Now I Understand Why People Believe What They Hear on Fox News….

Ever wonder why people don’t recognize when “news” reports are blatantly, obviously incorrect, improbable or impossible? Or wonder why anyone in his right mind would vote for Michelle Bachmann or Louis Gohmert or Ted Cruz?

My working thesis is that folks who don’t know anything–who are hazy about history, have no clue about how government functions and have only the most tenuous connection to the Constitution–simply have no context within which to judge the reasonableness of assertions that more knowledgable people simply laugh at.

Recently, Bill Maher cited a study showing that fewer than 17% of incoming college freshmen knew what the Emancipation Proclamation was (he described the incoming class as “Basically, golden retrievers with smartphones”). Unfortunately, we have a lot of studies that conclude we don’t know anything.  And the hits keep coming.

As if we needed even more evidence of Americans’ abysmal lack of knowledge, here are the results of yet another survey I stumbled across:

1. Only 45% of Americans were able to correctly identify what the initials in GOP stood for: Grand Old Party. Other popular guesses were Government of the People and God’s Own Party. Republicans obviously scored much better than Democrats did on this answer.  [source]

2. 55% of Americans believe that Christianity was written into the Constitution and that the founding fathers wanted One Nation Under Jesus. This includes 75% of Republicans and Evangelicals. [source]

3. Although a “relatively” high 40% of people were able to name all three of the United States branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — a far lower percentage knew the length of a Senator’s term. Just 25% responded that a Senator’s term stretches for six years. Even fewer, 20%, knew how many Senators there were.  [source]

4. Americans are known to pick recent heads of state as among the best president in history, which is why Clinton and Reagan regularly rank higher than Lincoln, FDR and Washington. However, Hoover used to routinely top polls of the worst, but today, just 43% of Americans know who he was, according to statistics from the University of Pennsylvania. [source]

5. When asked on what year 9/11 took place, 30% of Americans were unable to answer the question correctly, even as few as five years after the attack. This was according to a Washington Post poll conducted in 2006. . [source]

6. It’s not shocking that 80% of Americans believe that there is life out there somewhere, because it’s hard to look at a vast universe and think we’re completely alone. But 1 in 5 allege that an alien life form has abducted a friend or family member of theirs. Based on population estimates of around 300 million, that means that a terrifying number of people believe they have been probed. [source]

7. When looking at a map of the world, young Americans had a difficult time correctly identifying Iraq (1 in 7) and Afghanistan (17%). This isn’t that surprising, but only a slim majority (51%) knew where New York was. According to Forbes and National Geographic, an alarming 29% couldn’t point to the Pacific Ocean. [source]

8. 25% of Americans were unable to identify the country from which America gained its independence. Although 19% stated that they were unsure, Gallup findings indicated that others offered answers varying from France to China. Older folks scored much better than young people on this question, as a third of those 18-29 were unable to come up with the correct answer. [source]

9. Despite being a constant fixture in school curricula, 30% of Americans didn’t know what the Holocaust was.  [source]

10. Even though we are a predominantly Christian country, only half of Americans knew that Judaism came before Christianity, because the words “Old Testament” are apparently very confusing in that regard. [source]

11. A surprisingly high percentage of Americans, 20%, believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, instead of the opposite, aka the correct answer. This is despite the fact that centuries of science have consistently proved otherwise. [source]

12. In 2011, Newsweek found that 29% of Americans were unable to correctly identify the current Vice President, Joe Biden, when asked to take a simple citizenship test. Although a relatively low 6% didn’t know when Independence Day was, a much, much higher percentage (73%) had no idea why we fought the Cold War. [source]

13. According to most polls, Americans didn’t know that Obamacare was scheduled to go into effect. Kaiser puts the number at 64%, whereas others say as few as 1 in 8. [source]

14. 2006 AP polls showed that a majority of Americans were unable to name more than one of the protections guaranteed in the first Amendment of the Constitution — which include speech, assembly, religion, press and “redress of grievance.” Just 1 in 1000 could name all of these five freedoms. However, 22% were able to come up with the name of every member of the Simpson family. [sourceTC mark

And we wonder why we elect buffoons to high office.

