Too Dumb for Democracy

By Emmanuel Atufu

Americans can be really dumb, that is a clear and undeniable fact and there is plenty of evidence to prove that.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center interviewed 1,002 adults, age 18 years and older for their News IQ quiz that measures the public’s awareness of key facts in the news. The results were fascinating, to say the least.

The quiz revealed that 49 percent did not know that Common Core was an education standard, 33 percent did not know the unemployment rate was at six percent, 24 percent did not know that Janet Yellen was the Chair of the Federal Reserve and 20 percent did not know that the Government spends the most on Social Security.

One can easily assume from the Pew Research survey that Americans are stupid (and there is certainly a case to be made), but the real problem is not stupidity, but ignorance.

 

Ignorance is the Achilles’ heel of democracy. In 2014, the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a survey of 1,416 adults and the results were stunning.

The survey revealed only 36 percent of respondents could name all three branches of Government, while 35 could not name a single one. And it gets even worse.

Only 27 percent of the respondents knew it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto. .The survey serves to further confirm that Americans know very little about politics and public policy.

The Federal budget is one example of political ignorance. A substantial percentage of people think that we can solve the Federal budget crisis by cutting unpopular foreign aid programs, all while not raising taxes or touching entitlement programs such as Social Security.

What most voters do not know is that foreign aid accounts for about one percent of the Federal budget. Social Security on the other hand, accounts for 24 percent of the budget, or $851 billion in 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This high level of political ignorance has persisted despite the increase and diversity of new media outlets and the rise in the number of the college-educated.

But if people are not necessarily stupid and information is readily available online, then why are people still uninformed? The answer is simple: we are all too busy with our own lives to worry about what is happening in Washington D.C.

So the problem is not that Americans are stupid, the real issue here is that Americans lack the time or interest in politics. However, that lack of time and interest in politics is stalling any attempts at social progress and crippling the middle class and those of low-economic status.

In 2015, GBA Strategies conducted a national poll of 1,500 likely 2016 voters (Republicans, Democrats, Independents), in order to find the percentage of support Americans had for various key issues. The results were amazing.

When asked whether the government should negotiate drug prices, an overwhelming 79 percent of respondents agreed. On the topic of giving students the same low interest rates as big banks, there was 78 percent support.

There was 74 percent support for ending tax loopholes for corporations shipping jobs overseas, 73 percent support for ending gerrymandering, 71 percent support for NSA to get warrants, and 71 percent support for debt-free college. Overall 29 out of 52 key issues had at least 61 percent support.

With so much overwhelming support for many of the issues, you would think that there was already legislation that addressed those issues. But you would be dead wrong. All because people are uninformed.

A large number of people believe that their vote will not make much of a difference in election cycles, thus they rarely educate themselves on politics and public policy. However, they will still turn out to vote. And being an uninformed voter leads them to vote for public officials whose policies go against their own interests.

Ignorance is the reason why nothing the majority of the public wants ever gets done, even though everyone is in agreement about what needs to be done to improve the country. When things go bad, we tend to finger point and assume the politicians are the problem, instead of looking at the mirror.

It is not that we have incompetent leaders, we are just too dumb for democracy.

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