Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Love Citizen Journalists

The future of news?  Forget iReporters.  Colbert goes one up.

Cheap Diffusion of Knowledge

Let's reach back, way back, to The Westminster Magazine of 1785, to find discussion of newspapers and political knowledge:


I love the part "a road unknown to our neighbors" and diffusion of information at "a rate so cheap, as to be attainable by all."  Meaning, of course, newspapers.


Oh Canada

Blame Canada's youth for crappy voter turnout.  Or blame TV.

A story on a study (different story on same study here) found less attachment to political parties and less a sense of civic duty when it comes to voting as key for youth -- that and watching news on TV.
They also found that “there is … no clear evidence that the decline in youth turnout can be imputed to changes in the electoral context. The most plausible hypothesis is therefore that youth turnout is declining because of changes that have occurred among young citizens.”

But what young Canadians know, that does matter.  As the story notes:
However, knowledge of the political scene in Canada was a strong determining factor in youth voting. Ninety per cent of youth voters who were able to correctly answer all three survey questions “used to assess political knowledge” actually voted, versus 24 per cent of youth who couldn’t answer any of them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Right Smile Wins?

When it comes to political research, there's no factor we won't explore in hopes of finding a clue as to who wins and who loses.  Party ID and policy stances, you bet.

But also how that smile.

A column from mid-November that I just found thanks to this report points to research suggesting how well a presidential candidate smiles can be the difference between being a winner and being a loser.

From the column:
According to research by Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, how much we like a communicator depends on the “congruence” of three factors—words, tone of voice and non-verbal behavior. Fifty-five percent of what influences our judgment about that “fit” is non-verbal: the speaker’s eyes, face and an “attitude” that comes across in the body language.
I admit I'm largely unaware of this specific body of research, but it makes sense.  In the column, Jon Kraushar breaks down the last several presidential elections and the "smile factor" of each.  Read 'em yourself.  Fascinating stuff.  But, and this is a huge methodological but, I wonder whether the "smiles" and "grins" and "twinkle of the eye" are being fit to the data.  In other words, we know how those past elections came out, so it's easy to fit our perceptions of those facial expressions to the results. What's this tell us about 2012?  Nothing really.  Kraushar notes:
The secret of a winning presidential smile isn’t just in the mouth. Presidents also smile with their eyes, showing inner warmth or an amused twinkle, for example. Voters can detect the difference between the verbal and non-verbal communication of a Happy Warrior versus an Unhappy Worrier.
When I picture Obama vs. Romney, I see a tie and maybe, just maybe, an edge to Romney.  Obama vs. Gingrich?  Obama twinkles more, has better body language, plus Gingrich scares small children when he smiles.  But I admit this is merely my rather flawed and personal perception.

But any of us can play this game.  So have fun comparing twinkles and body language.  It may just matter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Grrrrr. On Citations.

This week I've finished reviewing two manuscripts for major journals (one mass comm, other polysci).  Both manuscripts directly address an area I've already published in.  Neither cited me.  Grrr.

And more ironic, one was submitted to a journal in which I published the work a couple of years ago.  Doh.

Which makes you wonder about either how carefully someone checks the literature or how well their choice of search engines or applications do in finding key studies (yeah, calling my work key.  I can if I want to, so there!).

I can also end every graph with something in italics.

For fun -- and in a desperate need to stroke my own ego after the other two authors ignored me -- I checked to see who had cited me in the last few months.  The journals include: Political Communication, Communication Studies, Public Opinion Quarterly, Communication Quarterly, Political Science and Politics, American Behavioral Scientist, Parliamentary Affairs, Communicatio (out of South Africa), the Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, and my favorite, the Chinese Journal of Communication.  Plus a new book about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. 

That's in the last few months.  Luckily, as my college promotion committee pointed out, I don't really have a national or international reputation.  No.  Not at all.  What a bunch of putzes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Fox Folks Know (or Don't Know)

A study out today is getting a wee bit of attention as it suggests viewers of Fox News know less than those who don't watch news.  Or, as the report says:
"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."
Let's establish a few important facts about this.
  1. This is not a peer-reviewed study.  That's important to keep in mind.
  2. Despite #1 above, the report lays out the methodology and tables nicely, so let's not get persnickety about academic publishing.
  3. The questions tended to be about international news.  Especially on Egypt on Syria.  Not Fox's strong point.
  4. But, despite #3 above, some were on domestic issues.
  5. Question K5 in the report baffles the hell out of me.  It's about the Wall Street protesters are Democrats or Republicans (aren't they Independents, as one earlier study found?  That's not a choice, just "other").  And there are negative scores.  Weird.  I finally figured them out, sorta kinda, but it shouldn't be that hard.
  6. There are a lot more Dems or lean-Dems than GOPers and leaners.  That's a bit odd at first, but these are folks in New Jersey, not a national sample.
  7. And it's that last one, the fact it's folks from New Jersey, that makes the study of more narrow interest and utility. 
All in all, kinda interesting.  Not generalizable, and I might quibble with the questions and such, but it strikes me as a pro job with fascinating results. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Studies and Stories on Knowledge (this week)

