Reality Check

The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland has just released a startling report called “The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters.” The information presented in the report, which can be viewed in its entirety here, suggests that perhaps the reason Bush’s supporters aren’t concerned about the president’s troubled relationship with reality is because they, too, are divorced from the truth.

After a series of nationwide polls, the analysis of the collected data provided the conclusion that Bush’s supporters are much more likely to hold beliefs about the world that are objectively untrue, while Kerry’s supporters are much more likely to be well-informed. Some of the findings include:

  • 75% of Bush supporters believe that Iraq was provided substantial aid to al-Qaida
  • 63% of Bush supporters believe clear evidence of Iraq aid to al-Qaida has been found
  • 82% of Bush supporters believe the Bush administration has reported that Iraq did indeed have WMD or a major WMD program
  • 57% of Bush supporters believe that the majority of people in the world would prefer to see Bush reelected


"Majorities incorrectly assumed that Bush supports multilateral approaches to various international issues -- the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (69%), the treaty banning land mines (72%); 51% incorrectly assumed he favors US participation in the Kyoto treaty -- the principal international accord on global warming ... Only 13% of supporters are aware that he opposes labor and environmental standards in trade agreements -- 74% incorrectly believe that he favors including labor and environmental standards in agreements on trade. In all these cases, there is a recurring theme: majorities of Bush supporters favor these positions, and they infer that Bush favors them as well."

In Salon’s War Room coverage of the PIPA report, they concluded, quite aptly:

[W]hile "The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters" may be perversely satisfying to Democrats in its confirmation of blue-state prejudices, it carries a pretty disturbing question for all rational Americans: How can arguments based on fact prevail in a nation where so many people know so little?

Disturbing indeed. Upon review of the questionnaire used for the survey, I thought that the resulting report begs a follow-up. Many of the questions were asked about perceptions of what the administration had said/was currently saying. I would be interested to find out, for those who, for example, thought that the administration had claimed discovery of a weapons program in Iraq, where they got the information. Is it a case of listening to particular partisan media presenters, is it a case of these people being simply unable to accurately interpret an objective news report, or something else altogether? Clearly, ignorance of reality is the issue, the difference between ignorance born of poor education and willful ignorance stemming from a resolute ideology is huge, and says two entirely different things about this country.

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