Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

23 thoughts on “Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

  1. Judy Cooper

    You make a good point. It continues to amaze me when somebody I thought had good sense says they think Trump is doing a good job and will vote for him again. I just don’t understand.

    Reply
  2. bud

    You have a point but this isn’t a great example. AOC is responsible for helping create the GREEN New Deal, a very important proposal that should be taken seriously. Perhaps people confused the FDR initiative with that. I’m willing to give these folks a pass on this.

    There are far better examples of ridiculous things that people actually believe and say. These folks really shouldn’t be voting. A few examples:

    Voters that actually believe, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that the George W. Bush administration was truthful in the runup to the Iraq war back in 2002! Imagine people believing something as ludicrous as that.

    Going back a few years before that there was this completely discredited theory that if Vietnam fell other countries in the region would follow. Known as the domino theory some people actually still suggest this theory was accurate.

    Recently I came across an accusation that Bernie Sanders is a nihilist! Shocking that someone could brutalize the English language so egregiously and commit a damnable bit of slander. But believe it or not this trash has actually been stridently promoted. I could support a ban on people that make such horrendous charges.

    And finally, I know someone who suggested a few months back that we should consider bringing back prohibition!!! Seriously these low information voters should never be allowed anywhere near a voting booth. They are dangerous to very existence of this great nation.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Bud, you’re declaring someone non compos mentis because of OPINIONS with which you disagree.

      This survey identified a deficit in knowledge of FACTS.

      I’m sure you see the difference…

      Oh, and when did I advocate bringing back Prohibition? But just to egg you on… if there were a referendum and I had to choose, I’d probably say yes. But that’s not the same as proposing that we have such a referendum.

      I wouldn’t like being forced to make such a choice, because I like a drink or two in the evening. But if FORCED to make a decision, I couldn’t possibly look at the havoc alcohol wreaks in society and say, “Oh,that’s OK…”

      Reply
  3. Bob Amundson

    As Zach Beauchamp in VOX writes (“The Anti-liberal Moment: Critics on the left and right are waging war on liberalism. And liberals don’t seem to have a good defense), perhaps there are “… deep flaws in its liberal order, before they became obvious to other political observers and ordinary citizens.”

    Beauchamp continues, “But these are radical times. Several trends and shock events have combined to create a sense of rolling crisis. This certainly traces back to the Great Recession; arguably, it began as far back as the 9/11 attacks. But what’s clear is that liberalism’s peril became acute in 2016, when the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump proved that illiberal right-wing populism had emerged as a serious challenge to liberal hegemony.”

    The article is an interesting analysis of today’s international political landscape.

    Reply
  4. Harry Harris

    This is what we get when we link education solely to materialism and dump the idea that a broad education is valuable.
    And, yes, you are an elitist.

    Reply
  5. Sir Winston Churchill

    No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

    Reply
  6. Doug Ross

    I bet Libertarians score higher on those tests. The government we have is the product of ignorant Democrat and Republican voters continuing to vote for the same people over and over… and the members of Congress with the most power are on Social Security. Anyone with half a brain wouldn’t vote for Pelosi or McConnell.

    Reply
      1. David T

        Ah Bill, you do realize that you’re pretty much being ignored by everyone on here aren’t you? Post something intelligent instead of some random YouTube video and maybe people will respond to you.

        Reply
        1. Bob Amundson

          Certainly not everyone; I am amazed by the depth of his musical knowledge. I don’t know him, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find he is a musician or professor of music. IMHO, his musical posts are unique responses to other points of view.

          Reply
    1. bud

      Most of the “Libertarians” I knew when I was young eventually recognized this movement as little more than a dressed up cult. When people start advocating for the legalization of drunk driving and the elimination of the United States treasury it is clear this party is no better that the Moonies.

      Reply
    2. JesseS

      Possibly. Libertarianism has the same problem as Marxism. There are plenty of highly knowledgeable Libertarians and highly knowledgeable Marxist, but for complex problems the solution is always the same: Apply more of X.

      Sounds like alchemy to me.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        Actually, the solution for libertarians is “apply less of X”. Especially when X is tax dollars, regulation, bureaucracy, corruption, war, spying on citizens…

        But you guys keep doing the Democrat/Republican thing. I’m sure it will work out eventually.

        If freedom, efficiency, ethical behavior,treating everyone equally, and personal responsibility is a cult, then I’ll gladly admit to drinking the Libertarian Kool Aid by the gallon. The rest of you can get drunk on taking people’s money, endless wars, and letting corrupt people like Pelosi and McConnell run your government.

        Reply
    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, I’ll bet libertarians do better than average, too. They tend to pride themselves on being knowledgeable about the basics of political science. Where libertarians go wrong is with the erroneous conclusions that they derive from the facts they know.

      I think Jesse has it right about Marxists and libertarians: The problem, the basic fallacy, is that they think the proper response to all political situations is, “Apply more of X.”

      That’s the problem with ideologies. They seduce people into thinking that they’ve got it all figured out, and since they have this hammer (their ideology), everything they encounter is a nail….

      Oh, by the way… I suspect that Marxists — if they’re Americans — probably do pretty well on such tests. Wrong as they are, they’re intensely into politics… and history… so they should do pretty well on multiple-choice questions about facts (rather than value judgments)…

      Reply
  7. bud

    It’s 9-11. Perhaps the saddest day in American history. At least in the top 5. Another really terrible day was October 11, 2002. That was the day George W. Bush got his Iraq war resolution. Biden of course voted for that dreadful legislation. And now he is lying about his role in that disaster. Given Biden’s breathless revisionism the Democrats need to send a clear message that pre-emptive war is NEVER the answer. Here’s an excerpt from: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2019/09/11/joe_bidens_jumbled_iraq_war_revisionism__141218.html:

    “Yes, I did oppose the war before it began.” That was Joe Biden’s latest rendering of his position on the Iraq War, offered at a campaign event Sept. 6 in New Castle, N.H. Biden has been jumbling his history on the subject of late, suggesting that he opposed the war immediately after it started – a claim flatly contradicted by a large volume of his contemporaneous public statements from 2003. Of course, Biden also joined 28 Democratic colleagues in the Senate to vote for the October 2002 resolution authorizing the war. But this newest retelling of history now appears to extend his revisionism to the claim that he was somehow opposed to the war even before it was launched – which is also obviously false.”

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      Biden just spews whatever his handlers tell him to say…. or else he just has the typical faulty memory of someone of advanced age. Neither one is a good sign for the future of the country if he is President (which he won’t be).

      Hopefully his opponents will press him on his revisionist history tonight in the debate.

      Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      That’s a parody video, right? The faux pretentious bored female singer… the lead singer so cool with dropping his cigarette out of his mouth before he starts… the “hip” drummer in his shades… and the dancing in the sound booth. Is this music people listen to more than once?

      Reply

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