Friday, May 20, 2016

Ignorance is NOT Bliss

President Obama made a statement about ignorance last week in a commencement address at Rutgers, and many people thought it was all about Donald Trump (including Trump).  I’m not a mind reader, so I can’t tell you if that was the intended target or not, but as far as I’m concerned Obama could have been talking about a LOT of people.

First, here’s the quote:
“Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science – these are good things… In politics, and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about. That’s not ‘keeping it real,’ or ‘telling it like it is.’ That’s not challenging ‘political correctness.’ That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

Seems right.  Yes, Trump certainly has his share of “speak first, think later” moments, but frankly, we all do.  Of course, some do it more than others.  Some folks are…well, we use different terms for it.  Some say “stupid,” some “dumb,” others use “ignorant.”  They all mean slightly different things.

When dealing with political insights and opinions, I tend to think that most folks are not only ignorant, but willingly so.  That is, they really DO know the information needed to make a statement, form a belief, or voice an opinion, but because of something else, they “ignore” the facts to make a statement that flies in the face of those facts.

Here’s an illustration.  A Public Policy survey done earlier this year asked respondents,
“Do you think the stock market has gone up or down since Barack Obama became President?”

Note that it doesn’t ask about the overall economy, or how you personally are doing, or how’s the economy in your area.  We could have all sorts of debates about that.  No, the question is pretty cut and dried – is the stock market up or down since 1-20-09, when Obama took office?  And we have actual numbers for that. 

The most common measurement for the stock market is the Dow Industrial Average.  I suspect you could also look at the NASDAQ, or S&P 500.  But “the Dow” is the number most Americans recognize, the one number that gets reported most on the news, and is truly the bellwether measurement of the stock market.  Which was the question at hand.  For those of you who don’t follow the market, or watch the news, or whatever…here are the actual numbers:

  8,077.56 – Week ending 1-23-2009
17,520.87 – right now as I type this (10:30am on 5-20-16)

So the market is up.  Almost double since Obama took office.  Can’t argue with the numbers.  We can discuss the how and why until we’re blue in the face, but the answer to the question “Do you think the stock market has gone up or down since Barack Obama became President?”” is “UP.”

How did our survey respondents answer?
The stock market has gone up since Barack Obama became President
The stock market has gone down since Barack Obama became President
Not sure

In short, only HALF of all respondents got this right.  That’s ignorant?  Maybe not, because I can imagine many types of individuals not knowing the correct answer.  Seniors (like my Mom) who now rely on CDs for their investments, never ever having been involved in the market.  Younger adults just starting out with no interest in investing at this time.  Folks who don’t watch/follow the news, or at least, tune out when boring economic news is presented. 

If you asked me about the US stock market, I could tell you many things because I am an active investor, and have been for many years.  If you asked me about the Japanese stock market (known as the NIKKEI), I would profess ignorance.  I know it exists, but whether it’s up or down, I would not have a clue.

I would guess than many in our survey would be in the same boat, and the results show that 16% actually said this.  But I would guess that many who did not know the answer answered anyway.  And answered incorrectly.

As to why they may have done so, one clue is the breakdown of responses by political preference, known in the research industry as “the crosstabs.”

Voted for Obama ‘12
Voted for Romney ‘12
The stock market has gone up since Barack Obama became President
The stock market has gone down since Barack Obama became President
Not sure

Hmmmm…I think I see a pattern here.

Notice the “not sure” percentage is about the same, which is reasonable (statistically).  What’s whack is that by an overwhelming margin, there’s a major difference in providing the correct answer depending on political party.

This should not be surprising.  Back in 2013, a survey of Louisiana residents showed that when it came to blame for the lack of response to Hurricane Katrina, Republicans blamed President Bush 28%, while blaming Obama 29% (44% were unsure who was more responsible).  Mind you, Katrina occurred in 2005, when Obama was a freshman Senator.

It’s one thing to have an opinion.  It’s another to state that opinion based on inaccurate information.  Naturally, I would blame media (and specific media at that) for fueling sentiment that causes people to lose sight of reality and do shit like this.

But it’s more than political opinion that gets screwed up because we believe what we want to believe, facts be damned.  Is there anyone of driving age who has NOT heard that driving while texting or talking on your handheld is dangerous and puts you at more risk?  Many states have laws against using phones while driving, and in my home state of Oregon it’s been illegal for THREE YEARS with a hefty $154 fine.  Yes, every damn day I see people on their phones talking or (worse) texting while driving.  And we constantly read or hear of “tragic” stories where an accident has occurred and, sure enough, the driver was texting or on their phone.

And yet, every damn day I see people on their phones.  That’s willful ignorance.

Now, getting back to Obama’s comments about ignorance.  I said that many thought it was a swipe against Trump, including Trump.  He responded to Obama’s speech as such:
Huh?  Wha?

Anyone want to tell me what, exactly, that means?   And is it ignorance, or just plain stupid?  

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