September 19, 2013

The latest News IQ Quiz: How our web visitors stack up against the public

Since Pew Research released its latest News IQ Quiz on Sept. 5, more than 250,000 people have taken our 13-question challenge. Now equipped with about two weeks of data, we decided to analyze how our online quiz-takers performed versus the general public who participated in the same survey.

The results are in: In our national survey of 1,052 randomly selected adults, Americans answered an average of 6.3 out of 13 questions correctly, including 1% who got them all correct. By contrast, those who have taken the quiz online so far have averaged 9.7 correct answers, with 9% getting perfect scores.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t taken the quiz yet, you might want to do so now before you keep reading.

FT_13.09.16_quizTakers_vsNation_310newThe volunteer quiz-takers did better than the general public on each of the 13 questions. There are notably wide gaps on certain questions, including two related to technology: About eight-in-ten online quiz-takers (79%) knew that Google Glass is a computer you can wear and nearly seven-in-ten (68%) identified Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer from a photo. Less than half of the general public (42% and 34%, respectively) answered those two correctly. In addition, 81% of online quiz-takers correctly identified Egypt as the country highlighted on a map of the Middle East, compared to about half of the public (49%).

The two most difficult questions for the general public also proved toughest for our visitors. Just about half of visitors (53%) correctly selected the picture of Justice Anthony Kennedy as the Supreme Court’s swing vote in recent years; a minority of 44% correctly selected a chart showing the Dow Jones’ trend since 2008 as a steep drop followed by a steady recovery.

FT_news-quiz2To be sure, the differences in the results partly reflect who volunteered to take a quiz about their knowledge of public affairs, unlike the random national sample interviewed. For instance, while 29% of the general public that Pew Research interviewed were college graduates, 69% of visitors had college degrees. (Both survey respondents and online quiz-takers were asked information about themselves.) Just 9% of online test-takers had only a high school diploma or less, compared to 42% of the nationwide survey. Meanwhile, men (61%) were more likely than women (38%) to take our website’s survey. However, those who took the quiz on our website were fairly similar to the national sample in terms of age.

But the fact that these website visitors have greater levels of education than the general public doesn’t explain all of the differences in the scores. For instance, college graduates who took the quiz on our website answered two more questions correctly on average than did college graduates in the general public survey (10.1 vs. 8.1).

FT_news-quiz3Even with the self-selected online sample, the general pattern of correct answers (and the two easiest questions) remained the same. Vast majorities correctly identified Edward Snowden’s photo (94%) and know that the Federal Reserve is in charge of monetary policy (92%).

Many people found the quiz via a link on Facebook, which was the largest direct referrer—29% of online test-takers. The scores of those quiz-takers (9.7 correct on average and 9% perfect scores) were identical to rest of the quarter-million people who have completed the quiz.

Notably, this IQ quiz was harder than many past ones for both the nationwide sample and web visitors. In our February quiz, about one-third (32%) of online quiz-takers and 8% of the general public aced the test.

Topics: Public Knowledge

  1. is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a Research Assistant at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.


  1. C A Johnson4 years ago

    Did you consider that the disparity between the public and online tests might be skewed by the possibility that the online test was “open book” for those who chose to look up the answers before responding?

    If the honor system is not viable at the U.S. military academies, why would one discount the possibility regarding online responders? Anyone that has experienced the online dating phenomena knows that many people are less than honest in part due to the anonymity of the internet, which has become a cesspool.

  2. Tom4 years ago

    The quiz is a good educational tool. Do them more often

  3. Fran4 years ago

    What is the purpose of the quiz? Is it to survey the general knowledge of the American public on current events in their country? Assuming that is correct, then you are achieving your goal. However, I hope that a secondary goal is also happening…. That you are educating some Americans in areas of which they are uninformed. An informed public can make better choices at the polls. Now if we can just get some people of character to run for office!

  4. MARY4 years ago


  5. John4 years ago

    I’m curious… but how many of the web visitors do you think utilize the web during the quiz to achieve that “ace”?

    1. Nancy W.4 years ago

      I too love the quizzes and do quite well, considering I just have a high school education. But then I am 70 and high school then is not high school now and I make it a point to stay informed. I can understand persons from other countries wanting your quiz to be less local, but I know I would not do nearly as well!

  6. abhishek4 years ago

    Since there is no time limit to answer the question, online users can use google to google the questions. It would be better if there is 30 sec or around that time period to answer these questions to make the survey more genuine.

  7. Victoria4 years ago

    I wish you would make your quizzes less American oriented. More global questions would be better. I am from Australian and I got 7 in this quiz.

    1. César Paz Ortiz4 years ago

      I agree the Victoria’s comment. And agree too in recommend it and apreciaste it monthly, making it about general knowledgement. Thank you all.

  8. Tim W.4 years ago

    Each person in our department at work take the quiz and we compare results, its a fun little competition among us. (As well as a nice distraction from the workday.) I agree, a few more would be nice. I would recommend monthly!

  9. Pete Noffke4 years ago

    I enjoy the quizzes that come up occasionally. I wish they would come up more often. They’re kind of a barometer for me to see if I’m keeping up with current events etc.

  10. Ileana Dominguez-Urban4 years ago

    I’m surprised at the low numbers for the Dow Jones level. Statistically, the participants in the national sample would have been better off guessing, in which case they’d be right about 25% of the time. That points to people having a very false view of the stock market’s performance. Was there one wrong choice picked more often than the other 3? If so, that would make clear what people think of the stock market’s performance.

    Even the online test takers did not do very well; fewer than half got it right, so they did better than just guessing.

    I wonder if people’s (correct) views on how the economy is doing overall affect their perceptions of how the stock market is doing. Some may not understand the difference.

    1. Seth Motel4 years ago

      Yes, there was one image that was picked more than others: 30% of respondents in our national sample picked the chart with a steep drop followed by a small recovery. In addition, 17% said they didn’t know and picked none of the four options.

      You can see the full topline of answers here:

  11. Luis Schenoni4 years ago

    It should be noticed that many people from outside the US could take the quiz. Therefore, those questions regarding US domestic politics may have been rather difficult to answer for that public (as it was my case!). I liked it very much, please keep it going!

    1. Victoria4 years ago

      I agree with you, Luis