From ISIS to Unemployment: What Do Americans Know?

Before you read the report, test your own News IQ by taking the interactive knowledge quiz. The short quiz tests your knowledge of questions recently asked in a national poll. After completing the quiz, you can compare your score with the general public and with people like yourself.

Take the Quiz

The latest Pew Research Center News IQ quiz measures the public’s awareness of key facts in the news: from questions about conflicts around the world to the current minimum wage and the chair of the Federal Reserve. (Before reading this report, take the quiz yourself by clicking here.)

The survey finds that a large majority (73%) is able to correctly identify the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (from a list of other amounts ranging from $5.25 to $12.50).

In addition, amid ongoing U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic militants in the Middle East, 67% can identify Syria as one of the countries in which the militant group known as ISIS currently controls territory (from a list that included Pakistan, Kuwait and Egypt). And 60% know that Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union; the other choices were Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Scandinavia.

The Public's News IQOther questions prove more challenging. About half (49%) know that the term “Common Core” refers to school curriculum standards. Relatively few choose the other options, which include “the military’s code of conduct,” “abdominal exercises” and “a newly developed microprocessor,” but 37% volunteer that they don’t know the answer.

As the death toll from the Ebola crisis rises, 46% are able to identify Liberia from among four African countries as the one that has experienced a major outbreak of the disease. The survey was conducted before a man who had recently arrived in the U.S. from Liberia was diagnosed with Ebola. When it comes to the domestic economy, even fewer (33%) know the unemployment rate is currently closest to 6%; many estimate it higher – 45% say either it is 9% or 12%.

And, as in past News IQ quizzes, questions requiring name recall prove difficult. Just 38% could identify Benjamin Netanyahu as the current prime minister of Israel, while even fewer (24%) named Janet Yellen as the current chair of the Federal Reserve Board (17% say it is Alan Greenspan, who stepped down as Fed chair in 2006).

On nine of the 12 questions included in the survey, only about half or fewer get the answer correct. The average number of correct answers given is five. The news quiz survey was conducted September 25-28 among 1,002 adults. (Full question wording.)

Age Differences in News Knowledge

Older adults generally demonstrate higher levels of news knowledge than younger Americans, and there are age divides across several of the questions asked on the survey.

Young People More Likely to Know Minimum WageHowever, young adults are more familiar with the federal minimum wage ($7.25 an hour) than are adults 30 and older: 82% of those under 30 can select the correct minimum wage compared with smaller majorities of older adults.

But young people are less likely to identify the industry that has propelled North Dakota’s economic boom. And just 19% of those under 30 can correctly identify Benjamin Netanyahu as the current Prime Minister of Israel, compared with 48% of those 65 and older.

Notably, the question about the Common Core is difficult for young and old alike: 37% of those under 30 and 43% of those 65 and older know that it is a set of school curriculum standards for language and math. That compares with 51% of those 30 to 49 and 56% of those 50 to 64.

Educational Differences

College Graduates Far More Aware of Common CoreCollege graduates perform better than those with less education on the News IQ quiz.  Those with a college degree get an average of 6.8 questions correct. By comparison, those with some college experience average 5.3 correct answers and those with no more than a high school diploma average 3.7 correct answers.

The education divide is particularly wide on the question about Common Core. Nearly three-quarters of college graduates (73%) know that Common Core is a set of school curriculum standards; just 54% of those with some college experience and 28% of those with no college experience can correctly identify the term.

Respondents across all education levels struggle to identify Social Security as the activity the government currently spends more money on (transportation, foreign aid and interest on the national debt were the three distractor items): just 26% of college graduates know this fact, compared with 17% of those with some college experience and 19% of those with no more than a high school diploma.

Partisan Differences in Knowledge

Modest Partisan Differences in News KnowledgeDifferences in news knowledge across partisan groups are relatively modest, though Republicans tend to do somewhat better than Democrats overall.

Republicans are 16 points more likely than Democrats to answer the Common Core question correctly (58% vs. 42%). And 57% of Republicans identify the oil industry as a primary driver of growth in North Dakota, compared with 42% of Democrats.

On other issues, such as the unemployment rate, there are hardly any differences in news knowledge between Republicans and Democrats. Just 38% of Republicans and 34% of Democrats know that the unemployment rate is currently closest to 6%. Many Americans overestimate the current unemployment rate: 27% say it is closest to 9%, while an additional 18% think the rate is closest to 12%.

ABOUT PEW RESEARCH: Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts

Reprinted with permission