Americans Ignorant and Illiterate

Americans don’t read books or know much about the world around them, if two new polls are to be believed.

Two-thirds of US adults admit to being in the dark about political issues outside the United States, and only a third are well-versed in US politics, the results of a poll published Tuesday showed.


Global political knowledge was miniscule, with just three percent of women and 14 percent of men saying they are extremely knowledgeable on world politics.

One reason for the knowledge gap is lack of interest, according to the poll. “Well over half (57 percent) say they do not like learning about political issues in other countries,” and 32 percent expressed a lack of interest for homespun politics, the Harris Poll group said.

Now, it would be more effective to ask people specific questions to measure their knowledge rather than relying on a self-assessment. Still, when people tell me they don’t know and they don’t care, I tend to take their word for it. Especially in light of this:

There it sits on your night stand, that book you’ve meant to read for who knows how long but haven’t yet cracked open. Tonight, as you feel its stare from beneath that teetering pile of magazines, know one thing — you are not alone.

One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn’t read any, the usual number read was seven.

Taken alone, I would just guess that people were reading things other than books owing to the short attention span created by the Internet and the instant-information age. Indeed, I read fewer books now than I did a decade ago, while reading much more content. But, judging by the other survey, they’re certainly not reading magazines, newspapers, or political blogs.

via Memeorandum

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Education, Public Opinion Polls, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Perhaps a better title for the Breitbart article would have been “Americans Are Honest”. Most of my countrymen don’t care about politics and don’t mind saying so. I wonder how many Europeans there are who don’t know a darned thing about American politics but would pronounce themselves “very knowledgeable”?

  2. legion says:

    Two-thirds of US adults admit to being in the dark about political issues outside the United States, and only a third are well-versed in US politics, the results of a poll published Tuesday showed.

    Am I missing something, or does this sentence basically say ‘two-thirds of Americans don’t know jacke about politics anywhere“? And since when is 57% “well over half”? Or is it too much to expect the reporter hectoring me for my lack of political awareness to have a basic grasp of statistics before quoting poll numbers?

  3. just me says:

    I wonder the same thing Dave does, but I don’t doubt those stats.

    My sister is quite proudly one of those people who don’t know, don’t care, and don’t want to learn kind of people.

    But I can understand a certain apathy towards the area of politics, what I don’t get is how many people don’t read. I would be hard pressed to count the number of books I have read in the last year, shoot I am not even sure how many I read in a month. Granted some of those books are definitely pure entertainment fluff, but I can’t imagine not reading a single book in a year of any kind.

  4. Americans’ reading habits are just more evidence of our laziness, which seems to grow boundlessly. We prefer the simple, passive processes of information consumption, and are willing to sacrifice a little bit of imagination for the convenience. Our much-vaunted American obesity isn’t just physical, but it’s apparently intellectual and spiritual, as well. I blogged on this one, too.

  5. tom panian says:

    WOW… I am among the literati… 7 and counting. Starting with the most recent:

    “Misquoting Jesus” (about the Bible)
    “Chasing Justice”
    “Last Stand of the Tin Can Soldiers” (GREAT book)
    “Discoverers” (I have been reading this one for years… a couple of chapters at a time)
    “Fiasco”(VERY good)
    “Stringing Together a Nation” (if the history of exploration interests you)

    one or two other nonsense books for entertainment only.

    I also read a lot of mags and blogs.

    I have to say, so do my sons. My mother imbued the love of books upon me, and I passed the disease to my sons.

    What have you read???


  6. cirby says:

    On the other hand, if you ask visiting Europeans about how knowledgeable they are about the world, they’ll tell you that they’re extremely well-informed, and much, much smarter than Americans in every respect.

    Of course, then they’ll ask you for driving directions from Orlando to Miami, because they have lunch reservations in South Beach in an hour and a half. Oh, yeah, and do you know a good place to rent a car? Yeah, they’re going to drive to Texas to meet some friends tomorrow, too…

  7. anjin-san says:

    Americans Ignorant and Illiterate

    How else could Bush have become President?