Study: Reason Readers Probably Misinformed About Health Care Bill, Stimulus Package


There's much gloating across the left-leaning blogosphere at the release of this study from which argues that Fox News viewers are, on average, more "misinformed" on public policy and economic issues than consumers of other news outlets. This is an old argument, but it's worth looking at what the study's authors consider "misinformation," a judgment that might strike readers as, in some instances, rather subjective.

If you don't think that the stimulus "increased the number of full-time equivalent jobs by between two and five million," you were considered by to be "misinformed." (They are using numbers from the CBO, whose methodology and modeling was questioned in these pages by Peter Suderman). And you are considered misinformed if you disagree that the "healthcare reform law…would not increase the deficit and would modestly reduce it." Really? Does anyone still believe that the health care bill is not only neutral, but will actually reduce the ever-expanding deficit? Again, I defer to Peter Suderman's very smart, "misinformed" writing on the matter.

Here are some of the other questions asked by

"The bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under Pres. Obama only (not Bush as well)"
"The stimulus legislation did not include any tax cut"
"When TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it"
"It is unclear whether Obama was born in the US—or, Obama was not born in the US"

There is a question about the Chamber of Commerce receiving foreign funds, thrown in for good measure, but the questions are weighed heavily towards "misinformation" likely to be believed by the right, including the requisite birther question. It seems pretty clear that one could develop a series of questions specifically targeting misperceptions commonly held by those on the left and generate a blogworthy headline about MSNBC viewers. Indeed, MSNBC and PBS viewers and NPR listeners were most likely to believe the Chamber of Commerce myth, which is based on no evidence at all—unlike the contentious and controversial idea that the health care bill will help reduce the deficit, which is disputed by many very clever people.

Read the whole report here (pdf).

The authors write that "one striking feature [of the survey] is that substantial levels of misinformation were present in the daily consumers of all news sources," concluding that "misinformation cannot simply be attributed to news sources" but to the general climate of partisanship. It's unarguable that Fox and MSNBC are irritatingly reductionist and aggressively ideological, but by ignoring both the biases of the study and the hedging found in its conclusions, those across the blogosphere gloating that Fox viewers alone are half-wits and troglodytes are demonstrating that they are—dare I say—themselves misinformed.