(By way of kottke.org) 22% of Americans believe that Iraq used weapons of mass destruction during the recent war. As shocking: 20% of Americans believe that the killing of civilians in Vietnam was "relatively rare". I suppose it all depends on what gets publicized though. Mark told me last night that 3.6 million people have died in the civil war in Congo. I was floored to hear the magnitude of that statistic. That's the size of Chicago.
What these polls never tell you is if it's the same 20% of people who think that Iraq used WMDs in the recent war, civilians weren't routinely murdered in Vietnam, justice was served in the OJ Simpson case, and that events in 1999 were a foreshadowing of the wrath of God. That's the info I'd like to know.
Surveys are not good for collecting data on public knowledge. They are especially bad for quizzes, for a couple reasons. When people are asked a question by a pollster, they think strategically. They attempt to determine what the "real" question the pollster is asking is, and then they answer to send an appropriate "message".
You saw this with the polls after the war started that supposedly showed a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who believed Saddam was involved with 9/11. Likely, these people believed (perhaps correctly) that the pollster was trying to guage whether or not the war was justified in the minds of the public. A pro-war citizen will try to answer in a way that supports his opinion, not in the way that answers a quiz correctly.
People think strategically, and answer questions in a way that sends the message that fits their opinion. I think what you are seeing with this poll is not "stupid americans" but people who think the war was justified and want to send a "message of support" through answering the way they did.
I think you give too much credit to people. I'm willing to bet that at least 22% of people don't even know what a weapon of mass destruction is.
What's the strategic message behind answering justice was served in the OJ Simpson case? You don't like LA cops?