Those "people are clueless" polls: common outside the U.S.?

You often see polls that say X% of Americans don’t know obvious things such as where their country is on the map or that the earth revolves around the sun. How common are these kinds of articles on polls internationally? And if they are largely an American phenomenon, why do you think that is?

If you mean articles about how a surprising proportion of Americans are surprisingly ignorant about certain matters, they’re pretty common in other English-speaking countries. (And, for all I know, elsewhere; I just don’t read a lot of non-English media.) But they’re also usually pretty superficial, with little or no analysis of how this comes to be or what it means or why it matters. Nor is their any consideration of whether people in other countries might be equally ignorant on the same issues, or some other range of blind-spot issues, but we’re just not measuring it. They are usually point-and-laugh articles.

I meant more like “the Daily Telegraph says x% of Britons can’t locate the UK” kind of thing.

I’ve found at least a couple of british versions, if you mean what I think you mean. If not, there’re similar.

The first was from a poll commissioned by UKTV gold, a british TV channel, to promote their network:

The second one was a poll commissioned by the BBC to promote their series “Battlefield Britain” (this is the press release:

I don’t know much about other countries but a surpring number of Americans are scary dumb, even college grads. I have no idea what they may have studied. Hopefully it is the same everywhere.

It depends on how many Americans those countries can capture to poll them about their ignorance. :smiley:

I’d be perfectly willing to answer in a poll that during WWI, Gandalf defeated the American Armada in the battle of Britain.

I read the OP to be asking about the prevalence of articles in other countries exploring the ignorance of their own citizens, not Americans.

Yeah, I’ve often wondered how many people do this sort of thing. I’ll admit to occasionally giving a ridiculous answer in a poll just to:

A) Play with the pollster’s head, or,
B) Get a little of my own back for being annoyed by the stupid poll in the first place.

I’ve also wondered about the bias in randomly conducted polls because of the people who simply hang up on the pollster, pitch the thing in the nearest trash receptacle, or simply ignore a voluntary poll. Something tells me that the people who fill out a poll that’s easy to avoid taking are not reliably a good indicator of what the other people thought.

I’m remembering a thread about antisemitism where the poll appeared to have been written in the US and asked as-is or translated literally rather than localised for other places. Localised means “translated taking into account differences in culture, idioms, etc.” If anybody had asked me that kind of bloody stupid questions and caught me in any mood other than “oh what a beautiful day”, I would have come up listed as more antisemitic than Himmler.

It may well be totally unjustified but the popular opinion here is that most Americans (Dopers excluded naturally) are totally uninterested in anything that is outside America and many would not be interested in anything in another State.

This of course has been reinforced by the demonstrated ignorance of some of your Presidents about geography and global politics.

There are frequent articles in our national newspapers bemoaning the ignorance, illiteracy and innumeracy of the young. I suspect that ‘twas always thus’.

Before this thread gets hijacked into oblivion, can we make it not be about Americans?

Nava, have you ever seen polls in Spanish media of the sort that “x% of Spaniards can’t locate Spain on a map” or “X% of Spaniards don’t know that the earth revolves around the Sun?”

This is from the Daily Mail, so it’s not the most reliable source. But then, many of the polls of stupid Americans aren’t really scientific either.

This was in the newspaper the other day.

Some 24% of polled young Danes believed that the German Reichsbevollmächtigter in charge during the Nazi occupation was named “Heinrich Himmler.” Another 24% went for “Otto von Bismarck.” Only 13% knew the correct answer: Werner Best.

Not quite “OMG our wee ones can’t even place Denmark on a map!!!1!1”, but some anxious hand-wringing ensued.

ETA: Danish-language article here.

I have seen any number of polls on how people in majority Islamic countries believe in things like The Protocol of the Elders of Zion and the blood libel against Jews and things like that, but that kind of thing is fostered by semi-official propaganda. As well as 50% of people in Iceland believe in elves, or something like that.

I would bet that people in the Third World don’t get polled very much, so the extent of their knowledge of basic geography is hard to guage.


I think in some cases it could also be that some countries are uh hesitant to make themselves look foolish on the global stage, so the media workers in these countries have no demand for articles like “our citizens are so stupid!” from the public, and they are worried it would just make the country look worse.

As much must depend on the family as the school. We were pretty unusual in that I bought a globe to prove to my then 9yo daughter why a great circle was shorter than a straight line. I also had a big atlas so that we could look up places that got mentioned in the news.

As a truck driver, you might have thought that my workmates would have a good grasp of geography, at least in their home country. Sadly many of them would have had a hard time putting Blackpool or most other cities on a map. The advent of satnavs has probably helped to dumb them down even more.

I don’t think GPS has much to do with it. Some people have a sense of geography, and some do not. Long before anyone had heard of GPS (satnav, as you call it) I knew people, even ones who travelled, who had no sense at all of distance, location or geography. Some people just get that stuff and some don’t, but then just because you know stuff about geography does not mean you’re a genius. I have a tremendous sense of geography but it is almost impossible to express in words my ignorance and incompetence with regards to music; the skills of reading, understanding, and performing music on instruments are ones that I find as mystifying and impossible as sorcery. I also cannot elevate my penmanship to a level consistently readable by other human beings. So, yeah, I know where Bangladesh is but I can’t read my own grocery list.

As to the question, I do get the sense this is an American phenomenon - not that Americans are dumber, but that the media seems to enjoy finding stuff like this. It’s a popular comedy bit to stump the man on the street with simple questions (“Jaywalking”) and yet I don’t see this even here in Canada, at least not to the same extent, despite the fact that it is my anecdotal experience that Canadians can be equally, jaw-droppingly ignorant of rudimentary facts. I have personally known educated Canadians who did not know how many provinces we have (it’s 10, which you’d think is a pretty easy number to recall.)

It comes up from time to time though. I did a search and found a story from a year and a half ago in which students at Memorial University in St. John’s did about as well on a geography test as one might expect from a pack of howler monkeys. Many of the students, given a map of the world, could not correctly identify where the Atlantic Ocean was - which if you’re in St. John’s is literally the most obvious and significant geographical feature there is. Students also could not correctly identify the continents, including, I hasten to add, the one they were located on.

That said I do not doubt that different countries probably have different strengths and weaknesses in terms of the average schmoe’s command of basic info.


And see, this is one reason why those polls are useless to show ignorance, as they often include smart-ass answers. :stuck_out_tongue:

This was especially true when it’s something like Jaywalking. Any canny viewer will know that the correct answer wont get you your TV time, and a really stupid answer might even get you on the show.

So, when you read “45% of Americans dont know the White House is white in color.” you can guess a distinctly large % of that are smart-ass answers.

Of course- some people are ignorant.

I showed this video to my university history classes last week.

Maybe Texas Tech and Memorial University are sister institutions. :slight_smile:

I understand what people are saying about giving smart-ass answers, but i don’t think that’s what was going on in this video.