Reminder: People Are Stupid

Whenever I hear about a poll telling me what a group of Americans think, I generally write it off. Now, folks, I don’t think everyone is stupid – I just think the average American is too distracted or preoccupied or apathetic to pay attention to the stuff that some of us feel is important.

Today, the press is all over the CBS/NYT poll that shows 81% of Americans feel the nation is “on the wrong track.” I agree with those Americans, but probably wouldn’t share their reasoning. What didn’t get as much attention was the recent “News IQ” poll by Pew Internet Life that drilled down a bit to explore what we know about things like our society, our government, and the war being fought with our dollars and our permission. I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively well people did.

Some highlights:

  • Only 28% of respondents know approximately how many Americans have died in Iraq (and Pew notes that this is an all-time low and “awareness is dropping”).
  • 70% knew Condi Rice is Secretary of State
  • 62% could identify “Sunni” as the branch of Islam fighting the Shia in Iraq
  • 56% knew McCain was from Arizona
  • 40% knew Howard Dean chairs the DNC
  • 35% knew Ben Bernanke chairs the Federal Reserve

Of course, these were phone interviews of 1000 people who were willing to sit through a phone trivia test, and who were given four multiple choice answers from which to choose. I frankly find the results impressive, but I’ll bet if they had conducted the same survey outside a Wal-Mart in middle America without the benefit of “multiple choice”, the numbers would have been much, much worse.

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