Fox audience is diverse – and well-informed
Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, does not like Fox News. He has described the network as, “A biased organization, relentlessly promoting an ideological agenda under the rubric of being a news organization.”
Pressed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace to defend this claim, Stewart responded: “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.” But as Politifact.com pointed out the next day, that is just not true.
Stewart did not create his “misinformed” claim out of thin air. There are some polls that show Fox News viewers know less about some issues than viewers that get their news from other sources. For example, a 2003 University of Maryland study found that 67 percent of Fox News viewers believed that the United States “has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization.” Only 56 percent of CBS viewers and 16 percent of NPR listeners believed that same claim.
Similar single-issue reports exist on subjects like global warming, Obamacare, and the Ground Zero Mosque. If these were the only polls that existed on the knowledge of Fox News viewers, then one could see how Stewart could confidently claim Fox News viewers are always the most misinformed.
But all of these polls were conducted by ideologically liberal organizations out to prove that Fox News is biased and that conservatives are misinformed. What if a more centrist organization asked more factual questions on a broad array of issues? Turns out the Pew Research Center does such a poll and on a regular basis. And the results contradict Stewart’s claims.
For example, the 2007 Pew Political Knowledge Survey found that 35 percent of Fox News viewers passed the questionnaire’s 23 question pop quiz, which also just happened to be the national average. And viewers of specific Fox shows, like The O’Reilly Factor, actually out performed (51 percent passed) other news organization like CNN (41 percent).
The 2008 Pew Media Survey only asked three political knowledge questions (Who controled the House? Who is Secretary of State? and Who is the Prime Minister of Great Britain?) and Fox News viewers again performed at just about the national average (19 percent of Fox viewers answered all three correct, compared to 18 percent nationally). But this time some other media outlets did far worse. Only 10% of CBS News viewers passed the quiz.
Fast forward to the 2010 Pew Media Consumption Survey and the results get even worse for Stewart. This time Pew gave respondents a four question test (control of House, company that Steve Jobs runs, identity of attorney general, and which country recently had a volcano eruption) and not only did Fox News viewers outperform their MSNBC and CNN counterparts, the viewers of both The O’Reilly Factor and Glenn Beck outperformed Daily Show viewers!
That 2010 Pew survey also shows that Fox News viewers are not nearly as monolithic as Stewart believes. According to Pew only 44 percent of Fox viewers identify themselves as Republican. 28 percent are Independents and 21 percent are Democrats. Compare those numbers to MSNBC where a full 53 percent of viewers are Democrats, 30 percent Independents, and only 14 percent Republican.
Pew also does regular partisan breakdowns for their Pew Research Center News IQ surveys and Stewart might be surprised to learn that Republicans consistently out perform Democrats in these 12-question quizzes. Since 2009, Republicans have outperformed Democrats on at least 9 out of the 12 questions on every one of these surveys, often by at least 10 full points.