James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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What Do Americans Know about the GOP Presidential Candidates?

by James M. Lindsay
January 14, 2012

Mitt Romney is shown on television monitors in the filing center during the Republican presidential debate at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. (Danny Moloshok/courtesy Reuters) Mitt Romney is shown on television monitors in the filing center during the Republican presidential debate at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. (Danny Moloshok/courtesy Reuters)

In yesterday’s Friday File I flagged a CBS/Vanity Fair poll that showed that most Americans do not know that Mitt Romney’s first name is Willard—as opposed to Mitt (or Mittens or Gromit). That’s a cute poll result that added a bit of levity to my weekly news roundup. But to judge by another poll, this one by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, there’s a lot else that the public doesn’t know about the Republican candidates even though they are dominating the stories on all the cable news channels:

  • When asked “which GOP candidate opposes U.S. involvement in Afghanistan?”, just 44 percent of voters correctly named Ron Paul.
  • When asked which state Mitt Romney was governor of, just 46 percent of voters knew it was Massachusetts.
  • Sixty-nine percent of all voters and 76 percent of Republicans knew that Newt Gingrich once served as Speaker of the House.
  • When asked which state would hold the next nominating event after Iowa and New Hampshire, just 45 percent knew that the answer was South Carolina.

Not surprisingly, older Americans (50-64), college graduates, and Republicans were the most likely to supply the right answers.

The lesson for political junkies is that while they may obsess about which candidates are making which media buys in which South Carolina counties, most Americans haven’t even begun to think about the 2012 presidential election. And they probably won’t until late this summer—if then.

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