be more complicated than that.  It may be the table’s low scores for libs watching Fox and conservatives watching MSNBC simply reflects people who aren’t very knowledgeable watching the “wrong” partisan news, while people who are more knowledgeable know the partisan leanings of the two cable networks.  In other words, cause gets messed up with effect.  

  • http://twitter.com/MaryKateClark Marykate Clark

    I’m quite happy with my lack of surprise.  =-)