New polling shows alarming trend, many Floridians unaware how government works

City Hall

Many Floridians are unable to answer simple questions about how government works, says a new survey of residents by Florida Southern College.

Even those with college degree missed some of the answers from questions included on exams administered to those becoming new citizens of the nation. For example, only 65 percent could name Rick Scott as governor of Florida.

The poll, conducted April 2-14 and April 17-19 by the FSC Center for Polling and Policy Research, took responses from 377 adults. The margin of error is +/- 5 percentage points.

Respondents were asked a series of questions about how they get their news and then were asked questions derived from the citizenship and naturalization exams on their familiarity with state and federal government.

Many commentaries addressed the falling use of the printed newspapers, but results of the Florida Southern poll would suggest it is greater than previously reported.

Asked what they would say is their main source of news, 41 percent of those agreeing to participate in the random sample telephone survey said television. Forty percent said the internet while 7 percent said newspapers, the same [percentage who said their main source of news is radio. Another 2 percent listed other sources and 3 percent gave no answer.

Sixty-two percent of the 18 to 29-year-olds participating in the poll listed the internet as their main source of news and only 7 percent of that age group said newspapers.

Sixty-one percent of those 65 and older said their main source of news is television. Only 11 percent of that age group, which grew up with newspapers, early TV, and no internet, listed their main source of news as newspapers. Twenty-one percent of those 65 and over said their main source is the internet.

Although it was not measured, FSC principal polling analyst Dr. Bruce Anderson said it is possible some of those who get their news from the internet could be from online newspapers.

In the political-governmental questions, while only 65 percent were able to name Scott as governor of Florida, even fewer (45 percent) knew Paul Ryan was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his analysis, Anderson stated that younger respondents were less likely were to know the answers, suggesting one factor could be dwindling civics and government education.

However, the survey also showed higher education levels did not ensure a correct answer, although a higher percentage of college graduates and post graduates answered more.

According to the polling memo, the telephone numbers used in the survey were formed at random by a computer to ensure that each area of the state was represented in proportion to its population. In addition to sampling error, the practical difficulties of conducting any opinion poll can induce other forms of error.

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”


  • Maria Vitulli

    May 3, 2017 at 2:19 am

    This is proof that we need to improve civics education in our state. This is sad and embarrassing.

  • Canaryinthemine

    May 3, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I believe that educators have crafted exactly the product they want. Just as the blast went last week to only present one side of any discussion on carbon. Useful idiots can be created and even the teachers have proven to be highly useful. Communism has never stopped. There are 81 House of representatives members who are for communism while Congress is trailing none of them but holding hearings on Trumps Russian business activities

  • Sandy Oestreich

    May 3, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Agree precisely with first opinion, above:

    SCHOOL CURRICULA ARE TO BLAME for esp. youngsters being knowlege-challenged about Civics, Geography, Critical Thinking, their own Anatomy, Economics and so on!

    Schools are dumbing down our children and have been since the 1970s, even in college! When I started teaching college, I WAS APPALLED: college courses that I’d been required to take that had been awarded just 2 or 3 credits toward graduation were, in the 70s, were then awarded 3-4 credits.
    Thus my students were graduating from college with plenty of credits BUT LITTLE REAL, USABLE-ON-THE-SPOT KNOWLEDGEBASES !
    In the switch from honoring the “hard” courses of math, geography, economics with emphases on skeptical thinking, and switching to “other” courses, there developed a “aw-lettum-pass” attitude.

    WE ARE REAPING THE ILLS YOU SEE FROM THOSE ILL-CHOSEN CURRICULAR CHANGES. Not not blaming the beleaguered teachers necessarily. AM blaming education budget cuts by THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE which decides that almost anything in the proposed budget that does NOT go to benefit “Business” (their campaign donors) is meat they should cut.
    Education is the backbone of civilization. Funding it parsimoniously results in Just What We Now See; it also makes the voting public less aware and astute. We have already reaped what they sowed, you may have noted.

  • Sandy Oestreich

    May 3, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Are you blocking my comment because you, FL Politics, are that afraid of legislators’ pushback? What scares you? Surely you are not as fearful as the people polled who don’t understand the political environment?

Comments are closed.


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