Don't they know he's Bush afterall?
November 29, 2005 9:04 AM   Subscribe

How many people, in the world, have not heard of George W. Bush.

I know that there have been statistics for the number of Americans that cannot identify the president, I've seen them on the news but could not find them online. I'm interested in these as well. I'm also interested to extopolating these statistics internationally.
posted by I Foody to Law & Government (40 answers total)
 
Are you talking about identifying him from a photograph, or recognising the name? Or both?
posted by chrismear at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2005


Either. Or answering George W. Bush to the question of who is the current president of the United States. Just having the name ring a bell is insufficient but hearing the name and thinking current US president is adequate.
posted by I Foody at 9:13 AM on November 29, 2005


Is this limited to people living in "civilization", or are you including people living in jungles, forests, deserts and tundra without ready access to information?
posted by weirdoactor at 9:17 AM on November 29, 2005


Any humans.
posted by I Foody at 9:19 AM on November 29, 2005


Is this one of those Microsoft-interview-type questions where you just want to test how our thinking process works?
posted by matildaben at 9:23 AM on November 29, 2005


No its one of those drunk argument questions where I would like to find certain evidence to suggest that I am right and my friend is wrong.
posted by I Foody at 9:24 AM on November 29, 2005


Certain evidence would be hard to come by, as (probably) most of the people who fit your description are the "jungles, forests..." type of people who wouldn't answer any kind of survey on this (or anything else). Maybe you could take find a few isolated groups, poll them, and extrapolate that... but that's kind of hard to do and almost certainly not a valid way to do this.

But... great question and I hope someone proves me wrong with a good answer.
posted by SuperNova at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2005


There really isn't an exact way to answer your question. I'll try:

The world population is around 6.57 billion. According to this data, the "less developed" (excluding China) population of the world is around 3.96 billion.

If we take "less developed" to mean "uninformed about current events, pop culture and politics", you might have an approximate answer.
posted by weirdoactor at 9:49 AM on November 29, 2005


You could probably successfully eliminate all of the world's 0-3 year olds, for a start - they make up around 5% of the global population.
posted by nylon at 9:51 AM on November 29, 2005


Anecdotal evidence: When I was working at the Modesto Bee in 2001, someone called and asked who the vice president was (they had to settle a bet)
posted by johngoren at 9:53 AM on November 29, 2005


I would guess that the total is much higher than most Americans would think; weirdoactor provides a good basis for an answer. I'll bet if you wandered the back roads of India and China you'd find hardly anyone who knew who the current president of the US was.
posted by languagehat at 10:01 AM on November 29, 2005


I cant give you any hard examples but there are ALOT of people that don't know who Bush is. Theres a modest amount in the US and a very large number worldwide.
posted by pwally at 10:03 AM on November 29, 2005


It's a fascinating question of brand awareness. I'd love to know the answer.
posted by johngoren at 11:23 AM on November 29, 2005


I lived with some reindeer herders on the Siberian taiga once and they had heard of George Bush.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:42 AM on November 29, 2005


How many people here know who the premier of China is? (It's Hu Jintao, right?)
posted by delmoi at 12:10 PM on November 29, 2005


Rug sellers in a dark corner of an Isfahani Bazaar that I met were very curious as to who I was going to vote for in the previous presidential election.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2005


Delmoi: The premier is Wen Jiabao. Hu Jintao is the communist party leader.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2005


This question happens to be part of my routine neurological exam. When people (currently in the U.S., obviously, because I am examining them there) cannot answer that "Bush" is the president of the U.S., I consider this to be evidence of a severe neurologic abnormality, prompting further investigation.

By far the vast majority of folks I encounter who cannot answer this question correctly turn out to have Alzheimer's disease; this has something to do with the fact that I'm a neurologist, though (referral bias, if you want to name it.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:34 PM on November 29, 2005


BuddhaInABucket writes "Hu Jintao is the communist party leader."

He's also the president.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:58 PM on November 29, 2005


I'll bet if you wandered the back roads of India and China you'd find hardly anyone who knew who the current president of the US was.

I'll take that bet :) Sitting in an open air hot pot shop in the town of Kaili (rural province of Guizhou, Southwest China), a local asked me why Americans had voted for "Shrub" (which is how they were referring to Bush).
posted by jeanmari at 12:59 PM on November 29, 2005


How many people here know who the premier of China is? (It's Hu Jintao, right?)

