Soft bigotry, low expectations

SOFT BIGOTRY, LOW EXPECTATIONS…. Time‘s Amy Sullivan, a Monthly alum, notes that Americans did reasonably well in the Pew Research Center’s new report on current events.

We most often hear about public opinion polls that make Americans seem like blithering idiots who are lucky to get through the day without tripping over their own stupidity: More people can name a Jonas Brother than a Supreme Court Justice! A shocking percentage don’t know which party controls Congress! They believe in UFOs!

So it’s only right to highlight this new Pew Research Center survey that finds Americans well-informed about the financial crisis. Suspiciously well-informed. Seriously — 58% know that Tim Geithner is the Treasury Secretary? That’s name i.d. that some presidential wannabes would kill for. More than seven in ten know that China is the foreign country that holds the most U.S. government debt. A majority (53%) correctly estimated the unemployment rate at 8%.

Pat yourselves on the back, Americans — the economy may be in a death spiral, but you know exactly how bad it is!

Well, I suppose. It’s likely that I have unrealistic expectations, but the survey was multiple choice, which necessarily makes it a little easier. Respondents weren’t asked, for example, to name the Treasury Secretary. Rather, they were asked who Tim Geithner was, and were offered four options. That 58% got it right isn’t bad, I guess, but given all the public discussion and coverage of late, that number seems underwhelming. Are Americans “suspiciously well-informed”? I need more convincing.

Indeed, the same Pew Research Center report found that 11% of Americans still think President Obama is a Muslim, which is practically unchanged since the presidential campaign. About one-fifth of all white evangelical Protestants continue to buy into this obvious falsehood.

We have a ways to go.