Do you believe most Americans are stupid?

I was having what I thought was a reasonable debate with a roommate the other night after John McCain’s RNC speech. I remarked that I thought he did a decent job (besides the smarmy smiling at strange and incongruous moments) and that I thought he did himself a service with his oratory—especially the call to service portion and the biography (yeah, I’ve heard it before, but it’s damn effective). I said “I see why people might vote for McCain.” My roommate said “Yeah, because they’re stupid.”

I’ve heard similar sentiments before, often from those of a more left-leaning political stance. The idea is that if you vote Republican, it’s because you don’t know what’s good for you; it’s because you’ve been duped; it’s because you’re an ignorant redneck hillbilly fool. I’m exaggerating. Barely. I come across this sort of thought on the Dope now and again too and, with the presidential race running largely even, I expect to see more of it.

Of course, this phrase does not only appear after political discussion. I’ve heard this “everybody’s an idiot” reasoning to explain the proliferation of reality TV, the books on the New York Times Bestseller List, and even my country’s general indifference to soccer (seriously).

For a moment, I thought about pitting that phrase as a cop-out, as reductive and cheap, and as a synonymous with “if you don’t agree with me you’re a moron,” but the pit isn’t the place for an actual discussion of the phenomenon. The only downside putting it here is the lack of colorful invective, but I think we’ll survive.

So then, the rub: Do you believe most Americans are stupid? If so, what do you base this belief on, beyond the fact their opinion differs from yours?

Most people are of average intelligence, a few above, a few below. It is thus in all countries.

I believe most Americans are woefully ignorant of the world outside their own borders.

To me, that’s a form of Stupidity, but I wouldn’t say most Americans are stupid because of it. Naive, though, yes.

On the other hand, a lot of very cool things come from the US. A country full of Simple Jacks didn’t develop microwave ovens, computers (desktop and laptop), or put people on the Moon, for example. So overall, I don’t think Americans are stupider than anyone else on the planet, but I do think they might be a bit more self-absorbed and/or ignorant of the world at large.

Exactly. Most people are not very smart; not stupid, but not very smart. Critical thinking is not a highly-prized attribute, and there is a distinct strain of anti-intellectualism pretty much everywhere.

I can’t remember the source, but somewhere I read that 49.9% of Americans are below average in their intelligence. I found that appalling.:wink:

I think most Americans are extremely uninformed in their knowledge and simplistic in their reasoning skills. I blame this on many factors (education, television, geographic isolation, etc.) and I don’t pretend to know how they stack up against, say, Canadians, Western Europeans, the Japanese, etc… I’d be interested to read what those who have lived abroad long enough to make a comparison have to say.

Judging from their behavior, yes. Whatever brains they have, they are allergic to using them.

As I understand it, the polls have consistently shown that Republican voters tend to be less informed and more prone to factual inaccuracies than Democratic voters.

It’s brain damage from all that lead that [del]Fabulous Creature[/del] someone keeps slipping into their beer.


I don’t believe most Americans are stupid. In fact I would argue that America still draws the smartest people in the world to its shores and generates significant innovation, generation after generation.

I do believe however, that most Americans are less informed of the world at large than their counterparts in other countries. This is partly ( i would imagine) a function geography. The USA is a continent-sized country.

I’ve heard that Eisenhower actually expressed surprise when he heard that.
He felt the American people were smarter than that. I wonder how he would have reacted if it had been reversed, and 49.9% were said to be “above average.”

Obama’s using what I think is a brilliant rhetorical tactic lately. Here’s one YouTubed example. First he runs through a litany of how McCain = Bush on policy after policy. Then he hammers the McCain and Palin lies, e.g., Bridge to Nowhere, “She was for it before she was against it.” Then: "I mean, you can’t just make stuff up. You can’t just recreate yourself. You can’t just reinvent yourself. The American people aren’t stupid." From there he runs in summary form through all the ways he’s for change, has been for change consistently, in a crescendo of passion climaxing in his fiery “And that’s why I’m running for President of the United States!” peroration.

The pivot from their falsehoods and flip-flops to his steadfast adherence to a coherent set of positions is the message: “You, the American people, you’re not stupid. You can see through the crap. You can see who’s phony and who’s genuine.” He’s not just calling his opponents liars; he’s praising the perspicacity of his listeners, he’s making them feel smart and discerning and no fools when it comes to seeing through a load of bull, while stoking resentment at the McCain ticket for treating them like idiots.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s a masterful bit of rhetoric (no matter what opinion you may hold of the public’s intelligence).

I’ve done a lot of traveling through central america and europe and I can report that the people were mostly stupid there too.

I don’t think most Americans are stupid. I think most Americans just don’t give a shit. They’re busy going to work, paying the rent, getting the kids through school, and figuring out what to make for dinner. In their spare time, unless they really get a charge out of it (like most of us here), they don’t spend their time studying world affairs or federal economic policy. They watch the football or hang out with friends. I was just sitting here watching Olbermann and his guest bring up lies Palin and McCain have made about earmarks, thinking that that’s not what’s going to sway many voters. Most voters think all politicians are liars, on whatever side, and they’re not going to be shocked into a decision. They’re going to make a decision based on what party they belong to, what party their friends belong to and whether or not they’re going to pay more taxes. And for that last point, most people are going to base their decision, not on the actual figures that have been circulated by Money Magazine, but on the old canard that Republicans cut taxes and Democrats raise them. I don’t think that people on this message board are, on average, any smarter than Americans as a whole; I think we just have different interests.

Also, I think everything I said above could be applied to other First World nations. When I lived in Australia for a few years, people who were truly engaged in the political process were few and far between. If I wanted to talk about Australian Idol or the latest footie scores, I would have been in heaven.

You are either remembering or channeling the Prophet Bob of the Church of the Subgenius, who queries, "How stupid do you think the average person is? Well, half of them are stupider than that!"

I’ve traveled a lot abroad, and I think Europeans make us look dogmatic and irrational, while we make the Middle East look the same. Asians are rational, probably more than us, but sometimes preserve superstitions that westerners would think odd. (But they probably think the same about our superstitions – I’m showing my bias).

I have no first-hand knowledge of South America or Africa.

And until they find another Stone Age cave-dwelling tribe somewhere, our lock on the ‘Most Clueless of Any Other Culture’ crown will never be challenged.

I think most humans are stupid, Americans just happen to have more power to go with their stupidity.

Hijack: which one was FC again? (I can’t keep all these old names straight sometimes!)


On occasion, I go to the supermarket. A more scathing indictment of democracy could not be contrived.

I teach high school. This thread is how the self-styled high school intellectuals regard their classmates, writ large.

Everyone is stupid, in their own way.

What I find truly appalling is that no one so far in this thread knows the difference between the average and the median.

Rather than stupid people tend to be ignorant. Ignorant of politics and “big” issues. And they are ignorant because they have different priorities. They have their jobs, their families, their kids to raise, their friends, their lawns, etc. Solving the world’s problems is not at the top of their list because they are too busy solving their personal problems.

Listen to any random conversation between two people and they are talking rubbish. Boring, uninteresting rubbish. I am sure when I am talking about my plan to solve the world’s problems, end all wars, erradicate corruption from the government, etc. people who might hear me can’t believe the utter, boring, crap I am talking about. They would rather be talking about their kid who is the cutest kid in the world.