Just kill me now.



87 thoughts on “Now I Understand Why People Believe What They Hear on Fox News….

  1. Thanks. Jay Leno has been showing this lack of awareness on TV for years with his Jaywalking segment. The recent college graduates who are dumb as a stump are particulary troublesome.

  2. One thing I learned reading this is how much I have forgotten. In a recent comment I stated the GOP needs to take classes in American History – obviously I need the same reeducation but, please Lord, not in the same class!

  3. The politicians of days past were visionaries, they must have anticipated modern day counterparts. This is why the 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment and liquor
    stores exist. After all, we all know:

    “Reality is an obtuse illusion derived from the absence of alcohol in the blood stream”

  4. This is truly amazing and earth-shattering! We forget sometimes how really bad is the shape that we are in as a nation. This brings it home!

  5. The article points to Fox News but most of the other large outlets, regardless of political bent, are also pretty bad. The percentages reflected in the article inevitably include both republicans and democrats (i.e. 73% not being able to say why we fought the Cold War).

  6. One of the basic requirements for graduation in my Iowa high school many years ago was American Government. Apparently this course is no longer required in schools throughout the country. Seems like a simple solution, but does the current Republican party want the American people to be educated? Of course not, that’s why they have cut funding for education programs and voted to raise the interest on college loans.

  7. All of this suggests to me that whatever sales job the public believes on a given topic, that’s what we will get, and that has been the case for some time. I don’t think the public was too much better informed 100 years ago than it is now–a scary thought– but it may constitute proof that the age of miracles is not yet over. If this system of government hasn’t fallen into the abyss by now, that’s simply beyond what any reasonable person should expect. This should have hit bottom as a totalitarian state shortly after Jackson became president, but given the current right wing ideological persistence, we may achieve that before too long. We just won’t know it, because Fox will tell everyone that everything is just fine.

  8. I’m not an anarchist, and I’m not even an American. As a casual observer of the American system it is clear the democracy and the ‘will of the people’ is pretty much dead. Is this because the public at large are too stupid to make proper decisions or is it because people who have, or want power, want to make people seem too stupid to make decisions? But whilst this system of democracy exists, which provides an equal to say to each individual, unless you have a few million to spend buttering people up (in which case you have more of a say), then we will continue to find increased levels of disenfranchisement and a sense of ‘why bother’? The sad part is, that this is not only confined to America, but has spread to many of the worlds major old democracies, and is even more prevalent in emerging democracies.

  9. I thought this article would have pointed to examples of why FOX news is a bad source of “news”. There isn’t really anything supporting the title. Oh and…Sheila go into your dashboard and edit this post. Look below the title and edit the url to correct the spelling of “belive”.

  10. The really sad part about all this ignorance is that these is no way in hell anyone can do anything about it. Our educational system hasn’t created a person intelligent enough to change the system.

  11. The sad thing is many people in our county seem to think that having fame or money makes a person smart and so they pattern their beliefs after those kind of people. Americans are lazy in so many ways. It is too much bother for them to take the time to learn the things they need to know in order to be productive members of society. I truly have to wonder how most people vote. Do they just go into that booth and pull the lever or fill in the circle randomly without even knowing what or who they are voting for? The Republicans love the “dumbing down” of America because they can keep making people think they need to continue to give to those who have more money so it will eventually help them out which we all know is never going to happen. This is why they continue to cut funding from education and higher education. They want the American people to become drones that go out and vote for them, work, pay their taxes and keep their mouths shut. I shudder to think what kind of country my grand children and great grand children will be living in 20 years from now, if those of us who care, have some intelligence and won’t allow ourselves to be spoon fed the bullshit don’t really start fighting back and the hell with pandering to the nut jobs in government.

  12. Ignorance is the ally of many elected officials; it gives them the freedom to ignore facts and make up their own when it’s necessary to support their position. The news media now focused almost exclusively on profiteering from advertising) is happy too provide a public platform for these corporation shills to use in promoting ignorance.

