November 11th, 2014
07:20 PM ET

Why the 'Ignorance Index' matters

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By Global Public Square staff

Americans voted on Tuesday for big change. But did they understand the facts that they wanted to change? Not according to a groundbreaking new survey.

You see, Americans think the unemployment rate is much higher than it is, that there are many more immigrants and pregnant teens than there actually are, and that the population is much older than it actually is.

Now maybe this gap between perception and reality is because of American ignorance or hyper-partisanship. Except, we’re not alone.

In the first international study of its kind, the U.K. research firm Ipsos MORI highlights the political “ignorance” of participants across 14 countries. Here are some of the findings from Ipsos MORI’s quiz:

When asked what percentage of people are unemployed or looking for work, Americans guessed 32 percent. The U.S. unemployment rate is actually closer to 6 percent, of course. In fact, we could only find one country on the planet – Macedonia – which has had more than 30 percent unemployment in recent years according to IMF data. It turns out every country over-estimated its unemployment level.

So, what about immigration levels? Well, there, too, the participants of every single country imagined that they are being overwhelmed by foreigners. Italians think 30 percent of the population is comprised of foreigners, when it's really closer to 7 percent. Americans think it's 32 percent. The actual number in America is more like 13 percent.

How many people did respondents think identified as Muslim in their countries? Here, the French embellished the most, reporting that 31 percent of the population was probably Muslim, instead of the actual 8 percent. Americans think it's 15 percent. It's really just 1 percent. Overall, the Swedes fared the best in the study.

And the most ignorant, most oblivious nation in the world?  Nope, it’s not America. It's actually Italy. But don't celebrate yet – the United States ranked second in Ipsos MORI’s "Index of Ignorance."

Why does it all matter? Well, if there is a chasm between perception and reality, then this does have huge implications for elections and policy making. Politicians are then left to deal with false assumptions, or over imagined issues, many of which they, by the way, created or at least exacerbated.

If a nation's citizens are convinced that illegal immigration is a bigger problem than it actually is, they will push their elected officials to spend billions on fortified walls and deportations. If they think the government is spending a disproportionate amount of money on foreign aid for example, they will advocate sharp cuts in what is actually a small aid budget.

Sadly, pervasive ignorance is hardly a new phenomenon, as scholar Ilya Somin points out in his book Democracy and Political Ignorance. He notes that only 38 percent of Americans knew that the Soviet Union was not a member of NATO in 1964, at the height of the Cold War. In 1986, a majority of Americans were unable to identify Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev by name.

Now, Somin concedes that it's rational for people to not worry about acquiring the knowledge to vote smarter because the chances of a single vote counting are negligible. But in the aggregate, it's scary when more than half of Americans don't know whether the Senate or House are controlled by Democrats or Republicans...which is the case, according to a recent poll from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

We all worry about the quality of politicians in today's democracies. But what about the quality of voters? How can we make decisions about war and peace, expenditures and values if citizens are totally wrong about the basic facts involved?

America’s Founding Father James Madison, perhaps, put it best: “Popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps, both.”


soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Philip

    And you never did say what YOU do for a living.

    November 12, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      She said repeatedly that she is retired.

      November 12, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Reply
      • Philip

        Retired from what would be the next logical question. Not that logic rules around here.

        November 12, 2014 at 5:42 pm |
    • Philip

      The best age to become a mother is BEFORE 30. Duh.

      November 12, 2014 at 8:26 pm | Reply
      • banasy©

        After 35 is the risky territory. Not before 30.

        Having a child at 30 does keep the ignorant gossips from complaining that the mother was far too young to have a child, however.

        November 12, 2014 at 9:09 pm |
      • Philip

        Was talking about giving live birth, @banasy. Not dead abortion.
        What keeps ignorant gossips from complaining about girls giving abortions? If 35 is the cut-off for natural birth, how old is it for natural abortions. Is there such a thing as a natural abortion?

        November 13, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
      • banasy©

        I know what I was talking about, Philip. I am unsure why you brought up abortions or why you think I was confused.

        Natural abortions are called "miscarriages". I would have thought you would have known that.

        November 14, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
      • banasy©

        Oh, and 35 isn't the cut off for natural birth, and I never implied it was.

