What do voters truly understand about policy issues that have major impacts on society?
In the final weeks of 2015, Just Facts commissioned a nationwide poll to scientifically determine this.
While most polls focus on public opinion, this one measured voters’ knowledge of issues that have substantial consequences for Americans. The poll consisted of 23 questions about education, healthcare, taxes, government spending, global warming, Social Security, energy, hunger, pollution, and the national debt.
(AP Photo/The Muskegon Chronicle, Tommy Martino)
Overall, the majority of voters gave the correct answer to only five of the 23 questions. This indicates that many voters may be casting ballots based on false views of reality.
The highest levels of ignorance were found on questions related to tax burdens, child hunger, landfills, education spending, Social Security finances, and health insurance copayments. In these cases, less than 25 percent of voters provided the correct answer, and in one case, only 9 percent of voters did.
The poll also recorded voters’ age, sex, and political inclinations. This allows it to pinpoint segments of society that are misinformed about specific issues. The results show deep partisan and demographic divides, with different groups being more or less knowledgeable depending upon the question.
This is the fourth annual poll commissioned by Just Facts. This year, four new questions were added to address the issue of education, and the sample size was increased by 40 percent to achieve greater precision.
The poll was conducted by Conquest Communications Group, a professional polling firm located in Virginia. The responses were obtained through live telephone surveys of 700 likely voters across the continental United States on Dec. 15–20, 2015. Likely voters are those who say they vote “every time there is an opportunity” or “in most elections.”
The margin of sampling error for all voters is plus or minus 3.8% with a 95% level of confidence. The margin of error for Republican voters is 6.2%; for Democratic voters 6.6%; for undecided voters 7.7%; for males 5.5%; for females 5.2%; for 35- to 64-year olds 5.6%; and for 65-plus-year olds 5.2%. The sample sizes of third-party voters and 18-to 34-year olds are too small to produce meaningful data.
A sample of questions and results from the poll include the following:
Question: On average across the United States, how much do federal, state, and local governments spend per year to educate each classroom of public school students? Less or more than $150,000 per classroom per year?
Correct Answer: More than $150,000. The average cost to educate a classroom of public school students is about $280,000 per year.
Correct answer given by 32% of all voters; 24% of Democratic voters; 40% of Republican voters; 34% of undecided voters; 41% of males; 24% of females; 33% of 35- to 64-year olds; and 31% of 65-plus-year olds.
Question: Do you think the federal government spends more money on social programs, such as Medicare, education, and food stamps—or does the federal government spend more money on national defense, such as the Army, Navy, and missile defense?
Correct Answer: Social programs. In 2014, 61% of federal spending was for social programs, and 19% was for national defense. Half a century ago, the converse was true, and 53% of federal spending was for national defense, while 21% was for social programs.
Correct answer given by 45% of all voters; 21% of Democratic voters; 69% of Republican voters; 44% of undecided voters; 48% of males; 43% of females; 47% of 35- to 64-year olds; and 43% of 65-plus-year olds.
Question: On an average day, what portion of U.S. households with children have at least one child who experiences hunger? Less than 1%, 1% to 10%, or more than 10%?
Correct Answer: Less than 1%. Per the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on an average day, less than one quarter of one percent (0.23%) of households with children have a child who experiences hunger.
Correct answer given by 13% of all voters; 6% of Democratic voters; 22% of Republican voters; 9% of undecided voters; 17% of males; 10% of females; 13% of 35- to 64-year olds; and 13% of 65-plus-year olds.
The questions and results from all 23 questions are located here.
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