Mitt who?

Or do I mean Mitt whom?

On Wednesday, the Pew Center released a poll in which they asked respondents to name as many of the Republican candidates for president as they could. Fifty-four percent could name at least one, and, compared with results of the same question in previous cycles, that’s only a little below average. To me, it’s still pretty pitiful.

Even more depressing — from the point of view of citizenship generally or from the point of view of the two leading candidates for the Repub nomination, just 28 percent of Pew respondents came up with the name of Gov. Rick Perry and just 27 percent named Mitt Romney.

Again, compared with previous cycles (you can glance at all the comparisons on a table as well as Pew’s own summary of the poll results here) this is bad but not the worst ever at comparable moments in previous presidential election cycles.

Noting these poll results this morning for Politico, Alex Burns writes:

“The relatively low degree of familiarity with the Republican field means there’s plenty of room for the candidates to define themselves and each other. It also adds some weight to the Democratic view that President Obama may fare better as his eventual opponent comes into sharper relief.”

All true, I suppose, and also a great example of how everything can be turned into horserace analysis.

But poll results like these always depress me because they rub my nose in how little attention the average citizen pays to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in a self-governing society.

Yes, I’m sure that by the time we get to Election Day 2012, a lot more Americans will know the name of the major party nominees. And I know that this makes me sound like an awful snob or scold or something. And I know that it is self-serving for a career news scribbler to believe this. But I have never been able to talk myself out of the belief that one of the responsibilities of citizenship is to pay some attention to the news. I’ve never fully recovered from the experience of writing a 1998 poll story in which the Strib’s Minnesota Poll asked people to name their two U.S. Senators — Paul Wellstone and Rod Grams at the time. Twenty percent of Minnesotans — Minnesotans for criminy sakes — could name them both.

In 2008 — another presidential election year — a previous Pew Poll found that the portion had risen in every age group who said they had paid attention to none of the 101 ways they might have paid attention to the news on the previous day.

Okay, end of old fogey rant.

By the way, the big outlier in Pew’s history of this question where they ask people to name the presidential candidates in the September of the pre-election year was September of 2008 when 78 percent could name Hillary Clinton as a contender for the Dem nomination and 62 percent could name Barack Obama.

And lastly, I would bet heavily on the proposition that MinnPost readers would do a lot better on this poll question than the public at large. If you’re still reading this, thank you. Now try to get your kids and grandkids hooked on a news habit of some kind.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/07/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    “The man who has no interest in politics has no business here.”

    …Pericles of Athens

    Since politics is how democratic societies – and even many undemocratic societies – work, having at least some minimal knowledge of recent political events and personalities strikes me as civic duty. That’s spelled d – u – t – y. Not necessarily fun or amusing or remunerative. Duty.

  2. Submitted by Ross Williams on 10/07/2011 - 12:34 pm.

    There is no reason for anyone to pay any attention to who is running for President right now. We don’t vote for another year. And most of what is reported in the media is misleading and useless anyway.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/07/2011 - 10:44 pm.

    You shouldn’t get depressed if people don’t pay attention to these poll results, Eric.I agree however that it is depressing how little people pay attention to their duties, and responsibilities as citizens. “Duty” is a heavy word which connotes guilt and Mom and Dad and the Church and Teacher and any form of authority. It takes effort of mind when you’ve been told to obey other people your whole life that when you become your own boss, you have other duties to yourself, your family and your country if you want it to stay that way.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/08/2011 - 06:59 am.

    The problem for him is that he has spent 4 years trying to convince Americans to vote for him on the basis of doctrine. Even though he seems to be an able manager and even though I want to vote for an able manager, a vote for Romney still seems like a vote against ability.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/08/2011 - 10:58 am.

    mit schlag

  6. Submitted by Mike Finley on 10/08/2011 - 02:15 pm.

    The problem lies in the word freedom. Americans have come to feel that freedom trumps any sense of duty. We barely fight our own wars. Our pursuit of happiness, as we think of it, obviates any need for there to be a common culture, or anything shared in any way. A little freedom binds people together, but a lot of sloppy freedom splits us apart into demographics of one. These presidential candidates don’t apply to me — they’re for the nerds who still care about such things — the 20 percent whose pursuit of happiness is advanced by politics and news. (And yes, that’s why they do horserace analysis. People like the idea of competition more than they like issues.)

  7. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/09/2011 - 01:46 pm.

    Mike–
    I think you’re talking about the difference between freedom and anarchy.

  8. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 10/09/2011 - 04:39 pm.

    Don’t feel bad that people aren’t paying much attention to the Republican candidates. The election is more than a year away. Anything can happen. I will never forget how shocked I was when Wellstone was killed in a plane crash about 3 weeks before election day. It changed everything. (and I’m a Republican!)

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