Only 36 percent of Americans were able to correctly identify North Korea on a map in a recent Morning Consult survey. Before discussing what that means for the latest round of saber-rattling between the United States and North Korea, let's test your own knowledge: Can you locate North Korea on the map of Asia, below?
If you found it, congrats on your better-than-average geographic literacy! If not, at least you learned something today. Everybody's a winner here at Wonkblog!
The Morning Consult experiment, as reported by the New York Times, found that there's a relationship between geographic knowledge and policy preferences. People who can locate North Korea are more likely to favor diplomatic ways to deal with the country's unruly regime: economic sanctions, for instance, or increasing pressure on the country's chief ally, China.
On the other hand, people who couldn't find the country were statistically more likely to favor doing things the old-fashioned way: by sending in ground troops. They were also more likely to say we should not do anything at all. It's worth pointing out, however, that this group still preferred diplomatic approaches to North Korea, they just did so by a significantly smaller margin than the people who could actually find the country.
These results are similar to a 2014 study on another international flashpoint: Ukraine. That study found that the less knowledgeable people were about the country's location, the more they favored aggressive U.S. interventions, like the use of military force.
The geographical questions are a novel way to illustrate a basic truth about civic life: "Information, or the absence thereof, can influence Americans’ attitudes about the kind of policies they want their government to carry out and the ability of elites to shape that agenda," as political scientists Kyle Dropp, Joshua D. Kertzer and Thomas Zeitzoff wrote at the Monkey Cage blog in 2014.
"War," the old saying goes, "is God's way of teaching Americans geography." Given what we're starting to learn about geographical knowledge and its relationship to policy preferences, it might be time to flip that saying on its head: Geography is God's way of teaching Americans about avoiding war.