Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Geo-Literacy Survey of Obama Inauguration Attendees

Canada is being rocked, as much as a geography scandal can cause, by Sociology professor Judith Adler's pop quiz which found out that college students could not correctly identify continents and major bodies of water.

Inspired by her discovery, the staff at Geographic Travels decided to conduct a geography quiz to those attending the 2013 second term inauguration for President Barack Obama.  We wanted to see how knowledgeable people who were taking part in a major national civic celebration were with the world.  We did not want to ask silly trivia questions like "what is the capital of Belarus" but instead we worked to create relevant questions which impact both domestic and foreign policy.

We settled on eight questions:
  1. Can you point to Afghanistan on a world map?
  2. Can you name three countries that have gone/are going through a significant Arab Spring?
  3. What country receives the most foreign aid from the United States?
  4. What country produces most of the oil the United States consumes?
  5. What is the hottest year on record globally?
  6. What is the hottest year on record in the United States?
  7. What state has the most guns per capita?
  8. What state has the healthiest gun culture?
The questions were chosen because they related to 1) international events that are impacting U.S. policy, military actions, immigration, and economics 2) important environmental issues and 3) a contentious domestic policy debate.

The results of the survey revealed that American's knowledge of geography is, not surprising, not good.  Bold numbers reflect the percentage of people who correctly answered the question.
  1. Can you point to Afghanistan on a world map (world map was provided)? 15%
  2. Can you name three countries that have gone/are going through a significant Arab Spring? 12%
  3. What country receives the most foreign aid from the United States? 12%
  4. What country produces most of the oil the United States consumes? 4%
  5. What is the hottest year on record globally? 0%
  6. What is the hottest year on record in the United States? 38%
  7. What state has the most guns per capita? 0%
  8. What state has the healthiest gun culture (defined as the ratio of gun ownership over gun homicides)? 0%
The hottest year on record in the United States had the most correct answers, probably due to this being in the news.  However, the fact that only fifteen percent of all people could find Afghanistan on the map after 11 years of war, two presidents, and six congressional elections is troubling and upsetting.  Meanwhile, the fact no one could correctly answer gun questions shows just how poorly understood this issue is by some.

From analyzing the results we heard numerous comments and made our own observations.
  • Almost everyone answered "China" for biggest trade partner.  When told the correct answer (Canada) most people expressed visual shock.  Canada's massive role in the American economy is ignored.
  • More people thought Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran received more foreign aid than the correct answer (Israel).  
  • When one person was shown the correct location of Afghanistan he remarked "What?  Way over there?  That's not near anything important!  We've been there how long?"
  • A majority of people thought Texas had the most guns per capita.
  • One person remarked how the healthiest gun culture answer "puts things in perspective."
  • A majority of people were able to say that the warmest year on record for both the United States and globally was between 2000 and 2012.  People have been paying attention at least.  (Strangely though no one could say either 2005 nor 2010 for the global question)
This quiz was not designed to make Obama or his supporters look bad.  What these results are meant for is to show how American citizenry who are actively involving themselves in national-level political activity lack knowledge about the issues that will or are impacting them in a significant way.  Without knowledge about important international, domestic, and environmental issues how can a democratic republic system (which is run by citizenry) successfully support itself/the citizenry?

Note:  For those interested answers are in white text next to the questions below
  1. Can you point to Afghanistan on a world map?
  2. Can you name three countries that have gone/are going through a significant Arab Spring? Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq
  3. What country receives the most foreign aid from the United States? Israel
  4. What country produces most of the oil the United States consumes? United States
  5. What is the hottest year on record globally? 2005 or 2010 (debatable tie)
  6. What is the hottest year on record in the United States? 2012
  7. What state has the most guns per capita? Wyoming
  8. What state has the healthiest gun culture? Wyoming

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