        I said a pregnancy after 35 is risky territory.

        November 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm |
  2. Philip

    If I recall, @banasy commutes 2 hours in order to be a part-time librarians helper.

    November 12, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      You are incorrect, as you often are.

      This is what you get when you search for information based on what you think, rather than fact.

      November 12, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Reply
      • Philip

        No. I distinctly recall calculating how far you had to drive back and forth each day in order to fulfill your lifelong ambition of being a libarian helper. Acourse that was 2 years ago, or so. Perhaps you moved closer to work?

        November 12, 2014 at 5:40 pm |
      • Philip

        Are you still mothering grandchildren, Donna?

        November 12, 2014 at 5:43 pm |
      • banasy©

        You distinctly calulated wrong, because you assumed something that was mistaken in the first place.

        I told you that when you erroneously wrote that; I am not surprised you failed to read/retain that knowledge.

        That's your fault, not mine.

        I have lived on the same house for 20 years.

        November 12, 2014 at 5:46 pm |
      • Philip

        I recall as a boy old ewes on our sheep ranch would try to claim lambs born to younger ewes. But, yeah. Most old hags are like stubborn old goats.

        November 12, 2014 at 5:57 pm |
      • banasy©

        PED, oh why would I need to do that? My granddaughter has parents to do that.

        She adores Grandma and Grandpa when she visits.

        Are you a grandparent yet? Do you see them?

        I look forward to my grandchild's visits.

        Have you experienced that joy yet?

        November 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm |
      • Philip

        I said mothering. Not visiting. Are you blind?

        November 12, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
      • Philip

        Too much proactivity going on here. Ttyl, Donna.

        November 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm |
      • banasy©

        No, I'm not blind, as I plainly stated in my statement "why would I need to do that?"

        She has parents to fulfill the parenting role.

        Are you dense?

        Oh, and Philip? What do you think the best age is to become a mother? My daughter was over 30, so....do you have a point, or are you going to meander aimlessly trying desperately to disparage me some more?

        November 12, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
  3. Philip

    Bill Clinton abuses women and deserved not one single vote.

    November 12, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      And tonight you're gonna party like it's 1992.

      November 12, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
      • What voters did to Phoenix

        '92? I thought Bill boned Monica in like '98 or something. Wasn't he still killing Mena Airport photogrophers back in '92? No. Earlier than that, It was. Iran Contra days when Bill was helping Ollie cover for fellow democrat Reagan.

        November 12, 2014 at 8:04 pm |
      • banasy©

        He was elected in 1992; that was when he got that one single vote, and a whole lot more.

        November 12, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  4. What voters did to Phoenix

    A couple 3 decades ago, a man named Joe Arpaiio hatched plan in order to con drug using voters into voting to make a little scrawny toothpick armed man into Big Sheiff Joe of Maricopa County, AZ. Exactly how Hitler seduced many of our ancestors.

    November 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • What voters did to Phoenix

      Firstly, voters in Phoenix needed to be convinced that somehow it was their obligation as a US citizen to vote in county sheriff elections. Joe found this not to be that difficult of a task. There are a lot of very old women living in Maricopa county. Bored housewives and old hags being kept alive by pills. Single moms of creamy babies and men on meds carrying loaded weapons in public. Not exactly the brain trust of America.
      AND there are snow bunnies. Old farts that travel from Minnesota to Phx each year to escape nature. The voting block of Phoenix Arizona.
      Joe's platform? "Ya know those smellier than you old people homeless persons on our streets? The lazy ones that could work but claim "bi polar" instead? Well. Elect me and I will get rid of them. And so Joe keeps getting reelected by the same average voters year after year. And there are few homeless in Phoenix, btw. Arizona has the most forced labor camps of any state.

      November 12, 2014 at 8:13 pm | Reply
    • What voters did to Phoenix

      And ALL because of dumb-assed average voters. PERIOD!

      November 12, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  5. What voters did to Phoenix

    Homeless people are arrested, taken to Maricopa County Jail, beaten but not too severely, except in 17 cases where Sheriff Joe has federal murder indictments against him...beaten and then released with zero paperwork. No paperwork. Only a needle dick pencil arm Barney Fife saying "If we catch you sleeping in public again we won't be so nice" Yes. I broke one of them's jaw. Duh.

