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Wednesday, November 12, 2014
ARE AMERICAN VOTERS STUPID?
When MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, one of the chief
architects of Obamacare referred, in a year-old video last week, to the "stupidity of the American voter"
and a "lack of transparency" as critical to the passage of the 2010 Affordable
Care Act, it ignited a fire storm
But was Gruber wrong when he made those off-the-cuff remarks
about the American electorate at an academic conference in 2013?
Sadly, it appears that he may have been right in his
assessment. According to at least two recent surveys, Americans are woefully
ignorant when it comes to their country and its governance.
Ask them to name just one Supreme Court Justice and 65
percent can’t, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
It gets better. Ask Americans to name the three branches of
their government and 36 percent of Americans can’t. Ask them to name just a single branch of government and 35
percent can’t even do that.
But in a nation consumed like no other with celebrity, ask Americans
to reel off the names of the top rock stars, gansta rappers, Oscar favorites, superstars
in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, and any number of mindless reality
TV shows and their minions and guess what? You will have no problem getting an
So while Gruber is being pilloried for his remarks, the sad
truth is that he is right. American voters are stupid--or perhaps apathetic or
indifferent are better descriptions.
Lying to them, as the Obama administration did when it was
ramming Obamacare through Congress and down our throats, was viewed as an
acceptable tactic. After all, they reasoned, Americans are too stupid to know
what's good for them.
While such a conclusion may smack of just somebody's
opinion, it was backed up last month in a groundbreaking survey by the U.K.
research firm Ipsos MORI. That survey highlighted the
political “ignorance” of 11,527 people across 14 countries
It found that Americans are second only to Italians in how
little we understand our nations and the issues facing it. (See Graphic)
Here are a few of the questions asked and the results:
·What percentage of the U.S. population
identifies as Muslim?
Americans guessed: 15%. Reality: 1%
·What percentage of the population do you think
are immigrants to America?
Americans guessed: 32%. Reality: 13%
·Do you think this statement is true or false:
The murder rate is rising in America
70 percent of Americans guessed: True . Reality: False
·What percentage of American girls aged between
15 and 19 years give birth each year? Americans guessed: 23.9%. Reality: 3.1%
Shenkman found that most Americans were, among other things:
·Ignorant about major international events
·Knew little about how their own government runs
and who runs it
·Were nonetheless willing to accept government
positions and policies even though a moderate amount of critical thought
suggested they were bad for the country
·Were easily swayed by stereotyping, simplistic
solutions, irrational fears and public relations babble.
found that Americans, when they do pay attention, do so when they perceive that
an issue may impact them, their families or friends personally. That is not
earth shattering, but it does say something about the fact that Americans, like
it or not, are part of the global family.
I spent some
two decades as a foreign correspondent, covering stories throughout Asia and
Latin America. During that time I discovered that relatively few Americans had
any understanding at all of the impact events and policies in places like China
or Japan can have on their lives.
when products are manufactured more inexpensively in China or India or Vietnam
that often means higher paid Americans lose their jobs.
When rapacious government policies allow a Chinese steel
company to export its products at a price that is lower in the American market
than the price charged in the domestic Chinese market, and thereby unfairly undercut
American steel makers, that is called "dumping."
What most Americans may not know is that dumping is legal
under World Trade Organization rules unless the aggrieved foreign country can
demonstrate the negative impact of the exporting company on domestic producers.
In order to counter dumping, most nations use tariffs and quotas to protect their
domestic industry from the negative effects of predatory pricing.
But let's get back to that Ipsos MORI survey and Gruber's
unflattering characterization of the American voter.
We often decry the quality of elected officials today. But
what about the quality of voters?
How can we make informed decisions about places like Iraq
and Iran, organizations like ISIS, government spending, and societal issues if we
have no understanding of the essential specifics involved?
American educator and philosopher Robert Maynard Hutchins may have said it best:
"The death of
democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow
extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."