Saturday, January 30, 2010

public ignorance

The Pew Research Center, which otherwise does a commendable job of surveying public opinion on a wide range of issues, goes too far this week in a poll designed to test public knowledge of some newsworthy topics.

It is not surprising that fewer than half the Americans polled know that Harry Reid is Senate Majority Leader, or that no Republican Senator voted for the health reform bill, or that it takes 60 votes to break a Senate filibuster. Those may be useful facts to some, but they are not crucial to citizenship. We might even take some comfort from the fact that 55% of those surveyed know that our unemployment rate is around 10%, that 57% know we import 2/3 of our oil, or that 59% knw that China holds most of the U.S. debt.

Public ignorance is often shockingly high on truly consequential issues. In 2006, half the respondents said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. And a poll in 2007 found one-third believing that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.

The only remedy for ignorance is knowledge -- and it has to be pushed out into the media and repeated again and again so that it takes hold.

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