THE PUBLIC REACH OF THE RNC SCANDAL…. In order for a controversy to be damaging, Americans actually have to hear about the controversy.

Last week, for example, we learned that the RNC had spent nearly $2,000 in donor money at “a bondage-themed nightclub featuring topless women dancers imitating lesbian sex.” This sparked a round of headaches for the party and its beleaguered chairman, Michael Steele, and led to a fairly serious staff shake-up. In political circles, the story was hard to miss, and the controversy became the subject of considerable mockery on the late-night shows.

But did the general public hear about it? Consider these results from the latest Pew Research Center survey:

Four-in-ten Americans heard at least a little about the controversy last week over the Republican National Committee paying a roughly $1,900 tab for young party donors at a sexually-oriented night club in Los Angeles. Still, six-in-ten say they heard nothing at all about this.

While 16% say they heard a lot about this story, the percentage of Democrats (21%) who say this is twice the percentage of Republicans (10%). Among independents, 15% say they heard a lot about this story.

I can’t quite decide whether this is encouraging or discouraging. Sure, for those engaged in day-to-day current events, the RNC story was practically ubiquitous, and pretty hilarious. But most Americans struggle to keep up with daily political developments, and only pick up on bits and pieces of the news, if that.

In this sense, the fact that 40% of Americans say they heard about this seems relatively good, doesn’t it? Chances are, this 40% includes the kind of folks who vote, get involved in public affairs, contribute to candidates, etc.

Or is the flip-side true? The RNC can find itself as the butt of a national joke, and six-in-ten Americans still have no idea that the incident even occurred.

I can’t decide, but I’m open to suggestion.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.