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Can Partisanship Trump Education Level On Hot Button Issues?

As Democrats gather in North Carolina for their convention, there’s new research from the Northwest on the power of partisan rhetoric. Turns out, your core political beliefs can trump your education level when it comes to understanding the basic facts of a high contentious issue.

The Affordable Care Act. ObamaCare. Whatever you call it, it’s provided countless hours of fodder to the cable television networks.

Your understanding of a hot-button issue could depend on which of these men you support. (Campaign photos)
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Your understanding of a hot-button issue could depend on which of these men you support. (Campaign photos)

From Glen Beck on Fox News:

“You don’t play ball with them now. If you don’t get into their government health care there will be jail time.

To Rachel Maddow on MSNBC:

“The Republican Party has decided to go all in. All in on their effort to kill health care reform in this country.”

Hyper-partisan media coverage amplifies the already divisive nature of an issue like health care. So says Douglas Hindman at Washington State University.

He went back and looked at monthly public opinion polls as the healthcare debate progressed. He found the longer the debate raged, partisan Democrats got way more familiar than Republicans with the details of what was actually in the President’s proposed law.

Hindman’s takeaway, “Your level of education is less of a predictor of how much you know about health care reform, or the Act itself, than is your party affiliation.”

Hindman finds this troubling.

“When party affiliation overrides educational level that’s sort of a concern for how well we can deal with problems in general.”

Hindman says the same dynamic could cut the other way with legislation Republicans strongly support. His latest study is published in the August issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.
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