Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 2, 2009

SOFT BIGOTRY, LOW EXPECTATIONS.... Time's Amy Sullivan, a Monthly alum, notes that Americans did reasonably well in the Pew Research Center's new report on current events.

We most often hear about public opinion polls that make Americans seem like blithering idiots who are lucky to get through the day without tripping over their own stupidity: More people can name a Jonas Brother than a Supreme Court Justice! A shocking percentage don't know which party controls Congress! They believe in UFOs!

So it's only right to highlight this new Pew Research Center survey that finds Americans well-informed about the financial crisis. Suspiciously well-informed. Seriously -- 58% know that Tim Geithner is the Treasury Secretary? That's name i.d. that some presidential wannabes would kill for. More than seven in ten know that China is the foreign country that holds the most U.S. government debt. A majority (53%) correctly estimated the unemployment rate at 8%.

Pat yourselves on the back, Americans -- the economy may be in a death spiral, but you know exactly how bad it is!

Well, I suppose. It's likely that I have unrealistic expectations, but the survey was multiple choice, which necessarily makes it a little easier. Respondents weren't asked, for example, to name the Treasury Secretary. Rather, they were asked who Tim Geithner was, and were offered four options. That 58% got it right isn't bad, I guess, but given all the public discussion and coverage of late, that number seems underwhelming. Are Americans "suspiciously well-informed"? I need more convincing.

Indeed, the same Pew Research Center report found that 11% of Americans still think President Obama is a Muslim, which is practically unchanged since the presidential campaign. About one-fifth of all white evangelical Protestants continue to buy into this obvious falsehood.

We have a ways to go.

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

"Indeed, the same Pew Research Center report found that 11% of Americans still think President Obama is a Muslim, which is practically unchanged since the presidential campaign. About one-fifth of all white evangelical Protestants continue to buy into this obvious falsehood."

my guess is that they buy into it because they want to, not because they don't know differently.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on April 2, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

"11% of Americans still think President Obama is a Muslim"

Are you implying that Obama is NOT a Muslim? You, sir, are obviously not a Baptist!

If he is not a Baptist (preferably Southern Baptist), then it does not matter if he is a muslim or a buddist or a hindu or a methodist.

Now, if you want to get into real polling...
We expect a Rasmussen poll to be out soon that will provide real insight into the American public with questions such as:
Q: Who is the 46th president of the United States?
Q: Has Obama stopped beating his wife?
Q: What is your opinion of the liberal media that helped fool the American voters into believing that John McCain did not win the election in 2008?

Posted by: SoWhat on April 2, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

OK, so Americans aren't blithering idiots, merely idiots. Odd, but I don't find this especially encouraging.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on April 2, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, as Kevin found out a while back, Multiple choice is NOT necessarily easier. Europeans who don't have multiple choice over there find it much harder for example.

Posted by: MNPundit on April 2, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Re "11% of Americans still think President Obama is a Muslim... About one-fifth of all white evangelical Protestants continue to buy into this obvious falsehood."

That's not too bad, considering that 100% of all white evangelical Protestants continue to fall for the Big Lie...

Posted by: eb on April 2, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Identifying the Treasury Secretary is light years from having any meaningful knowledge or understanding of the financial crisis. Especially in a multiple-choice format.

I'm gonna need more solid proof before I have confidence in mah fellow Amuricans.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 2, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

About one-fifth of all white evangelical Protestants continue to buy into this obvious falsehood.

You would too, if you heard it from the pulpit every Sunday and Wednesday...

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on April 2, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Amy Sullivan, a Monthly alum

That's a pretty innocuous, and misleading, decription of the egregious Ms. Sullivan, especially since I'd bet Steve is familiar with her history. Sullivan is, or was, a self identifed Democrat (in the Mickey Kaus vein) who wrote almost exclusively on politics and religion and, in best concern troll fashion, consistently concluded that the only hope for Democratic victory required them to become 90% as pious as the theocrat Republicans. Her arguments were invariably, disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, and usually based on strawmen arguments. And her disdain for non-believers, and their participation in the political process, was palpable. Kevin Drum invited her to post on this site several times and her posts invariably subject to extreme criticism on the grounds noted above. Particularly notable was her consistent refusal, depite myriad demands, to name and quote the "many" anti-religious Democrats who were invariably the stars of her posts. Depressingly, but not surprisingly, of the many fine writers in the liberal blogospehere, this Democratic concern troll failed upward to Time.

Posted by: Marlowe on April 2, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

If you drill down in the data a bit, you find white evangelicals actually believe that Obama is a socialist-fascist-Black-supremacist-Marxist-communist-Stalinist-Nazi-hippie-liberal-teleprompterist-Antichrist. At least, that's the read in the South.

Posted by: T Paine on April 2, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I just thought about it, and I can't actually name a Jonas Brother. Until recently, I didn't even know they were a band. I thought they were characters on a Saturday morning kids show.

I also would have gotten the unemployment question wrong, but that's only because I know our statistics are designed to make it seem lower than it. I would guess it is around 12%.

Posted by: doubtful on April 2, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

MNPundit: There is still a big difference between an open-ended question and an MCQ with 4 options thought, especially when it comes to a general population survey. The odds of picking the right answer is greatly increased in this survey. It's one outta four. Those won't be the odds if they were asked to name the Treasury Secretary.

