A new survey from the Pew Research Center suggests that Americans have a better understanding of Google’s smartphone operating system than they do the specifics of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Only 16 percent of respondents correctly stated that more than half of the loans made to banks under TARP have been paid back, while 25 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify Android as Google’s mobile operating system. Another 16 percent thought that none of the TARP money had been repaid.
This is but one indication from the survey that many Americans struggle with the specifics when it comes to policy and politics. It seems, that while the country has a basic understanding of what’s going on economically and politically, the details are elusive.
Perhaps the most telling example from the survey is that while 75 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify Republicans as having done better in the midterm elections, less than half of them (46 percent) knew that the GOP had taken the House of Representatives. About 14 percent also believe the GOP won both the House and Senate, and 8 percent think they won the Senate. A full 27 percent said they did not know (which, according to Socrates’ famous line, “The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing,” might make these respondents’ the wisest of all). Only 38 percent of the public could correctly identify John Boehner as the presumptive Speaker of the House.
The numbers get worse as the respondents get younger. Only 27 percent of those younger than 30 know the Republicans took the House, compared with the 57 percent of those 65 and older who answered that question correctly. And, to get back to Google, about three times as many young people could identify the Android than could name Boehner as the Speaker-to-be.
In the aftermath of the 2010 elections, President Obama has blamed the Republican rout, in part, on a lack of communication from his administration overall and about the stimulus in particular. And maybe it's a dearth of correspondence with the public that has left this country largely unaware of what is happening with our budget.
While 77 percent of the country knows that the deficit is larger today than in the 1990s, fewer people know how the government actually spends its money. Only 39 percent of the public knew that the government spends more money on national defense than on education, Medicare, or interest on the national debt. About one-in-four believe the government spends more on interest payments and 15% say Medicare costs the most of these four. In reality the government spends about twice as much on defense as on Medicare, and more than four times as much on defense as on interest on the debt.