Ignorance is Strength

8 04 2014

As long-term readers of this blog know, one of my interests is the use of knowledge in society and the theories of knowledge that underpin competing normative views of public policy. I was therefore fascinated to read of some research on the MonkeyCage blog that showed that support among Americans for US military intervention in the affairs of Ukraine is negatively correlated with the ability to successfully locate Ukraine on a map of the world.  In other words, Americans who have a rough idea of where Ukraine is located are more likely to oppose military involvement that those who have absurd ideas about Ukraine’s actual location.


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.





Some of the guesses about where Ukraine is located are hilarious (see map).


This research is connected to Ezra Klein’s recent blog post about how politics makes people stupid (i.e., how strong political views reduce their ability to perform basic math).





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