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Poll: Most New Jerseyans do not have understanding of European debt crisis

euro112811_optFDU poll also finds Fox News leaves viewers uninformed

Most New Jersey residents don’t have a basic understanding of the Euro debt crisis that is rocking the world’s finances and has already toppled the administration that guided Greece, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll released Monday.

Asked which country has had to spend the most money bailing out the most financially troubled members of the European Union, just 30 percent correctly identify Germany, while 36 percent admit not knowing, 22 percent say it’s the U.S., and the remaining 12 percent name some other country altogether.

"Whether we like it or not, we depend on the health of the European economy," FDU Prof. Dan Cassino, an analyst for the PublicMind Poll, said. "We are not bailing out Greece. We can barely bail out ourselves. But Greece and others threaten to swamp our boat. This is important.”

The survey also asked what media sources people use to gather information about politics and world affairs. 30 percent said they get their information from news websites.

Combined with demographic factors such as gender, education and partisanship, the data allows analysts to calculate the effects of watching various news sources on information. For instance, someone who hasn’t watched the news at all, has about a 33 percent chance of saying that Germany is responsible for the bailout, a 31 percent chance of naming the U.S., and a 24 percent chance of admitting not knowing the answer. But watching the evening news makes them 8-points more likely to correctly name Germany as the country on the hook.

National Public Radio does the best job of informing respondents about the debt crisis: Listening to NPR is associated with a 26-point increase in the likelihood of correctly naming Germany as the bailer, and a 12-point decrease in thinking that the U.S. is behind the Euro-bailout. Sunday morning talk shows, talk radio and "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart have similar positive impacts. On the other hand, people who report watching Fox News are five-points more likely than those who watch no news at all, to incorrectly say it’s the U.S. that is bailing out European countries.

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“Since we’re controlling for partisanship and education, it seems like there really is something about watching Fox that makes people less informed on this issue than they would be otherwise,” Cassino said. “Given that Fox’s ratings are well above their competitors, the findings are very troubling.”

Independent voters are least likely to be able to answer the question correctly. While 36 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats correctly identify Germany as the biggest donor to the bailouts, only 26 percent of political independents do so. Meanwhile, 30 percent of independents say it’s the U.S. that is bailing out failing countries, compared with just 19 percent of Democrats and 21 percent of Republicans.

“In many cases, independents have a harder time learning about politics than partisans,” Cassino said. “They often don’t have a clear ‘good guys and bad guys’ storyline for politics, and don’t necessarily know who to trust to get their information.”

The poll of 612 adults statewide was underwritten by WFDU-FM radio and conducted by telephone from Oct. 17 through Oct. 23. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

—TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 
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