  13. I have believed for years that many politicians continue to be reelected simply because their name is familiar; voters think if they are good enough to be there, they must be good enough to keep there. It takes too much trouble to look into candidate’s records and even more trouble to research the basis for their claims. In other words; this is a nation of lazy people. Those who do not vote because “it won’t matter anyway” are not only too lazy to seek facts but are giving tacit approval to the status quo – thereby supporting the very issues they complain about. Today; with most people having computers, they don’t even have to get up off their lazy butts to learn facts and basic governmental information. I am NOT a Fox viewer other than film clips on MSNBC but I you have to admit those Fox “news” reports are certainly colorful.

    Sheila; I don’t believe your outlook is jaundiced at all, one reason I voted for you was because you spoke directly regarding your views so we always knew where you stood. Your blog enables you to be outspoken where, during your years in the Hudnut administration, we all had to be tactful in all our conversations. Thanks for the freedom to respond openly on your blog; knowing we are responding to the truth as you see it.

  14. Down heah below the Mason-Dixon Line, Y’all, we Suthuners say, especially in summer, “It’s not the heat…it’s the stupidity!” That notion seems to carry right into the cooler months as well. Globally speaking, we must look pretty silly right now…and all because our President is still bi-racial and still President. It has eaten ‘them’ up for six years and has nearly consumed all of us in the process.

  15. There has been an enormous amount of psychological research done in the area of “authoritarian personality” since the late 1940s.

    “Authoritarians” aren’t just those wielding authoritarian power, it’s the people who blindly follow them, as well, and who overlook or make excuses for the obvious failings and even pathology in their chosen leaders. The followers lack a solid sense of self, meaning, and purpose in their lives, and “belonging” to something, even something destructive, over-rides good sense and discernment.

  16. I knew the answers to all of these basic questions and I watch FOX regularly. Why don’t you promote a quiz at the polling place if you think it keep the dumb people from voting? I would go for that.

  17. The so-called “dumb as a stump” recent graduates are only as smart as the American education they received.

  18. Corporate drivers of education’s so-called ‘reforms’ for the last 25 years are making the situation worse. Corporate efforts are trying to standardize children and curricula for TRAINING, not education. Historically public schools have done both, but education is losing steady ground to those who want robotic workers who follow management’s orders or lose their job. It’s counter intuitive, but the corporate idea of education is to prepare folks for the assembly line jobs that have moved elsewhere – corporate protestations to the contrary.

    We lost geography and civics courses years ago. Home Ec., spelling, cursive, and in some states vocabulary too are on their way out. Science, technology, math, and English have corporate value but literature, government, history, economics, foreign languages, fine arts to spur brain development and creativity, health classes, and everything else is regarded as not really necessary. Recess and Physical Education are becoming things of the past in this era of exploding childhood obesity and health problems so that we can spend more time on ‘drill and kill’ for standardized tests and test prep in English and math. Yes everyone needs to know the basics of both, but how many college grads have used their algebra since college? So why must every student take 4 years of it in high school when a voc. ed. class to use the very limited amount of algebra needed to create a spread sheet to create a household budget might be time better spent? And why must we lose up to 5 weeks of instructional time – not to mention millions of dollars – to incessant standardized testing where the kids are not allowed to learn what they answered wrong?

    Education to be a good citizen, parent, neighbor, creator, leader, and to learn how to love to learn is being squeezed out of schools.

    All students should learn the basics, but rather than trying to standardize children, we should build on those basics to help students find and cultivate their natural gifts. American public education, creativity, diversity, and ingenuity made us the world’s economic leader. But regimenting children and schools into a vice grip of assembly line instruction is micro-management in the extreme and is a path to disaster.

  19. Much of this may be true, but Sheila Kennedy may be part of the problem. For Instance, on (6) about alien abductions, her source is a Bill Maher comedy blog post—which doesn’t mention alien abductions. She uses him for another “factoid” as well. He doesn’t source his info, though, and here’s one of his tidbits: “And among Republican governors, only 30% got their wife’s name right on the first try.” New Rule: Don’t use a professional smartass to refute Fox News.” And a factoid: Only 1 percent of Americans check sources. (Source: I made it up, but it sounds about right).

