10 April 2014

Where Is Ukraine? My Kraine Was Here Just a Minute Ago.

Captcha and similar programs are designed to make commenters prove that they’re real people by interpreting type that’s hard for robots to read.

For a long time I’ve wished there was a similar service for discussions of events around the world, or US foreign policy toward particular countries. A person would need to locate the area under discussion on a map of the world with no labels. If you couldn’t identify Nigeria, or Kuwait, or Venezuela, you could still post your opinion, but that result would also appear so other people could judge how well founded your opinion was.

This week the Washington Post reported on a survey of Americans’ attitudes toward the difficult situation in Ukraine, correlated with their ability to locate Ukraine on a map. The findings:
…the further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily. Even controlling for a series of demographic characteristics and participants’ general foreign policy attitudes, we found that the less accurate our participants were, the more they wanted the U.S. to use force, the greater the threat they saw Russia as posing to U.S. interests, and the more they thought that using force would advance U.S. national security interests; all of these effects are statistically significant at a 95 percent confidence level.

Our results are clear, but also somewhat disconcerting: The less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.
There is a logical connection between believing that Ukraine is, say, on the border of Germany and believing that its stability is of great importance to the western alliance. But the first of those beliefs has no factual basis. And that lets us judge how well founded the second opinion is.

In fact, the map above shows a lot of people misplacing Ukraine on Eurasia moved it far to the east, indicating that more than a decade of looking at maps of Afghanistan and its neighbors has not actually sunk in.


Chaucerian said...

Those have got to be random dots on that map, because one of them is in Kansas City.

J. L. Bell said...

There does seem to be some random scatter, though the concentrations around Ukraine (and Kazakhstan?) indicate general intent to answer the question correctly.

Perhaps the dots obviously far from Ukraine came from people who couldn't work the program, didn't even care to try, deliberately responded falsely, or can't read maps at all. That group still evidently correlates with people who want the US to take more forceful action in Ukraine, which isn't reassuring.