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Politico: Voters Know More About the World Than You Think

Authors: Graham Allison, and Michael Murphy
October 20, 2012


An increasing awareness of foreign policy matters among American voters has come to the fore in the 2012 election season, according to Politico.

It has long been accepted wisdom that Americans "don't know much about history, don't know much geography"— to recall the words of a golden oldie. So most folks managing, covering, or watching current campaigns will be surprised to learn that the majority of likely voters in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio not only know more about the world outside, but care more, and want to know more than most candidates imagine.

On the eve of Monday's presidential foreign policy debate, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs engaged leading Democratic and Republican pollsters to explore the views of the most important voters in the two most important battleground states. The results offer one "aha" after another — and pose unexpected challenges to President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as they prep for the decisive showdown on global issues.

Experts who look down on the general public will point to the poll's finding that voters in these two states are more familiar with Britain's soccer star David Beckham and Chinese-American basketball player Yao Ming than with Prime Minister David Cameron and Xi Jinping, Chinese heir-apparent president, Xi Jinping. They will explain away the fact that half of Ohioans know that Russia is geographically closer to America than Fiji or El Salvador by pointing to Sarah Palin and Tina Fey. But they will be surprised about what Americans actually know and what they want to know, especially when it comes to matters of defense and international security.

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