    November 12, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  6. What voters did to Phoenix

    Most any nation would be more secure WITHOUT the average voter. I rest my case.

    November 12, 2014 at 8:23 pm | Reply
    • Philip

      *without the average voter having a say. Of course we need libarians and such.

      November 12, 2014 at 8:29 pm | Reply
      • banasy©

        The world needs more librarians to move the ignorant away from the computers and toward actual books.
        Only the low-bred would argue otherwise.

        November 12, 2014 at 9:29 pm |
      • banasy©

        *unless those ignorant people were banned from the library. That happens more frequently than one would ever suppose.

        November 12, 2014 at 9:32 pm |
      • Philip

        Low bred? Lmao. Is that worse than inbred? And, what is high-bred anyway.

        November 13, 2014 at 3:36 am |
      • banasy©

        Look it up.

        November 13, 2014 at 10:12 am |
  7. rupert

    *facepalm*

    November 12, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  8. chri§§y

    Not that its any of your business but i am retired from electronics manufacturing! I have worked 45 years at least one job but most times 2. I raised my 3 children and 2 of my sisters by myself! But if i had to do it in this economic time i would be quite hard pressed to do so!!

    November 13, 2014 at 3:13 am | Reply
    • Philip

      You implied that I did not work for a living, Chrissy. Which begged the question what do you do for a living.
      But, yeah. Money used to really flow years ago. But that was before America's hording epidemic broke out. I too would be hard pressed to raise a family in today's America.

      November 13, 2014 at 3:22 am | Reply
  9. Philipingu

    What are you doing up at this hour, Missy? I've had a cold for a couple of days and have been falling asleep right after work. Only to awake in the middle of the night and come here of all places.
    Bitter cold here. And all of a sudden too.

    November 13, 2014 at 3:29 am | Reply
    • Philip

      Philipingu? I have no idea how that happened.

      November 13, 2014 at 3:33 am | Reply
  10. chri§§y

    Lmao @ Philip...i had to drive back from upnorth and didnt get home til quite late which is why i was up at that ungodly hour! Too much coffee most likely! And it was horridly cold up there and already tons of snow. Cant say i miss that much!

    November 13, 2014 at 11:07 am | Reply
  11. chri§§y

    As my dad always used to say "its colder than a welldiggers ass up here" lmao!

    November 13, 2014 at 11:09 am | Reply
  12. Maxwell Smart

    would you believe Colder than a witch's teet in a caste iron bra?

    November 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Is a caste iron bra one worn in India?

      November 14, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  13. chri§§y

    Lmao now youre talkin like my mum! Shes worse than a sailor!

    November 13, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  14. chri§§y

    And now that shes in her late 80s her imagination works overtime when trying to shock you with that toilet mouth she has. Its unbelievable the things she comes up with!

    November 13, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  15. chri§§y

    Lol @ banasy do you know WHY God chose men to be unable to get pregnant? Because they are such babies when getting a common cold, he knew humans would be extinct in a hot second because men would not survive the pain! Lmao

    November 14, 2014 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  16. chri§§y

    Funny thing though how those same men think they know more than women, the physicalities of being pregnant, miscarriages, abortion or giving birth! And then when all is said and done, just calmly walk away if they choose! Just my opinion of course, however it IS shared by many!

    November 14, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Very true, Chrissy.

      November 14, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Reply
  17. Nilooka

    Reblogged this on BusinessTrainerSriLanka and commented:
    In the first international study of its kind, the U.K. research firm Ipsos MORI highlights the political “ignorance” of participants across 14 countries. Here are some of the findings from Ipsos MORI’s quiz:

    December 11, 2014 at 4:24 am | Reply
  18. VidaBoaEmFamilia

    You'll want to have a plan for the dog when it comes to the times where it is left alone.

    Money, objects, and gifts can be seen as replacements for that affection. He got into trouble as a teenager
    and became the prisoner of his own home – with his parents as the wardens, and later his brother – ever since.

    June 4, 2015 at 2:50 am | Reply
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