Fox News Viewers Less Informed Than People Who Don’t Watch Any News, Poll Shows

According to the latest results from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll, some news sources make us less likely to know what’s going on in the world.

A new survey of New Jersey voters comes to a provocative conclusion: Fox News viewers tend to be less informed about current events than those who don't watch any news at all. Photo: ZoilStarPhotography/Flickr

Fox News viewers are less informed than people who don’t watch any news, according to a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Fairleigh Dickinson University recently questioned 612 adults in New Jersey about how they get their news, offering as options traditional outlets like newspapers and local and national television news, or blogs, websites and even Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

They then asked a series of factual questions about the major events of the last year, from the “Arab Spring” to the Republican race for president.

For example, respondents were first asked whether, to the best of their knowledge, opposition groups in Egypt had been successful in bringing down the Mubarak regime.

The study, which controlled for demographic factors like education and partisanship, found that “people who watch Fox News are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government” and “6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government” compared to those who watch no news.

Overall, 53% of all respondents knew that Egyptians successfully overthrew Hosni Mubarak and 48% knew that Syrians have yet to overthrow their government.

“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,” said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson.

By contrast, some media sources have a positive effect on political knowledge. For example, people 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.

Those who watched Sunday public affairs shows tended to be the best informed on current events, the survey found. Readers of national newspapers also were more likely to respond correctly.

“Jon Stewart has not spent a lot of time on some of these issues. But the results show that when he does talk about something, his viewers pick up a lot more information than they would from other sources,” Cassino said.

And it seems Jon Stewart may be more reliable than cable news anchors. On Occupy Wall Street, the survey found viewers of “The Daily Show” were 12 percentage points more likely to say protesters were predominantly Democratic. MSNBC viewers were the most likely to say the protesters were mainly Republicans.

“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. 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,”  Cassino said.

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,” said Cassino. “The fact that Fox News, the preferred media outlet for many of the candidates, doesn’t do better in informing viewers is very surprising.”

The overall survey, conducted from Oct. 17 to 23, had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Because of the smaller sample size among those who selected a specific news source, the margin of error would be much higher.

This isn’t the first study that has found that Fox News viewers more misinformed in comparison to others. Last year, a study from the University of Maryland found that Fox News viewers were more likely to believe false information about politics. [via Huff Post, Public Mind and Los Angeles Times]

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