The most misinformed news consumers

Over the summer, there was an interesting dispute when Jon Stewart appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and made a provocative observation: “In polls, who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers. Consistently. Every poll.”

PolitiFact said Stewart was wrong, and “The Daily Show” host walked the claim back, but he shouldn’t have — Stewart was right and PolitiFact was wrong.

But the larger issue continues to be a fascinating one, and the evidence that shows Fox News viewers being the most misinformed news consumers continues to pile up.

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. In the most recent study, the poll asked New Jerseyans about current events at home and abroad, and from what sources – if any – they get their information. The conclusion: Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who they don’t watch any news at all. […]

[P]eople who watch Fox News, the most popular of the 24-hour cable news networks, are 18-points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all (after controlling for other news sources, partisanship, education and other demographic factors). Fox News watchers are also 6-points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

“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 professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll. “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.” [emphasis added]

As it turns out, this new report coincides with another study published in the International Journal of Press/Politics that found Fox News viewers are far more misinformed about climate change than those who rely on other news outlets.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t at all new — the problem has been ongoing for several years. Data from the Program on International Policy Attitudes, NBC/Wall Street Journal, and the Pew Research Center all found Fox News viewers knowing less about current events than everyone else. My friend Chris Mooney cited five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) separate public opinion studies that showed the same thing.

In some cases, regular Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims about current events were accurate.

What’s more, this isn’t necessarily about party affiliations — Democrats who watch Fox News were worse off than Democrats who relied on legitimate news organizations.

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won’t happen, of course, in part because the network and its viewers aren’t quite informed enough to realize they’re misinformed.