Does it matter that Americans can’t name the Fed Chair?

There’s a new Pew Survey that tests your “News IQ.” Take it here. The questions are pretty simple* and it’s multiple choice, so most people can probably make informed guesses. Right now only 1% of people got 12/12 right, with most people clustered between 2 and 6. The questions about the minimum wage and ISIS were answered correctly the most, while questions about government spending, poverty and the Fed Chair were less likely to be answered incorrectly. NewsIQ


A few thoughts here. First, remember these numbers every time a Washington insider tells you Hillary is doomed because of some campaign minutia – most people really aren’t paying attention. More importantly, these sorts of quizzes are often used to bludgeon people like myself who work tirelessly to increase voting participation. See for example, here. We’re told the American people are too dumb to vote, and can’t look out for their own preferences. This argument is deeply flawed.The first problem here is that many of the wrong things people believe – about our aging population, benefit fraud, immigration, deficits and government spending – originate from elites. Ideology is the mechanism by which those who control material production control mental production. Because most Americans are not media producers, but consumers, elite opinions are likely to drive politics. This can be reversed, but more often than not it it’s the case. So elites can complain all they want about the fact that Americans don’t understand deficits and monetary policy, but it’s other elites, many who benefit from obfuscation, that perpetuate these falsehoods.

I really don’t worry about the fact that most Americans can’t name Janet Yellen as the federal reserve, because I really don’t think that prevents them from making an informed voting decision. Ultimately, most Americans have fairly defined views on the size of government, social issues, etc. Any confusion is likely the result of elite messaging (i.e. Republicans believe that the government can bring democracy to Iraq but not performing basic tasks like food stamps) rather than the silliness of the American populace. Americans can accurately decide who would better represent their preferences and elect them because they may not know the players, but they know the game.

Take me and sports. I know the rules to baseball. I can explain even rather complicated rules like infield fly and could name the proper time to use most strategies (don’t bunt on the third out, etc.) but I can name literally zero current baseball players. I’m rationally ignorant about the current situation in baseball, but I know quite a bit about the game and could easily become informed if I need to. Most people view politics this way. Why on earth would they follow horse-race politics when they have kids, a job, sports, etc. When it’s time to vote, they’ll likely become informed of what’s happened over the past few months, but before then, why bother? Most pundits ignore this simple fact, so we have to deal with navel gazing every time one of these polls comes out. I’ll write more on this subject in the coming months, but the core fact is that most Americans are aware enough of their policy preferences (though not always interests) to vote.

* I got 11 of 12 right (I slightly overestimated poverty)

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