Sean Hannity talks to the audience during the taping of his Fox News show… (John Amis / Associated Press )
A new survey of New Jersey voters comes to a provocative conclusion: Fox News viewers tend to be less informed about current events than those who don't watch any news at all.
Fairleigh Dickinson University recently questioned 612 adults in New Jersey about how they get their news, offering as options traditional outlets like newspapers and local and national television news, or blogs, websites and even Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
They then asked a series of factual questions about the major events of the last year, from the "Arab Spring" to the Republican race for president.
For example, respondents were first asked whether, to the best of their knowledge, opposition groups in Egypt had been successful in bringing down the Mubarak regime.
Among NPR listeners, 68% correctly said they had been; only 49% of Fox News viewers answered correctly. In fact, the survey found, Fox viewers were 18 percentage points less likely to answer correctly than those who watched no news at all.
"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," said Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Those who watched Sunday public affairs shows tended to be the best informed on current events, the survey found. Readers of national newspapers also were more likely to respond correctly.
And it seems Jon Stewart may be more reliable than cable news anchors. On Occupy Wall Street, the survey found viewers of "The Daily Show" were 12 percentage points more likely to say protesters were predominantly Democratic. MSNBC viewers were the most likely to say the protesters were mainly Republicans.
"Jon Stewart has not spent a lot of time on some of these issues. But the results show that when he does talk about something, his viewers pick up a lot more information than they would from other sources," Cassino said.
The overall survey, conducted from Oct. 17 to 23, had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Because of the smaller sample size among those who selected a specific news source, the margin of error would be much higher.