September 5, 2013

What the Public Knows – In Words, Pictures, Maps and Graphs

Overview

Before you read the report, test your own News IQ by taking the interactive knowledge quiz. The short quiz tests your knowledge of questions recently asked in a national poll. After completing the quiz, you can compare your score with the general public and with people like yourself.

Take the Quiz

The latest Pew Research Center News IQ quiz measures the public’s knowledge of current affairs with several different question formats, including graphs, charts and pictures. (Take the quiz yourself before reading this report, by clicking here.)

9-5-13 #1A substantial majority of Americans (77%) are able to correctly identify Edward Snowden from a photograph of the former government contractor who leaked classified information about the NSA. Nearly as many (74%) know that the Federal Reserve is primarily responsible for monetary policy and not tax, trade or energy policy.

Other questions are more challenging. The most difficult question on the quiz asks respondents to identify the trend in the stock market since 2008 from four charts. Just (21%) correctly select the chart showing a steep drop in the Dow from 2008 to 2009, followed by a gradual and steady recovery.

Another question presents the pictures and names of four Supreme Court justices and asks respondents to identify the justice who has most often been the court’s swing vote in recent years; just 28% select the picture of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Previous news quizzes also have shown that the public is not knowledgeable about the Supreme Court and its members

Overall, the new quiz proved difficult: Majorities answered 5 of 13 questions correctly. In the previous News IQ quiz in January, majorities correctly answered 11 of the 13 items. The new quiz was conducted Aug. 7-14 among 1,052 adults. (Full question wording.)

Age Differences in Knowledge

Past News IQ surveys have often found young people to be less knowledgeable than older people about current events, but in the current poll the results are more mixed.

9-5-13 #1When shown a map of the U.S. with several states shaded, 62% of those under 30 know the shaded states allow same-sex marriage. Comparable majorities of those 30-49 (57%) and 50-64 (58%) answer this question correctly. About half (51%) of those 65 and older know this.

Older people struggled with a question that showed a country’s population pyramid – a graphic of the relative size of age groups in a population. The country depicted has a substantial youth population and fewer older people. Just 29% of those 65 and older correctly selected Nigeria (from a list of four countries) as the country represented by the pyramid. That compares with at least four-in-ten among younger groups.

Younger adults fared worse than older people on some political questions. Only about four-in-ten (42%) of those younger than 30 and 46% of those 30-49 could identify Marco Rubio as a U.S. senator from Florida from a group of four prominent Hispanics whose pictures and names were shown. Majorities of older Americans correctly select Rubio’s photograph. Younger people also are less likely to know that women currently hold about 20% of the seats in Congress.

Gender and News Knowledge

9-5-13 #3There are no significant differences between women and men on the three quiz questions about women. Comparable majorities of women (55%) and men (56%) know that more women than men graduate from college with bachelor’s degrees. Similarly, 45% of women and 49% of men know that women make up about one-fifth of the members of Congress.

A question about Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, proved difficult for both women and men. A photograph of Mayer was shown and respondents were asked to identify the person pictured. Just 31% of women and 38% of men chose Mayer from a list of prominent women.

On other questions, men are 13 points more likely than women to know that Google Glass is a computer you can wear (49 % vs. 36%) and to pick out Marco Rubio as the senator from Florida (58% vs. 45%). In addition, men are more likely than women to be able to identify Egypt as the country highlighted on a map of the Middle East (55% vs. 44%).

Educational Differences

As with previous knowledge tests, college graduates are more likely than those with a high school degree or less to answer every question correctly. About eight in-ten of those with at least a college degree (78%) correctly identify the term “Common Core” as a set of school curriculum standards in language and math. Just half as many (39%) of those with no college experience answered this question correctly.

9-5-13 #4College graduates are 37 points more likely than those with no college experience to correctly identify Egypt on a map. Similarly, 62% of college graduates selected Nigeria as the country represented by the population pyramid, compared with 29% of those with no college experience.

Educational differences are more modest when it comes to awareness of Edward Snowden and the states that allow same-sex marriage.

Partisan Differences in Knowledge

9-5-13 #5Republicans (63%) are more likely than Democrats (53%) to know that the Common Core refers to curriculum standards in language and math.

But there are only slight partisan differences on most other questions. Republicans and Democrats are about equally unfamiliar with who on the Supreme Court is most often the swing vote in closely divided cases. Just 33% of Democrats and 26% of Republicans correctly select Justice Anthony Kennedy. Republicans are about as likely to say that Antonin Scalia (21%) or Clarence Thomas (20%) often serve as the court’s swing vote.