I was going to ask the same thing. And the fact that you didn't know the answer (neither do I, although BuddhaInABucket did [on preview: mr_roboto is contesting that]) is pretty indicative of how much you can *expect* anyone outside the US to know who Bush is.

It's also surprising, sometimes, how little the average teenager knows about current events. I recall a street survey here in Auckland asking teenagers who our Prime Minister was (it's been Helen Clark for the last 6 years...), and only something like 50% answered correctly....
posted by ancamp at 1:08 PM on November 29, 2005


I was also surprised that, in cities/countries where I could get English speaking channels (Europe, Hong Kong) that the coverage of international politics was MUCH better than the U.S. media's coverage of same. Even the coverage of the U.S. President's activities was more prevalent there than it was here.
posted by jeanmari at 1:09 PM on November 29, 2005


BuddhaInABucket writes "Hu Jintao is the communist party leader."

He's also the president.


He's -- Hu's -- also the chairman of the military commission, i.e. the commander-in-chief. Until he got that post, he was still under the shadow of Jiang Zemin.

ikkyu2: My uncle was detained by police in Florida last month when he couldn't answer that question. And didn't know that it was Halloween.
posted by dhartung at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2005


jeanmari: I'm pretty much defining "back roads" as "places foreign tourists don't go." Yeah, if it's in Lonely Planet, a lot of the locals probably know who Bush is.
posted by languagehat at 1:42 PM on November 29, 2005


After my grandmother's stroke, the doctor asked her who the president was (it was Bush the Elder).

She said, "Oh, I can't think of his name, it's... it's... that skinny-lipped weasel!"

"Close enough," said the doctor.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2005


But languagehat, are there really any places left on earth that tourists don't go to?

To sum up from the previous answers:
1. Young children (0-3? I think we can raise the age a bit and still find lots of children worldwide that are unaware of GWB).
2. The elderly suffering from debilitating neurological disorders.

I would add:
3. People with mental handicaps that make it unlikely for them to know who Bush is or have the ability to know who Bush is.

4. And the real X factor, which is also the most interesting part of the question, is people who just don't know because they are cut off from news sources, willfully or not.

And finally,
5. Zombies
posted by Falconetti at 1:59 PM on November 29, 2005


(Who loves you, languagehat? I do! I do! Just wanted to say, "hey.")

I will definitely concede that places without media access might struggle with the "who's George Bush?" question. And it blows my mind to this day that the house in the ethnic minority village where I stayed outside of Kaili used a trough for a bathroom (next to the room where they kept the pig), cooked over an open fire, had a kitchen with dirt floors, had no refrigerator BUT they had a TV.

Plus, I think September 11th and the war in Afghanistan/Iraq pushed GWB into the news perhaps a little more insistently than past Presidents had been. If only because "indestructible U.S." had been attacked.

I have to say that I saw no other caucasians in Kaili while I was there, which I also thought was odd since it isn't exactly a tiny place. (I think the population is 400k or so?) I WAS the laowai freakshow when I showed up at the public bath house. This was in October of '02 and I was staying with locals.
posted by jeanmari at 2:38 PM on November 29, 2005


ikkyu2: My uncle was detained by police in Florida last month when he couldn't answer that question. And didn't know that it was Halloween.

What was the matter with him?
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:00 PM on November 29, 2005


Don't make the mistake of thinking that gringo-trailing tourists are a significant source of information about anything. Most people have access to newspapers, radio or tv in some form, and that, together with gossip, is where they get their information. Kind of the same way rich westerners do.
posted by signal at 3:37 PM on November 29, 2005


The only actual 'evidence' you could have for this would be some kind of worldwide survey with significant corrections for
sampling biases. Anything else would be pure speculation.
posted by signal at 3:39 PM on November 29, 2005


How many people, in the world, have not heard of George W. Bush?
Oh, to be one of them.
posted by Cranberry at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2005


Here's a data point, although it's not that strong.

In Spring 2005, the Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed people in 16 countries, including China and India. Question 7 was: "Why do you have an unfavorable view of the U.S.? Is it mostly because of President George W. Bush or is it more a general problem with America?"

