The two-year debate over health-care reform ended, at least temporarily, last month with a Supreme Court decision that, according to a Pew Research Center study, only 55 percent of the public understands. A new paper suggests that Americans might know more about politics if it paid — as it does in, say, Greece.
“For the Western European or American citizen, choosing among different parties and candidates is ultimately a choice based on group interest,” Pavlos Vasilopoulos, a student at the University of Athens, writes in “Political Sophistication in Greece: Explaining the Paradox of a Politically Knowledgeable Electorate.” “On the contrary, the electoral behavior for a significant portion of the population in Greece translates into private interest, with tangible material consequences such as employment.”
Today, however, those tangible material consequences may be in short supply: Unemployment in the euro zone is at a record high, and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras acknowledged Friday that his country missed key targets in its economic adjustment program. Even so, political knowledge has been worth more for Greeks than Americans.
According to Vasilopoulos, poll results showing that Americans are uninformed about politics led to an “assumption over the universality of the unsophisticated voter” in all democracies, which is not what he found. Looking at surveys from 2008 — when the country’s economic footing was quite different — he determined that Greeks know a lot about politics, including international figures such as President Obama, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, because “the state became the dominant mechanism for the allocation of resources” in their country.
“The pattern of minimal knowledge that has been systematically reported in the case of the United States cannot be considered as an inherent or rational consequence of democracy regardless of national characteristics,” he writes. “In the case of Greece, where political involvement is associated with a narrower sense of private interest compared to the rest of Western European democracies, the value of political information increases.”