Yes, Americans know more than they did before and it’s a good omen for the next elections. According to a recent PEW survey, an average American’s general knowledge has increased.
That is a great leap of progress for Americans generally taken to be ignorant of anything that does not directly affect them.
In 1994 an eight-nation survey found that people of Mexico, Spain, Italy, Canada, Germany, Britain and France were more knowledgeable than Americans in foreign affairs.
In 2006, Washington Post wrote, “In this age of polling, hardly a day goes by without some new report about the state of American public opinion. But pollsters rarely acknowledge the well-documented finding in political science that citizens know little about current events in general and even less about overseas events.”
They attributed it to, “entertainment-centered forms of reporting, making it more difficult for lazy citizens to encounter substantive political information” as well as “heavily ‘domesticated’ news programming.”
In 2007 the PEW Research Center did a survey and here’s what they had to report:
“On average, today’s citizens are about as able to name their leaders, and are about as aware of major news events, as was the public nearly 20 years ago. The new survey includes nine questions that are either identical or roughly comparable to questions asked in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2007, somewhat fewer were able to name their governor, the vice president, and the president of Russia, but more respondents than in the earlier era gave correct answers to questions pertaining to national politics.”
A survey conducted a year later yielded just as despondent results. “About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family,” it reported.
Fast forward to 2014 and things are looking much brighter.
Here’s what the recent PEW survey yields, “… A large majority (73%) is able to correctly identify the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (from a list of other amounts ranging from $5.25 to $12.50).
“In addition, amid ongoing U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic militants in the Middle East, 67% can identify Syria as one of the countries in which the militant group known as ISIS currently controls territory (from a list that included Pakistan, Kuwait and Egypt). And 60% know that Ukraine was once part of the Soviet Union; the other choices were Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Scandinavia.”
Perhaps it’s the globalization and direct impact of things like terrorism and deadly diseases from far off lands that have made people more aware. Or maybe all that time spent browsing on social media isn’t all that wasted?
If we take in to account author and public speaker Francis Tapon’s defense of the curse of American ignorance, the effect of impact and exposure is validated.
He says, “Europeans know what’s going on America not because they’re more worldly and sophisticated, but because America has a lot of influence in their affairs. America knows little about individual European countries because not one European country has much impact on America (except for perhaps Britain or Russia). Most Europeans don’t know much more than Americans about what’s happening in Uruguay, New Zealand, and Namibia because those countries are both far and insignificant to them. And those countries don’t give a shit about all the tiny European countries either.”
For nationals matters like unemployment, however, the issue has become too much of a concern for an average American for them to remain ignorant about it.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is that the 2016 elections will have more informed voters than ever before.
In 2010 fewer than half of respondents of a survey even knew which political party held the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. There is hope that such will not be the case in the next elections.
An informed electorate is not only necessary for good democratic governance but for the voters as well.
After all, as Thomas Jefferson wisely said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”