Clarence Page / Politics

Voter IQs Need Refresher Course

Republicans are delighted to hear they scored better than Democrats and independents in a new survey of political knowledge. Fine. I'm sure Democrats would be just as boastful if their side scored better. Everybody in politics wants to believe that their side is brilliant and the others are a bunch of nitwits.

What's disturbing to me is how many participants, including members of the GOP, managed to give wrong answers to the Pew Research Center survey's 17 quite basic questions -- including, which party has the donkey as its symbol and which party is called the "GOP"?

Perhaps no one should be shocked that more than a third of the independents did not know that the donkey is the Democrats' mascot and "GOP," or Grand Old Party, is the nickname of the elephant party.

But more than one-fifth of Republicans didn't know they were the GOP and a third of Democrats missed the donkey question.

On eight of 13 questions about politics, Republicans outscored Democrats by an average of 18 percentage points, according to Pew. That's at least partly because Republicans tend to be older, which in my experience makes them more attentive to the news. Back when I taught college journalism classes, I was both amused and appalled by how little students keep up with the news unless you assign them to do it.

But it is hardly a trivial pursuit for voters to know, for example, which party wants to restrict access to abortion. Yet a third of both parties and independents in the Pew survey answered incorrectly -- and more than one-fourth of all three groups did not know it is Democrats who "support raising taxes on higher income people."

Almost the same percentage did not know which party favors a "path to citizenship" for illegal immigrants. It's the Democrats.

Ten percent of Republicans guessed wrong when asked which party was "more conservative on most issues," but that's better than the 40 percent of Democrats who also got it wrong.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone complain about low voter turnout. Do we really want to encourage even more Americans to vote?

Well, yes, said Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, when I reached him by telephone. Although he hastened to add, "not because I expect to see some great infusion of enlightenment as a result."

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(c) 2012 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.



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