Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

23 April 2012

Democracy Fails, Americans Too Politically Ignorant

A Pew Research Center poll conducted from 29 March to 1 April 2012 found that the knowledge of Americans about the Republican and Democratic Parties was abysmal.  Overall, on the following issues of party policies or preferences, in which the correct answer is given in parentheses, it was found that:

To clarify one of the questions, the Democrats are more likely to favor a path to citizenship for illegal aliens.

Overall, Americans rate a C- on identifying the more conservative party, a D on recognizing the Democrats as being more in favor of raising taxes on the rich, of expanding freedoms and privileges for gay people, and in favor of providing citizenship to illegal aliens.  They earned a D- on recognizing the Republicans as being more in favor of abortion restrictions and of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge.  They earned an F in recognizing the Democrats as more in favor of defense spending cuts and the Republicans as generally more in favor of reducing the size and scope of government.  It is very clear that when Americans vote in an election for one party or another or for a candidate from one party or another, they have a very inadequate knowledge of what they are doing.

The poll also asked Americans if they could identify the party each of the following politicians is or was associated with:  Nancy Pelosi, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, and John Boehner.  They also asked which party was represented by a donkey and which was indicated by GOP.  There were a total of 17 questions.  Republicans answered a woeful 12.6 correctly (74%, grade of C), but Democrats answered even more woefully with only 11.4 correct answers (67%, grade of D).  Independents are apparently independent of the parties because they have so little knowledge that they cannot even choose a party.  They were correct only 10.7 times out of 17 (63%, grade of D).

One might argue that there are some inadequacies in the questions, but anyone reasonably knowledgeable about the political issues and who stands for what, would know all of these answers.  It is interesting that Republicans were less inclined to identify themselves as wanting to restrict access to abortions than the Democrats were.  They were also less likely to identify the Democrats as wanting citizenship for illegal aliens and reducing military spending than were the Democrats.  The only politician the Democrats could better identify with a party than could Republicans was John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House!  Republicans were much better at identifying the more historical politicians, Roosevelt and Lincoln, with a party than were Democrats.  This indicates a greater historical knowledge among Republicans.

One of the reasons we are given for a government-run school system is that every future citizen must have enough knowledge to vote in a democracy.  Well, the poll shows that the school system has failed utterly in this.  The age group from 18 - 29 was only able to answer 10.1 questions out of 17 correctly (59%, an F grade), while the next older group of 30 - 49 was able to answer 10.9 right (64%, a D).  The 50 - 64 age group inched up to 11.5 correct, and those 65 and over, despite memory loss, knew 11.9.  The longer one is out of government-run schools, the more one knows about politics.  The one bright area for the youngest age group was knowing the answers related to what are considered the politically correct social issues.  Only 43% could identify Pelosi with her party, only 43% could do the same for FDR, and only 43% could so identify Boehner.  48% knew Lincoln was a Republican.  Of course a random guesser would be right 50% of the time.

There are some interesting lessons in this data for the Republican Party.  Most Americans believe that the federal government is too big and too involved in their lives.  This means there are many Americans who are not Republicans who believe this.  Yet only 51% of the Independents identified the Republicans as the party more in favor of reducing the size and scope of the federal government.  Perhaps the Republicans have assumed this was obvious and have not sufficiently publicized this policy stance.  Only 46% of Democrats could identify the Republicans as generally wanting smaller government.  With so many Americans unhappy with a domineering government, there are surely even some Democrats who want smaller government.  We know there are some who oppose ObamaCare, for instance.  Only 44% of the 18 - 29 age group saw the Republicans as the party of smaller government and the age group of 30 - 49 was a low 53% as well.  This is a message the Republicans, surprisingly, need to drum home.

With political ignorance so dominant among Americans, it is hardly any wonder that our increasingly unlimited democracy coupled with unlimited government is failing so badly.  The People are generally dissatisfied and believe the country is going in the wrong direction.  As I have noted many times, they do not understand what is going on and they have an entirely inadequate knowledge of history, economics, and civics.  They see a huge government involved in far too many activities for them to follow and be current on.  They see that special interests who can make the time to be informed and to develop close political ties to the politicians have more influence over the government than they do.  They understand that the government is commonly not acting in their best interest, yet they cannot even identify the party that wants a less unlimited government.

This process of ever more befuddling government has been building for over 100 years now and most of the people are simply turned off on political issues.  Because of this, democracy has become hollow and useless as a value, yet it is a great danger.  This is a very predictable result of big, unlimited government.  The last shreds of our republic, turned meaninglessly democratic, will disintegrate unless the People come to demand that government be constitutionally limited once again.  It is certain that a grade D citizenry cannot halt the inexorable pressures of a federal government determined to rule without limits.  We are doomed to living under tyranny, unless the People decide to study and raise their grades.  It this is to come about, it is essential that we turn to private sector education for all age groups, but especially for the young so that we will not have a grade F 18 - 29 age citizen group.


LZsays said...

"The party that wants a less unlimited government" is a good way to describe the Republican party, since they aren't for a really limited government at all, just one that's not quite so unlimited as Democrats want.

Charles R. Anderson, Ph.D. said...

Yes, LZsays, I did have to choose my words carefully. It is unfortunately true that only fragments of the Republican Party really want to make drastic reductions in the size and scale of the federal government. Most Republicans want reductions, but usually in some subset of illegitimate programs which are different from the subset that some other Republican wants reduced. The net result all too often is that for any given program that ought to be eliminated, fewer than half of all Republicans want it to be eliminated. Meanwhile, most of the Republican politicians are still of the mindset that they are supposed to bring federal dollars back to their home states. They are actually very good at doing this. While working this game, they often vote for more net government spending. Some Blue Staters are beginning to complain that their states are commonly being drained to send money to Red States! This siphoning of Blue State money to the Red States is actually hurting everyone.

On the other side we have the Democrats who want much greater government spending. In order to get this, they often buy the votes of Republicans by offering them a disproportionate amount of money for their states. In the end, the Democrats are in favor of a somewhat larger government with its hands in more of our affairs than are the Republicans. The difference in degree of spending and power and in the reasons offered for the programs is significant, but never nearly as strong as lovers of freedom would want. This can be quite frustrating to those of us who want broad and massive slashing of a clearly out-of-control and mostly illegitimate government.