What do voters know about the GOP field? Very little.

at 02:04 PM ET, 01/13/2012

A new Pew Research Center poll suggests that most voters have little idea about even the most basic facts regarding the backgrounds of the men seeking the Republican presidential nomination this year.


Bored girl in classroom with stack of books (Jupiterimages - GETTY IMAGES/BRAND X)
Pew asked registered voters four questions: 1) “Which candidate served as the speaker of the House” 2) “Mitt Romney was the governor of ___” 3) “After Iowa and New Hampshire, the next primary is in ____” 4) “Which GOP candidate opposes U.S. involvement in Afghanistan”

Pretty basic stuff right? Um, no.

Just 43 percent of all registered voters — these people are actually registered to vote — got at least three of those questions right. Forty eight percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters got three right — not surprising given that the questions were GOP-focused — while 41 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents knew the answers to at least three questions.

The data for individual questions is no less revealing/depressing. Just 59 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters were aware that Romney had served as governor of Massachusetts. (Come on people!) Half of Republicans didn’t know that South Carolina is the next state to vote after Iowa and New Hampshire (Shedding a tear...); a bare majority (51 percent) knew that Texas Rep. Ron Paul was the candidate in the field who opposes U.S. involvement in Afghanistan (Slightly more understandable).

Young people — stunner! — were the least informed about the candidates. Just 40 percent of registered voters aged 18-29 knew that Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House — and that was the best that age group did on any of the four questions! Only 32 percent knew Romney had served as governor of Massachusetts and less than one in four (24 percent) knew South Carolina was the next state to vote after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sigh. (Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised given how Jay Leno has built an entire segment around how little the American public knows about, well, anything.)

What the Pew numbers should do is serve as a reminder for all political analysts and political junkies that not everyone — in fact, almost no one — is like us.

The average voter is a low-information decider, making his or her choices about candidates based on often times incomplete or just plain wrong facts.

The analysis of political races — from the presidential race on down — often assumes a level of involvement and information that the average voter simply lacks.

Humbling? Yes. Important to remember when talking about how voters think and who they will ultimately choose? Yes.

 
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