NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More than Half of Americans Have the Facts Wrong

April 1, 2004

There is a great deal of confusion about basic facts relevant to public policy, according to a forthcoming study by economists Alan B. Krueger and Alan S. Blinder for the Brookings Institution's Papers on Economic Activity.

Last spring, they surveyed a random sample of 1,002 people on their views about economic policy. Among their findings:

  • Almost half the public, and a quarter of those over age 55, thought Medicare already provided drug benefits for outpatients before legislation providing such coverage was enacted.
  • More than half could not hazard a guess about the size of the budget deficit.
  • The average person thinks 37 percent of Americans lack health insurance, more than twice the actual percentage.

Another study, by Joel Slemrod of the University of Michigan, found that a majority of people mistakenly believe that middle-income families pay a higher percentage of their income in federal taxes than do high-income families, whereas the top 1 percent of households paid 24 percent of their income in federal income taxes in 2000, while the middle 20 percent paid 5 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Interestingly, Krueger and Blinder found that liberals, moderates and conservatives all did about equally well on the test of economic facts. But those who hadn't thought much about their ideological leanings -- one in three people -- were appreciably less knowledgeable.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene," New York Times, April 1, 2004.


Browse more articles on Government Issues