Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents' (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable." People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer "not sure," which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.
Read the rest here.


gdelassu said...

Fair enough, of course. I am hardly surprised to discover that many on the left do not understand the economics of price controls. That said, I think that before anyone draws any conclusions, they should read this critique of the Zogby survey at the heart of this report.

Specifically, it should be noted that the Zogby poll was an internet survey, which means that there was no effort taken to ensure that its respondents constitute a representative cross sample of the public. Indeed, 49% of the study's respondents voted for McCain in the 2008 election and 43% voted for Obama, which is pretty much the opposite of how the actual election turned out, indicating that the respondents to this poll were enriched in conservatives. Were the liberal respondents a representative sample of liberals overall? Who knows?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that it all depends on what the definition of "economics" is.

If the definition follows the usual "anthropology", ( that economic activity is always, always based on "self-interest" ( and self-interest is undefined)), and one disagrees with it, then one will respond to these questions in an "ignorant" fashion.

Economics is much more like theology, ( bad theology based on pure dogmatism), than a science.

This poll just measures belief, not knowledge.