  20. Remember that the founding fathers called the new system of government “a grand experiment”. Not all experiments do well, even the “grand” ones, and there is nothing that dictates that it will last as long as any other established government has. For it to succeed, we have always needed people who are willing to sacrifice for it, rather than their greedy Ids.

  21. There are many people, very ignorant people who only have two things on their mind in the voting booth. They vote for the Party who (in their minds) will let them keep their guns and lower their taxes. That is it. You have to remember there is no law for being stupid.

  22. What a grand indictment against the public educational system and the progressive who elect those such as Obama et al.

  23. Michael Jackson was president?
    I did not know that.
    Bill Maher comes closer to expressing reality on his worst day than Mitch McConnell does on his best day. The old adage that ‘we get the politicians we deserve’ seems scarier, and truer, every day.
    We desperately need term limits — two terms, tops. We’re supposed to have short-termers in Washington. Let’s cut the old-timers lose and send the younger ones home sooner. Let’s be DONE

  24. (continued) … with ‘send in the clowns’. We’ve been doing that far too many years. No one’s laughing any more.

  25. This article is so one-sided it isn’t even funny. It fails to show how ignorant voters are as a whole. Heck, Howard Stern had some interns asking people questions on the streets and many couldn’t tell you the party Obama was affiliated with. They even threw in that Romney was his running mate and people liked him as his VP. Bring back Civics and more focus on history in schools or we are doomed to people voting the best handouts or relying on our pathetic news reporting instead of who is going to lead the country.

  26. I found the facts almost frightening considering the education I received in the 60s. Then I remembered that over the years education has taken so many hits financially that it is no longer as strong as it was. And the TParty want to take away even more from our education system. The dumber people are, the easier they are to accept lies as truth, control, and work into a frenzy.

    The news vines are full of debates with passionate morons spouting propaganda and calling anyone who disagrees with them whatever names are popular at the time. It’s actually frightening what people out there think and believe. Ask them for a reliable source, and you either get ignored or called so many names your head will spin.

    One thing. FOX news is not a news program. It is classed as Entertainment. And it should be viewed that way.

  27. The GOP has spent decades eviscerating education in this country. It’s a small wonder…uneducated people are easier to herd and control.

    I grew up in a home where education was the Holy Grail. Now, I live in a country where being educated is thought of as a negative thing. If you’re capable of critical thinking you’re an elitist. Well, I am proud that I understand how my government works, have historical information to use as a point of reference, know what rights I’m guaranteed under our Constitution and capable of critical thinking.

    You wait, there will come a day when only the privileged will be able to educate their children. This will solidify our current plutocracy and insure that the majority of us will be serfs in a feudal system.

  28. ….. “There are only two things that are infinite – the universe and human stupidity. And we’re not sure about the first one.” —– Albert Einstein.

  29. Perhaps American citizens registering to vote should be required to take the same exam that immigrants have to pass before they can acquire citizenship and vote.

  30. Just a thought, but could the media have anything to do with this? I mean with the rise of the internet and the instant availability of information on the internet…It seems like whoever can bullshit the masses the most wins.

  31. There’s a problem with this article.
    Now, in general, I agree. (1) Americans are horrifically stupid, and it’s something we need to address. (2) Fox news sucks.
    This article makes several fallacies. The biggest one is that a person who is uneducated and/or misinformed is more gullible than a person who has more knowledge. This is simply not true. I know plenty of PhDs who have been taken in by well-played scams, and plenty of drop-outs who can spot bullshit from a metric mile away.
    More insidious, however, is the underlying assumption that all conservatives are stupid. “You’d have to be an idiot to agree with the republican party,” seems to be the subtext here. No wonder people think Obamacare is bad: they can’t even identify basic geographical landmarks on a map. Unfortunately, in survey after survey, when testing people for BOTH this kind of stupidity (“who’s buried in grant’s tomb?”) with political affiliation, you see plenty of ditzes on the left, and plenty of brilliant men and women on the right.
    Look, I’m a socialist-leaning leftie, so I’d love to be able to say anyone who disagrees with me is just an idiot. But that just isn’t the case.
    Some of my best friends are libertarians. In fact, I’m married to one. All kidding aside, they are not all stupid, they just have different ideas.

