Departmental Papers (ASC)

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version

January 1991


Reprinted from The Public Opinion Quarterly, Volume 55, Issue 4, Winter 1991, pages 583-612.

NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Michael X. Delli Carpini was affiliated with Columbia University. Currently January 2008, he is a faculty member of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.


The U.S. public's current knowledge about politics is compared with levels of knowledge in the 1940s and 1950s. Fourteen questions asked by Gallup on various surveys from 1945 to 1957 were included on a larger survey of political knowledge conducted by telephone in 1989 with a randomly selected sample of 610 adult U.S. residents. On 8 of the 14 items, the percentage answering correctly in 1989 was higher than in the earlier surveys (by 4-15 points). One item showed an increase of 1 percent, two were down 1 percent, and three others declined by 5 percent, 9 percent, and 10 percent. When level of education is controlled, however, levels of knowledge appear to have declined for most of the items. A reanalysis of some of the original Gallup data is used to estimate the effectiveness of schools in transmitting political information in 1989 compared with the earlier years.



Date Posted: 15 January 2008

This document has been peer reviewed.