Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

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We present results of a December 2008 Zogby International nationwide survey of American adults, with 4,835 respondents. We gauge economic enlightenment based on responses to eight economic questions. A number of controversial interpretive issues attend our measure, including: (1) our designation of enlightened answers; (2) an asymmetry in sometimes challenging leftist mentalities without ever specifically challenging conservative and libertarian mentalities; (3) our simple eight-question test is merely a baseline and does not gauge the heights of economic enlightenment; and (4) a concern about response bias (namely, that less intelligent people would be less likely to participate in the survey). Even with the caveats in mind, however, the results are important. They indicate that, for people inclined to take such a survey, basic economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college. We also show economic enlightenment by ideological groups, and we show that the finding about education holds up even when we look within each ideological group (with perhaps the exception of the “conservative” group). We discuss possible explanations for the finding that economic enlightenment is not correlated with going to college. We also report simple findings for the relation between economic enlightenment and each of the following variables: 2008 presidential vote, party affiliation, voting participation, race or ethnic group, urban vs. rural, religious affiliation, religious participation, union membership, marital status, membership in armed forces, NASCAR fandom, membership in the “investor class,” patronage at Wal-Mart, household income, and gender. Linked appendices provide all data and the survey instrument.