  32. I spent 11 years on a school board, which is the lowest level of government that most people ever experience. And I’ve been saying it (and seeing it) for years: if you have three people in agreement on the school board, you can teach those kids just about anything. (In our state, most school boards have 5 members; two have 7, in our largest cities.) Get three people on the board, and they hire the superintendent. Those same three people will select curriculum materials. “Teach to the test” means not teaching how to learn. Civics or American Government classes are blended in with history, and history itself is not emphasized.

    The Republican party started decades ago, encouraging members to run for the School Board. The dumbing down of the population is a sad consequence.

    Can YOU name the last school director you voted for? Is it a person with an interest in education, or somebody who goes to an extremist Christian chapel and opposes education that might explain the students’ rights? How can you know? In smaller districts, it’s very easy for people to say, “I know someone who goes to the same church Mary Sue does and she’s a real nice lady.” There’s no real campaigning. You write a paragraph for the voter’s handbook and on your website, and who really knows the truth?

    Texas is one of the biggest purchasers of textbooks. Textbooks are expensive to produce, and choice is limited. Teaching to the test, and teaching to the text, limits students’ awareness. And that can actually be said about the teachers, too, many of whom have been through the same public school experience of limited education.

  33. Bill Maher is the left wing equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. They’re two sides of the same counterfeit coin. Citing him as a source knocks the citer’s credibility down quite a few notches.

    Also, the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to “redress of grievance.” It guarantees the right “to petition the Government for redress of grievances,” which is a very different proposition. If you’re going to complain about others’ ignorance of the Constitution, maybe you should read it yourself, first.

  34. So in theory you are saying the majority of Americans are uneducated and it seems to me, according to main stream media statics, the majority of Americans elected Obama. Interesting.

  35. The majority of our citizens are overweight and/obese, on prescription medication and now, seemingly, illiterate. However, we all have to share responsibility in allowing market forces to drive our decisions on our nutrition, past times, politics and very likely spiritual beliefs. No generation built themselves simply from scratch, but rather stood on the wisdom and guidance of the previous generation. Now we let Coca-Cola and Monsanto do that for us, along with the Republican Party, Roger Ailes and the pharmaceutical industry. No generation prior to this new one had to invent itself completely from scratch, without the guidance and wisdom of the previous generation. But, corporate , financial and political interests have subsumed the role of a wiser, elder generation. We have done it to ourselves, or at the very least, allowed it to happen.

    Be sure and check your retirement account statements to see where your money goes. You’re very likely profiting from the very forces that are responsible for the mess we’re in.

  36. People may doubt or condemn vehemently what they see hear and read UNLESS it agrees with their assumptions and assumptions are never based on evidence to the contrary or even proof of those assumptions.Even their assumptions aren’t theirs but the agenda of those who will do anything and everything to hold power and it’s attendant perks.
    Any belief that is not backed up by study and testing of concepts presented is an assumption.

  37. As long as we’re being picky, you are correct about my shorthand reference to “redress.” However, to “cite” is to use as an authoritative source for information. Last time I looked, attributing a joke or snarky comment to a comedian is not a citation.

  38. Correct Sheila; however, attributing a joke or snarky comment to a politician should be included in a citation for slander – no laws against stupidity or an Amendment requiring truth in freedom of speech so no basis for a citation there.

  39. Everyone who reads your blog understands that Liberals control our education systems. Conservatives have been complaining for years that liberals have screwed up our education systems. You call it progress; we call it dumbing down our society. Leave it to a liberal to try to infer it’s conservatives at fault for this. Because of course, it can’t be liberal ideals that are wrong; liberals are just too smart for that.

  40. I believe this quote was attributed to Plato “The penalty for not involving oneself in politics is that you will soon be governed by inferior men.”

  41. This is why the public is not up in arms about the government shutdown and the fact the country is going to run out of money Thursday, 1/17. People in general aren’t aware or don’t care (unless they’re personally affected, of course). My friend a college professor said 20 years ago college students didn’t when World War ll was or what the Holocaust was.

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