This Week’s Cartoon: “Low-Information Nation”

I saw a post on Think Progress the other day about a new Pew survey showing only 28% of Americans can identify John Roberts as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. To make matters worse, the Pew site states:

Asked to name the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, and given four possible names, nearly one-in-ten Americans (8%) choose Thurgood Marshall, despite the fact that Justice Marshall left the Supreme Court roughly 20 years ago, and passed away in 1993.

I also found this item on the Pew site about Americans’ gross level of misinformation about Obama’s religion:

A substantial and growing number of Americans say that Barack Obama is a Muslim, while the proportion saying he is a Christian has declined. More than a year and a half into his presidency, a plurality of the public says they do not know what religion Obama follows.

You just can’t run a democracy when people are this clueless. Related cartoon from a few years ago: “The Mental Welfare State.”


  • Tom Schmidt

    “You just can’t run a democracy when people are this clueless.”

    Very true, but what to do? Should we create a voter aptitude test? Only allow people that can pass a basic civics test to vote? It’s not beyond the realm of common sense, although it is beyond the realm of possibility.

  • Jen Sorensen

    I don’t really have an answer, aside from a cultural shift towards valuing education and a greater understanding of how to evaluate the trustworthiness of information sources. As you said, it’s beyond the realm of possibility.

  • Tom

    Robert Heinlein had a great essay advocating that voters should have to pass a quiz given by the voting-booth machinery before they vote. He suggested a quadratic equation, which I’m not too crazy about, being lousy at math. His idea was that if you flunked the question, a buzzer would go off to tell others waiting in line “This guy is too dumb to vote!” He also suggested that, because women were disenfranchised for so long, perhaps only women should be allowed to vote for the next 100 years. That would, as he said, mean all male lawyers would also be disbared, but Heinleion said that would ease the shortage of unskilled labor.
    Now: My own story. When I worked in newspapers (before burning out), I had a guy call me on Election Day. I was in an area where two congressional districts adjoined. The caller was very indignant, saying that “They say we gotta vote out all these guys, and I went and voted against (the guy in District 1) and now I wanna go vote against (the guy in District 2) and they won’t let me!” I tried for 10 minutes to politely explain to this meatball that you can’t go hopscotching around when you vote and he…just…couldn’t…understand!
    “Sir, let me give you an example,” I said. “You can’t go vote in Alabama and in Florida and in Georgia.”
    “But I don’t wanna go vote in those places, I wanna vote right here!”
    Come to think of it, in the late 80s Lewis Grizzard wrote a satirical column that all of Congress had resigned in the wake of teh House Banking kerfuffle. Some guy called me at the paper and asked if it was true. I explained that this was a satire. Then I had to explain to him what a “satire” was.
    And these people vote…

  • Jen Sorensen

    Great detail about having to explain the meaning of satire.

  • Mike Futcher

    Until I read your cartoon, this is who I thought Snookie was…

    Is she pronounced with a hard oo?

  • Mr. Mayes


    I like the quiz idea, but I think a math problem is not the right way to go. I believe basic social studies and civics questions should be used, like:

    1) Name the 3 branches of government
    2) What are the responsibilities of the 3 branches
    3) How many members are there of the supreme court
    and for the kicker….
    4) If there is a tie in the Senate who breaks it?

    This would probably kick about 45% (I’m being generous) out of the system.

    Maybe instead of kicking out their votes, we’ll just make their vote count as 1/2 a vote :)

  • Steve Fisher

    This is indeed a conundrum.

    The idea of requiring voters to pass a basic test on Government (that 8th graders had to do back in “MY day” — 50 years ago) — is indeed appealing.

    However, it also evokes the ugly days of “literacy tests” which — essentially — kept blacks from voting, in the Deep South. (And — as someone 61 years old, I can very well remember those “not-so-good-old” days.)

    I guess, on the one hand, philosophically, I object to any voting impediments whatsoever.

    On the other hand, the idea that the “Tea Party” types have as valid a vote as I do is very depressing.

    It kinda reminds one of the arguments AGAINST democracy. Someone once asked Winston Churchill (hardly a liberal) his arguments against democracy. His reply was, essentially, Just talk to a voter for five minutes.

    Agreed. But – then again – just what do we have left?

    Time for another martini . . .



  • John

    Instead of a literacy test, how about a test for satire-blindness?

    Each election we have one fake candidate, with real PR funding.

    He has to: be a handsome celebrity, publicly rescue a puppies from trees, fight crime with his bare fists, and love America insanely while disliking most actual Americans.

    Every vote for him is thrown in the trash can.

  • Mike Futcher

    I think Winston Churchill also said “democracy is the worst form of govenment – apart from all the others”

  • Brian

    My voter’s quiz would consist of one question:

    Complete this sentence: Freedom of Speech* applies to:
    A) People who share my views — everyone else is an America-hating traitor!
    B) Our corporate masters, and anyone else who can afford TV time.
    C) Everyone. (Yes, even “those people.”)

    People who answer A, B, or D get a swift boot out the door after having that letter stamped on their foreheads in indelible ink. The rest of us get to point and laugh.

    * I would generalize this as, “The freedoms of the First Amendment,” if I were optimistic enough to expect the average voter to know what those are.

  • Bowtie and Fedora

    My voter’s quiz would request that the voter identify themselves as a Republican or Democrat. Those who vote “Democrat” would have their citizenship revoked.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.