In India, the "Don't know/refused to answer" response was 16%; in Indonesia, 15%; in Pakistan and Poland, 10%. Everywhere else it was under 10%.

Of course, it's possible that someone who didn't know who Bush was might have answered "more of a general problem" instead of "don't know." Conversely, even someone who knew who Bush was might have refused to answer the question, or been undecided.

No countries from sub-Saharan Africa were included.

The samples in China, India, Morocco and Pakistan were predominantly urban.
posted by russilwvong at 4:58 PM on November 29, 2005


The samples in China, India, Morocco and Pakistan were predominantly urban.

Exactly. To get a truly representative sample would requre more time, money, and effort than anybody's going to put into it. As it is, it's like that famous telephone poll that predicted Alf Landon would win the presidency in 1936.

Most people have access to newspapers, radio or tv in some form


Isn't it pretty to think so.
posted by languagehat at 5:15 PM on November 29, 2005


languagehat writes 'Isn't it pretty to think so.'

Well, if you consider that close to half of the world's population lives in cities, it's not a stretch to think that most people have access to either radio, tv or newspapers. In fact, it's a pretty safe bet.
posted by signal at 5:43 PM on November 29, 2005


And BTW, I didn't say 'own' or 'buy' radios, tvs or newspapers, just 'have access to'.
posted by signal at 5:43 PM on November 29, 2005


OK, I guess it depends what you mean by "have access to." I'm sure a lot of people theoretically have access to the media you mention without actually being able to take advantage of them because they simply don't have time, energy, or interest—their day is completely taken up with making sure they and their family don't starve in the near future. Learning about world events and personalities is a luxury many people can't afford.

I don't mean to come off as holier than thou or anything, I just think a lot of Westerners grossly underestimate the amount of deep poverty and ignorance in the world (and perhaps overestimate the importance of knowing the name of the president of the US).
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on November 30, 2005


languagehat, honestly just out of interest, what experience or evidence has given you that view of the world? Or is it more of a general impression or opinion?

I'm not saying that you're wrong or that you're right -- personally, I find it as equally plausible that:

(a) a majority of the world's population live from hand to mouth and have no inclination or chance to be aware of global politics; as that

(b) mass media has spread into the nooks and crannies of societies far more than we realise, and it's only a minority of people who live outside of its reach.

I know I don't have enough experience or knowledge to strongly support either view, which is what makes this conversation interesting. I'm intrigued to know what inclines you towards (a) rather than (b).
posted by chrismear at 7:57 AM on November 30, 2005


I've lived in a lot of places (born in Japan, grew up there and in Thailand and Argentina, have taught in Taiwan) and have visited others (including some fairly out-of-the-way places like backwoods Syria). I'm no expert, and would be willing to defer to people who have actually spent a lot of time in (say) rural India, but the impression I get from my own experiences and my reading is that the vast majority of people everywhere aren't particularly concerned with the world beyond the limited portion of it in which they move and try to earn a living. I encountered astounding levels of ignorance about the greater world in Taipei, which is a large city and the capital of a very modern country; probably needless to say, I also encounter astounding ignorance of the world here in the USA. I've read accounts by travelers who passed through villages where people only had the haziest idea of their own country beyond the next range of hills, let alone the names of world leaders. So although I don't know what the percentage is and have no obvious way of finding out, I strongly suspect it's higher than most people would think. Westerners are so immersed in a bath of media and news (even if a lot of it involves minor celebrities) that we tend not to realize that's not the universal human condition.
posted by languagehat at 8:05 AM on November 30, 2005


languagehat: not to play the I've-been-to-poorer-places-than you card, but I've also travelled a bit, and found that even desperately poor people (say, Mapuche indians in rural southern chile, bitter cold winters and dirt floors on their lean-to huts, drinking brown water and eating whatever they manage to grow on their crappy 50m2 of land and selling whatever is left over to buy salt) have radios, go into town to watch tv, read an occasional newspaper, gossip, etc, and most certainly do not get their news from passing gringo backpackers (which was my point in the first place).
posted by signal at 6:13 PM on November 30, 2005


OK, fair enough. I'll defer to your poor-village experience. But my point in the first place was not that people got their news from gringo backpackers but that people who live in places foreigners visit are likely to have more access to and interest in foreign news.
posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on December 1, 2005


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