I have no major topic to write on, plus Thursday is a busy teaching day for me, so here's a compilation of various stories and studies that touch on what people know.
  • Text4Baby (which I'd never heard of) is a free service where you text to get info.  A survey found the service helped participants to remember appointments and learn about health issues.
  • Are small businesses immune to security threats?  Obviously not.  But a survey found small biz managers exhibited knowledge of threats such as keystroke logging, distributed denial of service attacks, website vulnerabilities and targeted attacks, exactly half indicated they need not have concern about any of it.  Essentially, they saw themselves as too small to attack.
  • There's always one I really don't understand, like this study that found how ill prepared health care folks are about genetic mutation testing.  So am I.  You get these great disconnects in research.  As in: The surveys found that while 94 percent of physicians responded that they discuss genetic mutation testing with their patients, only 17 percent of lung cancer patients surveyed were aware of genetic mutation testing.
  • Here's a survey about ... there being too many surveys.  Okay, only kinda, but this story touches on just that.  As one guy said: But he warned saturating the market with potentially conflicting data could mean valuable information gets "lost in the noise." It can be confusing having so many different surveys," he said. 
  • And finally, we end with death.  Except boomers don't want to think about that, according to this storyAn Associated Press-LifeGoesStrong.com poll found that 64 percent of boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - say they don't have a health care proxy or living will. Those documents would guide medical decisions should a patient be unable to communicate with doctors. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How News Orgs Use Twitter

The Pew folks have a report out this week about how news organizations use Twitter.  The Pew analysis finds Twitter is used "in limited ways-primarily as an added means to disseminate their own material. Both the sharing of outside content and engagement with followers are rare."

For fun, I looked at Pew's own Twitter feed.  There are a lot of "Pews" (Pew Research, Pew Forum, etc.) and I'm not going to go all methodological and do an in-depth analysis, but of the first 10 Pew tweets I examined, nine point back to their own content.  One references a Census report.  Going deeper, none really have "engagement with followers" and probably 95 percent point back to their own stuff.

Just saying.

Which is fine.  I'm only mildly picking at Pew, which does amazing work and whose data I use constantly in my own academic research.  For me, Twitter is an RSS feed, a way to keep up with breaking news (AP, NYT, etc.), with journalism-oriented stuff (Pew, Poynter, etc.), and with some social media stuff (Mashable, etc.).  Twitter is crap for "engagement."  Conversations die quickly, unless they're heated flame-wars. 

The report also notes news orgs don't use Twitter all that often to hunt for sources or stories.  That's true, though I do see it.  The AJC in my backyard, for example, has terrific tweets (maybe the best in the biz) and also will, at times, put out a call for someone to chat about their issues with driving or whatever the story of the day is.

So am I just being persnickety with Pew?  Yeah, in a nice way. But when I saw the report, it struck me as funny since, best I can tell, this is exactly how Pew uses Twitter.  And there's nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Women Know ... About Fertility?

According to a story on what women know about fertility:
The poll of 1,000 women ages 25 to 35 who had talked to doctors about fertility found that participants could correctly answer seven out of 10 basic questions less than half the time. The Fertility IQ 2011 Survey found that women were wrong most often about how long it takes to get pregnant — and about how much fertility declines at various ages.
First, lemme speak to the story's lede which, I have to admit, kinda creeps me out.  Here it is:

From the outside, Holly Finn certainly looks fertile. 

With shoulder-length dark hair, smooth skin and a slim but curvaceous figure, the San Francisco-area writer could be any young mom with a baby on her hip. 

Wow.  If I wrote that, it'd come across as sexual harassment. Or at least like I'm hitting on her.  Or something.

I can't really find any methodology or even details about the survey, not even by the sponsoring organization's web site.  Not that I'd be qualified to judge the quality of the questions, but it shouldn't be this difficult to find.  Troublesome.

2012? Looks Like 1996, at least in Turnout

My column here about how 2012 looks like 1996 -- in voter turnout.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Evangelicals and Romney

Will Christian evangelicals vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon?  A Pew report out this week notes the following:
... a May 2011 Pew Research Center poll found that about one-third (34%) of white evangelical Protestants would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, echoing reservations that evangelical Republicans expressed about voting for a Mormon during the 2008 GOP primary campaign. 
I'm not interested debating religion and politics.  At least not at the moment (buy me a beer and we'll debate all ya want).  I'm interested here in methodology.  That is, who are these "evangelical Protestants" and how do we know they're "evangelical Protestants."  For some of you, this is obvious stuff.  For others, perhaps not so much.

