12/25/2010

Why Fox News viewers are better informed than others

UPDATE: My piece on "The Truth About Fox News Viewers" is available here and has my updated and more clearly written discussion of the report released previously by WorldPublicOpinion.org at the University of Maryland.

Original: A George Soros funded poll is used to claim that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed. The WorldPublicOpinion.org report is available here. The survey is here. And it has gotten incredible news coverage, with a google search of (fox news viewers misinformed "university of maryland") showing 210,000 hits. I have really only gone over the first four of their claims carefully.

-- The poll question was: "Most economists who have studied it estimate that the stimulus legislation saved or created a few jobs or caused job losses." The way it is phrased in the text regarding Fox News viewers being misinformed: "most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses." The two statements are obviously not the same.

In any case, the report cites two pieces of evidence to support their opinion. First, is the claim by the CBO about the number of full time-equivalent jobs created. But adding up the number of jobs that the money is spent on is not the same thing as a net increase in jobs. The money has to come from someplace. In addition, the Keynesian notion of multipliers is debatable.

Second, they cite one survey from the WSJ of 54 economists from March 2010 to support their claim that most economists believe that the stimulus was helpful, though even these economists said that about a million jobs had been "created or saved," not the several million claimed. But they ignore other surveys. Here are the results from a more recent survey of 68 economists: 73 percent of National Association for Business Economics respondents thought that the stimulus had no impact of the recovery.
Would Unemployment Really Have Been Worse Without the Stimulus?
The Worst Recovery on Record

-- "Among economists who have estimated the effect of the health reform law on the federal budget deficit over the next ten years, more think it will increase the deficit"
The CBO initially estimated that Obamacare would run a $124 billion surplus, and this is what the reports cites on page 6. But just two readjustments by the CBO and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after the health care bill passed added $149 billion to estimated spending and eliminated the predicted surplus.
"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded in April that Democrats double-counted projected Medicare spending cuts as savings and for helping ease existing financial strains on the Medicare system. It can't do both. Correcting this accounting gimmick adds $89 billion to government medical costs over the next decade."
"the Congressional Budget Office finally got around to answering a question posed by California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, about discretionary health care spending. It turns out that under the new law, discretionary spending will be more than twice as much as originally estimated by CBO. The new tally is $115 billion rather than $55 billion."
Democratic Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen in his book "Fresh Medicine" warns about how Obamacare will drive our country into debt and raise the health care costs of private companies. “The passage of the Affordable Care Act was made politically acceptable by setting up a straw man: would it reduce the deficit or not? When CBO announced that the legislation would indeed reduce it, the political path to passage was cleared. But if we make even the most obvious and sensible real-world adjustments to their analysis, the answer is different," Mr. Breseden states on page 38. "These are not esoteric adjustments, just commonsense ones. But when they’re made, the legislation no longer ‘reduces the deficit,’ it adds to it. If you don’t believe the Medicare rate reductions will actually happen, it adds even more.”

-- In the survey given from November 6th to 15th, the question was whether "the US economy is getting worse." Possibly the authors for this question meant to ask when the recession ended (see page 7 of their report), but that isn't what they asked. For example, GDP could still be growing, but if it were growing at a slower rate, wouldn't that be classified as the economy getting worse?
Surely in terms of unemployment and the types of temporary jobs that people are getting the economy has been getting worse.
For the November unemployment numbers, I wrote:
Economists thought that the unemployment rate would rise because as some of the Americans who had completely left the labor force began to look again for jobs. Remember, people are only counted as unemployed if they are actively searching for work. But millions of Americans were no longer listed as unemployed over the last couple of years because they simply gave up looking for work.

Unfortunately, the bad news today is that not only is the number of unemployed rising, the number of people who have given up and left the labor force is also still going up. . . .

For a discussion on the temporary jobs that people are getting see this.

-- "Do you think that MOST SCIENTISTS believe Climate change is not occurring?" Page 8

The most obvious problem with this question is that it doesn't specify what period of time is being discussed. Has there been climate change since the end of The Little Ice Age in 1850? Surely, yes. Has temperature changed significantly over the last decade? Probably not. Most likely though, this poorly worded question was really referring to man-made global warming.

A survey of American weather forecasters, most of whom were certified by the American Meteorological Society or the National Weather Association, found real doubts about man-made global warming claims. Indeed, only about 17 percent of those surveyed believed that there was global warming and that it is caused by man.

"31,000 scientists have signed a petition denying that man is responsible for global warming . . . The academics, including 9,000 with PhDs, claim that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are actually beneficial for the environment." The final numbers are "31,487 American scientists have signed this petition, including 9,029 with PhDs"

The Canadian National Post has signatories of an open letter on the UN climate conference The open letter is available here.

Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007

-- "When TARP came up for a vote, most Republicans opposed it"
The first time that the TARP vote came up it failed by a 205 to 228 vote. It failed because of Republican opposition.
Democratic 140 Yea; 95 Nay
Republican 65 Yea; 133 Nay

The second time it passed by getting more Democrat and Republican votes, though most House Republicans still opposed the bill. The House vote on H.R. 1424 was
Democratic 172 Yea; 63 Nay
Republican 91 Yea; 108 Nay
In the Senate the vote was:
Democratic 41 Yea; 10 Nay
Republican 33 Yea; 15 Nay

Over all, 50 percent Republicans voted for TARP, and 74 percent of Democrats voted for it. However, if the decision had been left to Republicans, TARP would not have passed.

-- How about the poorly worded question on page 12 and 13: "Since January 2009 have YOUR Federal income taxes gone down, stayed the same, or gone up?" If someone's income went up after January 2009, their taxes could indeed have gone up. That is true even if their tax rates have gone down for any given level of income. 38 percent say that their income taxes have gone up. Despite the recession, is it conceivable that 38 percent of people have seen their incomes go up? Sure.

-- The survey question "Is it your impression that the bailout program for Chrysler and General Motors occurred under" is described as "the auto bailout only occurred under Obama" or "The bailout of GM and Chrysler occurred under Pres. Obama only (not Bush as well)."

Other commentary.

David Friedman has this post about the questions to the survey being rigged (see here and here).

The obvious way to rig the results of such a poll is to select questions where the answer you consider mistaken is more popular with one side than the other. Most people who believe Obama was not born in the U.S. are on the right. Most people who believe the Chamber of Commerce used foreign money to influence the most recent election are on the left. By my count, for at least seven of the eleven questions the answer that the study's authors considered misinformed was a view more popular with the right than the left. One—the Chamber of Commerce question—went the other way. . . .


UPDATE: See also this by Brent Bozell.

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