Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Where do YOU think Ukraine is?

From Washington Post comes a very disturbing piece of information (HT: Business Insider). A couple of political scientists from Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton did a survey of 2066 Americans (sampled in a usual way) and asked them what action they wanted the US to do in Ukraine. In addition, they've asked them to locate Ukraine on the map: 
"We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene with military force."
Correlation doesn't imply causality, of course. However there is something to this - more ignorance implies further ignorance. I guess military interventions in Iraq can be justified the same way?  

But anyway, what surprised me is the variety of different answers people gave on Ukraine's location (see the map below). I mean some seem to think Ukraine is part of the US (Alaska, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, even Florida) - of course they would want a US military intervention - you have to protect your own turf, right?

Source: K. Dropp, J. Kertzer and T. Zeitzoff, Monkey Cage blog, WP
The red dots depict the closest guesses, while the blue ones depict those furthest away.
16% got it right. A bit more were close (opting for Eastern Europe), but some were just outright stupid. Australia? India? Canada!? Greenland!!? Seriously? A lot chose Kazakhstan, Pakistan and areas in the Middle East (you know - as long as we're around, we might as well intervene). 

They found that younger Americans are more precise (27% of those between 18-24 compared to 14% of those 65+), men did better than women (20% vs 13%), independents (29%) did better than both Democrats (14%) and Republicans (15%), members of military households did about the same as members of non-military households (16%), while collage graduates outperformed non-college graduates, even though 77% of those holding a college degree cannot place Ukraine on the map. Now that's disturbing. 

Let's go back to the correlation story. The authors said to have controlled for a series of demographic characteristics and foreign policy attitudes and have found the story viable (under a 5% significance level): the less the people know about the location of Ukraine, the more likely they would be to support US military intervention. I would have to read the paper to make a better judgment of this, but if the data holds that this is indeed a very troublesome finding. And this would be yet another case in point how a lack of information on a topic influences people's attitudes towards adverse government policies - just like protectionism in international trade. What's the answer? Improve education, I would say. The better educated population, the better decisions they make, and the stronger the informal institutions.

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