Sometimes even the most bland polls can yield results that are startling. Sometimes those results force us to remember that we live in an ideologically and intellectually diverse nation.
Only around 35 percent of Americans have a passport, 18 percent think President Obama is a Muslim, 43 percent “don’t know” what religion he practices (in spite of the Jeremiah Wright fiasco), and 37 percent can’t find Iraq on a map despite our fighting two wars there.
So maybe we shouldn’t be all that shocked by this recent statistic: 52 percent of Americans report “having heard little or nothing” about the anti-government demonstrations in Egypt. This requires all caps: MORE THAN HALF OF THOSE SURVEYED DON’T REALLY KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON IN EGYPT.
According to the Pew Research Center poll, the now two-week-long uprising has largely gone unnoticed by the American public. In typical America-centric fashion, more than half (58%) say the protests will not have much of an effect on the United States. Clearly those respondents were unaware that President Hosni Mubarak is arguably America’s most important Arab ally and that Egypt receives the fourth highest amount of U.S. foreign aid after Afghanistan, Pakistan and Israel.
Also unsurprising, majorities of Democrats (69%) and independents (57%) say the Obama administration is handling the situation in Egypt about right, while fewer Republicans (43%) give the administration positive ratings. The poll was conducted February 2nd through 7th among 1,385 adults.
Maybe we’re so put off by this poll because our headline for much of the past 15 straight days concerned the anti-Mubarak demonstrations on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and elsewhere around the nation, and the fact that we’ve contributed thousands of online-equivalent column inches to what undoubtedly has been the biggest story in the world o’er the past fortnight.
We’d love to blame the easy target here — the good ol’ lamestream media, as a certain political celebrity calls it — but the newspapers, networks and cable news channels made up for their slow start by providing rather ample and good coverage of the protests.
In fact, according to Talking Points Memo’s analysis of another Pew report, “unrest in Egypt was covered more on the news than any other international story in the four years that Pew has been tracking coverage, accounting for 56% of total coverage across all the news mediums over the course of a week.
“Cable news covered the protests more than any other medium, with 76% of their coverage focusing on Egypt during the week of January 31-February 6. The major news networks devoted 59% of their coverage to Egypt, and radio was in third with 55%.
“According to Pew, since they started measuring weekly news coverage, the single biggest international story was the Iraq War, garnering 43% of coverage during the week of September 9-14, 2007.”
So how can this be? How can more than half of those surveyed report “hearing little or nothing” about the story? Even if you didn’t follow it closely, and even if you didn’t delve into the details, there was certainly enough human interest outside the hardball politics to at least reach the ears of those who didn’t really care. You almost have to go out of your way to miss this story, no?
Shocked by this, Matt Osborne over at Osborne Ink engaged us in conversation on The Twitter, and after some back and forth tweets, he showed us this 2008 TED talk by Alisa Miller about this very subject. The news business has changed in the few years between then and now, but its lessons apply. This should help shed at least a little light on the disconnect between these two Pew reports:
Despite saying we shouldn’t be shocked by anything, we’re absolutely floored by this. Are you?