I downloaded the raw Pew data to peek under the methodological hood, to see how they were identifying people as "white evangelical" or "white mainline" or "white Catholic."  In the latter, the answer is obvious -- respondents answered the race question as "white" and the religious affiliation question as "Catholic" (see below).  We should all utter a collective duh.  Let me lay it out how Pew does this.  Here's the main question:

What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?
[INTERVIEWER: IF R VOLUNTEERS “nothing in particular, none, no religion, etc.” BEFORE REACHING END OF LIST, PROMPT WITH: And would you say that’s atheist, agnostic, or just nothing in particular?]

1              Protestant (Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Reformed, Church of Christ, Jehovah’s Witness, etc.)
2          Roman Catholic (Catholic)
3          Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/LDS)
4          Orthodox (Greek, Russian, or some other orthodox church)
5          Jewish (Judaism)
6          Muslim (Islam)
7          Buddhist
8          Hindu
9          Atheist (do not believe in God)
10        Agnostic (not sure if there is a God)
11        Something else (SPECIFY:______)
12        Nothing in particular
13        Christian (VOL.)
14        Unitarian (Universalist) (VOL.)
99        Don't Know/Refused (VOL.)

Now as you can see, it's fairly obvious and on its face holds up pretty well in terms of validity.  This allows us to categorize folks.  Of interest here, of course, are Protestants.  There are a number of ways to continue.  The ANES and GSS approach to this question is often to burrow down to the level of your actual church denomination and then let scholars collapse respondents back into whatever scheme they want, deciding whether certain denominations are "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" or whatever.  They're are actual lists for this.  I have one somewhere that goes down so far and I've used it in the past.

But Pew uses a simpler method.  Shortly after this question, they ask:

BORN    Would you describe yourself as a "born again" or evangelical Christian, or not?

1          Yes, would
2          No, would not
9          Don't know/Refused (VOL.)

While it's not certain, I suspect the folks at Pew take the first question I pasted in and combine it with the question just above to categorize folks as Protestant evangelicals.   Toss in the race question and, kaboom, you're ready to rock and roll (er, methodologically speaking).  But how does the Pew approach stack up with the other version?  Not so terribly bad.  There was a study that looked at the two approaches not so many years ago, I believe in POQ, though I can't for the life of me find it now, that found the straightforward question performed pretty well compared to burrowing down to the denomination level.  Not perfect, because we don't know exactly what's going on in people's minds when asked that question above.  My gut tells me the question above, the direct one, misses some people and undercounts the evangelicals.

So all in all, the Pew question isn't half bad and, to be honest, is much simpler and less expensive to ask, to code, and to analyze.

And Now for Something Completely Different

The Pew Center's knowledge survey is well known, but they've done something completely different this time by adding visuals.  As they say:
The new survey includes a mixture of standard multiple-choice items as well as questions that use photographs, maps and symbols. It was conducted completely online Sept. 30-Oct. 11, 2011, among a random sample of 1,168 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

That's kinda interesting.  It mixes photos of well known public figures, a couple of maps, an image or two, as well as standard political knowledge questions.  Take the test.  You'll get a random assortment of questions, not all of them, but I don't want to get into specifics because I'd prefer you took the test first.

I can say this: it's an interesting approach and one full of methodological and theoretical nuances.  Are there really visual learners?  The research says probably not.  But folks who watch a lot of TV news, they may be more likely to correctly answer the image questions.  Unfortunately the report doesn't address that, but it does tell us Republicans do better on a lot of the political and geography questions, at least compared to Democrats.  This doesn't control statistically for education, etc., so it's not as meaningful as you might think.  A table near the bottom does break it down by age and education.  It's worth a look, but without a more multivariate approach, we can't really get at visual versus textual questions.  But it's interesting to note that respondents with a high school education or less tended to do better on the visual versus the non-visual questions.  Worth exploring further.

Oh, by the way, I answered all my questions correctly.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cain Coverage Fair

A new Pew survey finds more people think think coverage of Herman Cain has been fair as opposed to too tough or too easy.  The tables give a nice example of people believing what they want to believe, with Dems more likely to buy into the Cain sexual harassment story and GOPers less likely to do so.

Are journalists and others obsessed with this story?  Sure.  It's easy news.  It's got sex.  It's got a guy high in the polls for a major party nomination.  It's got sex.  And did I mention sex?  I should. 

And here's a telling line from the report:  "Among those critical of the press coverage, more say it has been too tough (24%) than too easy (14%) on Cain.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wishful Thinking in Presidential Elections

Instead of reading me here, read me instead in this column about wishful thinking in elections.