WRT to Kevin's point, I remember back in day when I was still in school. Not only were we asked to name/state things as opposed to picking or choosing, we were also penalized for spelling errors and other mistakes. Double whammy I tell yah!

Posted by: GOD on April 2, 2009 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a poll of basic scientific knowledge recently, and discovered that only 76% Americans know that the earth rotates around the sun, and only 55% know that it takes 365 days for the earth to orbit the sun. I find these deeply depressing numbers, but I'd love to see the correlations between that kind of ignorance and the 11% who claim Obama is a Muslim. And though I dread the answer, I wonder what percentage of these no-nothings vote...?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 2, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

This just in...

Two-thirds of Americans have identified the hand basket, and where it's heading if we keep listening to the right-wing echo machine!

[/snark]

Posted by: Unca Paul on April 2, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Particularly notable was her consistent refusal, despite myriad demands, to name and quote the "many" anti-religious Democrats who were invariably the stars of her posts.

There are many anti-religious Democrats. Why, just in Congress alone, there's that one woman, her name's on the tip of my tongue....

Wait, there is that one guy, what's his name, you know...the brown-haired guy...

There's tons of them! Just 'cause I can't name any of them right now doesn't mean they're just figments of Amy Sullivan's imagination!

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on April 2, 2009 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

Time's Amy Sullivan, a Monthly alum..

I guess so-called Democrats can fail upwards too.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 2, 2009 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

And Dinah Shore had a black baby.

Posted by: BUDDY66 on April 2, 2009 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Only 11% thought that Obama is a Muslim? That means one of two things. Either the wingnutosphere is doing a horrible job spreading their myths. Or a large percentage of wingnuts don't answer Pew surveys.

I'm guessing it's a little of both.

A few years ago Pew did a very interesting study comparing regular poll-respondants to reluctant poll-respondants. The reluctant ones were those who didn't answer at first but eventually they gave in after much nagging. (Oddly, they didn't survey non-respondents. Ok, bad joke.)

They found the two groups were very similar statistically in most respects EXCEPT that the reluctant respondents were a lot more racist.

Interestingly the extra racism was equal across Democrats and Republicans -- which may be partly reflected in the fact that the survey took place largely in the South.

So, I wonder if the Obama-is-a-Muslim crowd is mostly non-respondants to such surveys. It seems likely to me, given that such a belief indicates an irrational degree of personal paranoia.

Posted by: Cool on April 2, 2009 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Europeans who don't have multiple choice over there find it much harder for example. -- MNPundit @14:45

Don't know which Europeans, but. When I was at the Warsaw U (Poland), my department (English) tried to introduce the multiple choice tests -- they're far easier to check than the open-ended ones and so save on time and effort of the teacher.

So, we got a multiple choice test as an experiment. Once we figured out what the heck it was (we'd never seen that format before)... Once we realised that there were *no* trip-up questions (say, you have 4 choices and none of them is correct, but "none of the above" is not an option)...

We set to, giggling. Finished in half the time and everyone got an A. The experiment was never repeated and we finished our time at the U with the traditional, write in your own answer type of tests.

Answering multiple choice questions requires passive knowledge of the subject and not necessarily exact, at that (one of the 4 options is likely to ring a louder bell tan the others and there's always the possibility of reducing the options to two by eliminating the impossible ones and then guessing. 50-50 chance). Answering an open-ended question correctly requires active knowledge.

It's like the difference between being able to understand a page of text in a book and being able to actually write a (coherent, grammatically correct and properly spelt/spelled) page of text.

Posted by: exlibra on April 2, 2009 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

The unemployment Q on the Pew poll is a bad one. I know it is quoted to be around 8%, but we also all pretty much know it's higher. So I went with 12%; that was the only Q I missed. Not a very challenging poll.

Posted by: katmom on April 2, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Respondents weren't asked, for example, to name the Treasury Secretary.

I don't really understand your obsession with specifically knowing a name. Would you give someone any credit if they thought the Treasury Secretary was named Tim Gertner (close but not quite right) or Hank Paulson (true until a couple of months ago) or confused his job with that of Ben Bernanke?

Better that Americans have some sense of what the Treasury Secretary's job is, what he's done recently and whether they know what the repercussions of his actions are.

Posted by: Jinchi on April 2, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, a full 89% of Americans don't know Obama is a Moslem. What are they doing to our young people in school?

Posted by: Luther on April 2, 2009 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Did you look at those questions, if you missed anything other than the current death toll for Iraq you are a complete idiot. I am not comforted by the result.

Posted by: Scott F. on April 2, 2009 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

How, seriously, can you have a Treasury Secretary signing banknotes called Tim? Hank was bad enough; Tim has the credibility of Charlene. Treasury Secretaries should be Silas, Obadiah, Barnabas, Ruth, Abigail, or Joseph.

Posted by: James Wimberley on April 2, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

I saw a poll of basic scientific knowledge recently, and discovered that only 76% Americans know that the earth rotates around the sun, and only 55% know that it takes 365 days for the earth to orbit the sun. I find these deeply depressing numbers, but I'd love to see the correlations between that kind of ignorance and the 11% who claim Obama is a Muslim. And though I dread the answer, I wonder what percentage of these no-nothings vote...? -- PTate

No -- The earth REVOLVES around the sun and ROTATES on its axis. LOL.

Posted by: gRADY REYNOLDS on April 2, 2009 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly