The More They Know the Less They Like

by Steven R. Corman

I just ran across this interesting release from Gallup.  It cross-analyzes data from Gallup’s Communications Index “which measures the extent to which respondents are connected via electronic communications” and approval of U.S. leadership. The results are not too encouraging.  Basically, the more wired the respondents are, the less inclined they are to approve of U.S. leadership and vice versa.

Gallup reckons that the “vice versa” (i.e. approve) results are skewed by sub-Saharan Africa, where communications infrastructure is underdeveloped.  Once that data is removed, the approve levels don’t significantly differ with increasing levels of wiredness.

That bad news is that the disapprove relationships still holds even with the least wired group taken out of the sample.  Gallup is careful to say that this doesn’t necessarily show a causal link between communications access and disapproval of U.S. leadership.

True, this might be a spurious correlation, like the well-known correlation between ice cream sales and swimming pool drownings. On the other hand, it might not.  Given the equally well-known pattern of plummeting U.S. approval ratings over the last decade or so, I think it’s pretty reasonable to rule this out.  Additionally

Gallup also compared other factors, such as income, education, and age, to American approval ratings, but the relationship was not as clear as with communications.

So they at least checked demographic factors that could explain the results. The simplest explanation, then,  is that the better informed people are and the more connected they are to social networks, the less they like what they see in the U.S.

One caveat is that the release isn’t completely clear about whether “U.S. Leadership” means our leaders per se or a collective attribute of the country.  Wording in the release suggests it’s the former, and if so the fact that the data were collected in 2008 may be a reflection of disdain for the former administration.

In that case it’s possible that the same mechanisms underlying the relationships in this Gallup study could work to our advantage with Barack Obama.   He is popular with international audiences and is widely preceived to be off to a good start in communicating with the world. Gallup, please repeat this analysis in six months or so.

One Response to “The More They Know the Less They Like”

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  1. C Martel says:

    I wonder if the correlation might be due to the clearly one-sided coverage that English-language, international news coverage? To take just one example that I was asked about repeatedly when I lived in India, the US-based international satellite channels carried sensational statements by Jack Murtha denouncing our Marines without evidence as murderers. There was never a mention that he had no evidence and could produce none; that investigations were on-going by the Marine Corps; and that Murtha was trying to increase his standing in his party so was willing to play to their worst fears. After many months of a fair and open investigation, when a Marine was brought to justice and others were exonerated, the story was barely mentioned. If I didn’t know the story, I’d hate America too.

    Our international news organizations project much the same stories oversees without any adjustment to provide the context that foreign audiences often lack because they have not grown up in our country.

    A basic assumption we seem to make is that Americans are culturally ignorant, but people in other countries understand our culture. Just reading bin Laden’s attempts to influence US audiences reinforces the fact that many around the world do not understand us. Absolutely true that Department of State has failed to provide cultural context through their pitiful Public Diplomacy programs, but our news channels are equally bad.