Americans tend to be notoriously ignorant about the goings on in the rest of the world, which is why this article by several social scientists who did a clever survey about the situation in the Ukraine is not the least bit surprising. It found that the less people know about where the Ukraine is, the more likely they are to support American military action.
About one in six (16 percent) Americans correctly located Ukraine, clicking somewhere within its borders. Most thought that Ukraine was located somewhere in Europe or Asia, but the median respondent was about 1,800 miles off — roughly the distance from Chicago to Los Angeles — locating Ukraine somewhere in an area bordered by Portugal on the west, Sudan on the south, Kazakhstan on the east, and Finland on the north…
Does it really matter whether Americans can put Ukraine on a map? Previous research would suggest yes: 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. Accordingly, we also asked our respondents a variety of questions about what they thought about the current situation on the ground, and what they wanted the United States to do. Similarly to other recent polls, we found that although Americans are undecided on what to do with Ukraine, they are more likely to oppose action in Ukraine the costlier it is — 45 percent of Americans supported boycotting the G8 summit, for example, while only 13 percent of Americans supported using force.
However, the further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95 percent confidence level. Our results are clear, but also somewhat disconcerting: The less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.
The old saying is that ignorance is bliss. I might suggest a different phrase: ignorance is useful. It’s useful for powerful interests because it allows them to manipulate the public through fear and other emotions.