Why Am I Not Surprised?

The Washington Post recently reported on a study conducted by political scientists Kyle Dropp (Dartmouth College) Joshua D. Kertzer (Harvard University) and  Thomas Zeitzoff  (Princeton University).

Here’s their description of the study.

On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

Here, in a nutshell (pun sort of intended), is the problem of our times: the loudest voices, the partisans arguing with the most certainty and the least nuance, belong to the people who know the least about the matter at hand.

What makes it even worse is that we elect so many of them.


  1. Or said another way: the voices of those who feel they are on the losing side of history are the most strident and the loudest. In this I take comfort.

  2. Empty wagons rattle the most. But…the squeaky wheel gets the grease. They have certainly been well greased by the 1%.

  3. I have always thought there is a segment of our population that seems immune to facts. We have been bombarded with this American Exceptionalism. We have created this Warrior Cult around the Military. We like to trace our Political DNA back to Athenian Democracy, but in reality we are more like the Spartans.

    You have only a minority of people (one in six -per your article) who can find Ukraine on the map. Those with the greatest lack of facts advocate military force as a solution. The American People as a whole see military actions as relatively painless to themselves. There is no draft to fill the ranks of the military, the wars are paid for on the US Credit Card, there is no rationing like we had in WW 2.

  4. i don’t disagree with the comments, but i think i find myself in the same place as the 5 out of 6 who can’t find Ukraine on a map. While i’m sure there is something important at the center of the problem the networks seem to allocate an inordinate amount of time allowing anyone who disagrees with the president to talk about everything the administration has done wrong in addressing the crisis.

  5. Though I know I could find Ukraine on a map (my wife is from Russia), I have to admit that I am embarrassed by my general lack of geographical awareness and I’m a graduate student. As a caveat, it is something I have promised myself to study after graduation (as well as learning Spanish).

    What I’m trying to get it at is, are the authors trying to simply correlate lack of geographical knowledge to war-hawkish-ness? Or overall education and aggressiveness? Seems a bit arbitrary. Though I think controlling for other factors would certainly be helpful. Nonetheless, it is interesting. It almost makes me think if those individuals knew Ukraine was adjacent to Russia they might advocate for military action even more strongly.

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