American Education System at Work: Only 23% Can Identify Iran on a Map


It’s the cheapest way to earn a laugh on late-night TV. Take a map out on the street, stop passers-by and see if you can get them to identify a country on there. No one will even be able to find the United States. Some can’t even find a single country; ask them to name one and point to it and they’ll draw a blank.

This is all very funny — and very edited. Surely everyone on the street can’t be that stupid, right?

There has to be one person who was like, “Yeah, there’s Moldova, there’s Macedonia — it’s now known as North Macedonia because of a spat with the Greeks, of course — there’s Malawi, there’s Mali, there’s the Maldives, there’s Mozambique, there’s Monaco … do you want me to go on to the N’s now?”

Well, perhaps Jimmy Kimmel’s people aren’t culling the educated folks from the final cut as much as you might imagine, considering the fact that a Morning Consult/Politico poll found only 23 percent of voters could actually identify Iran on a global map and only 28 percent could place it on a zoomed-in map of the Middle East.

You would think a nation that has been the source of some of the most virulent anti-American rhetoric — not to mention some of the most virulent anti-American actions — of the past 40 years would be easily identifiable on a globe, but apparently not.

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According to the poll, released on Jan. 8, eight percent actually identified Iraq as being Iran. Good work, American education system.

And let’s keep in mind, that wasn’t on a full map of the world. Respondents were given a map of the Middle East, Europe and North Africa and then asked to identify where the country was.

So, this ended well:

Here’s the map of the Middle East:

I don’t know if there was some trolling here, but if not, there were registered voters who thought Iran was in Italy, Spain, France, the aforementioned Mali, on the border of Luxembourg and Germany and in the North Sea off the east coast of Great Britain. On the world map, some respondents inexplicably placed Iran within the United States.

“The polling experiment sheds light on voters’ geographical unfamiliarity with foreign countries, even those with which the United States has been engaged in sustained conflict,” a news release from Morning Consult read.

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“Some respondents fared better than others, however.

“Men were about twice as likely as women to be able to identify Iran on both maps, roughly reflecting what a 2017 Morning Consult experiment involving North Korea found. Wealthier and more educated voters were also more likely to get it right, while political party and age were not powerful factors.”

Thirty-eight percent of men were able to find the country compared to only 20 percent of women. Meanwhile, 27 percent of Democrats found Iran compared with 28 percent of Republicans, a statistical tie. (Thirty-one percent of independents got it, for whatever that’s worth.)

In spite of this, guess what — or rather, whom — some people blamed for the poor results?

Keep in mind, too, that the poll was conducted between Jan. 4-5. This was during the highest point of tensions between the United States and Iran.

Forty-nine percent of voters said they had heard “a lot” about the death of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in an airstrike on Jan. 3.

“Voters were more likely to support (47 percent) the airstrike that killed Soleimani than oppose it (40 percent). Attitudes on Trump’s call fell neatly along partisan lines: 70 percent of Democrats disapproved of the strike while 85 percent of Republicans approved of it, including 61 percent of Republicans who strongly approved,” the Morning Consult news release said.

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That wasn’t a surprise. This was: “Notably, there were no statistical differences in support for the strike — or on a host of broader questions about its potential impacts — between those who could identify Iran on a map and those who could not. The survey of 1,995 registered voters has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.”

The wonderful thing is that I guarantee some of the people who wouldn’t be among the 23 percent were the ones on my Twitter and Facebook feeds loudly proclaiming themselves to be amateur foreign policy experts on the ayatollahs and their ways. These were the people tweeting out #WWIII memes — and yet, they probably didn’t even know where they thought World War III was going to begin.

It’s impossible to overstate how vitally important it is for Americans to understand Iran. If they can’t find it on a map, their understanding will be fed to them by the cable network of their choice. This is more proof our public education system is broken and needs to be rebuilt posthaste.

If it isn’t, the Jimmy Kimmels of the world will have plenty of fodder for those map-identification segments for years to come. And that’ll be the least of our problems.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture