Yesterday at the Monkey Cage we learned that the worse Americans were at “pinning the tail on the donkey” with respect to Ukraine, the more they supported intervention in the Ukraine. The post comes with a cool map that depicts the American survey respondents’ attempts to locate Ukraine (click that link only if you are willing to tolerate evidence of serious ignorance), and after eyeballing it I got to wondering whether Americans’ ability to locate Ukraine is strongly and positively correlated with their belief about whether Obama wears “mom jeans.” Unfortunately, the post’s authors do not tell us. They do let us know that Independents were considerably more likely to properly locate Ukraine (29%) than Democrats (14%) or Republicans (15%); youth trumped experience (27% to 14%, respectively); and that respondents with college degrees outperformed those without (21% to 13%, respectively). And then it occurred to me that these results seem at odds with what we have learned from Matt Baum’s studies of soft news consumption and foreign policy.
Baum teaches us that knowledge of international politics has grown with the growth of “soft news” sources that focus upon drama, scandal and sex to draw audiences (2003 book, articles: 2002, 2004, 2006). The basic idea is that people who otherwise would tune out stories about international politics are exposed to it when these shows (e.g., Oprah, Entertainment Tonight, The Daily Show, etc.) cover international news stories. Thus, the “inattentive public” has become more knowledgeable about foreign affairs than they were prior to the advent of infotainment programming. Yet, Baum also finds that this inattentive public is considerably more isolationist than then more informed “attentive public.” And that is what caught my eye: the results on Ukraine run strongly counter to what Baum has been finding. And that has me wondering what might explain it.
My best guess is that partisan differences do: ill-informed Democrats and Independents tend to be isolationist, as Baum would have us expect, but ill-informed Republicans tend to be in favor of intervention. Hence my crack about “mom jeans.” But that possibility does not jibe strongly with what we learned about half of the correlation: partisans’ ability to locate Ukraine (Dems and Repubs are equally poor at it). With luck this post will entice the authors of the Monkey Cage post to delve into their data and tell us the answer.
 If, like me, you are fashion challenged, Wikipedia helpfully defines “mom jeans.”  Of course, my point about the contrary finding assumes that members of the “inattentive public” are considerably worse at locating Ukraine on the map than members of the “attentive public.” If that is not true, then Baum’s results simply are not relevant.