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Gallup Poll Shows Soviets, Americans Weak in Geography

November 8, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Americans and Soviets have at least one thing in common - many don’t know much geography and show ″an astonishing lack of awareness of the world around them,″ a Gallup poll showed today.

The survey, the first of geographic knowledge conducted in the Soviet Union, was commissioned by the National Geographic Society to find how the United States compared with its neighbors and other industrialized nations.

The study found Soviets between ages 18 and 24 scored significantly higher than their American counterparts, but did not do well when compared with adults of all age groups in the 10 nations where the test was given.

″We believe the results from the survey point to a startling superpower comparison,″ said the Gallup Organization, which called the international geography survey the largest of its kind. ″Americans and Soviets have demonstrated an astonishing lack of awareness of the world around them.″

Soviet respondents were, on average, able to identify only 7.4 of 16 places on a world map, compared to a score of 8.6 for Americans, 11.2 for the West Germans and 11.6 for Swedes, at the top of the list, the poll showed.

The other overall scores were Japan, 9.7; France, 9.3; Canada, 9.2; the United Kingdom, 8.5; Italy, 7.6, and Mexico, 7.4.

Thirteen percent of Soviet adults were unable to correctly identify the Soviet Union on a world map, while 14 percent of the Americans could not correctly identify the United States.

Among the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed, the Soviet score of 9.3 put them in fourth place along with Canadians and Italians. Young American adults came in last with a 6.9 average.

About 1,500 Soviet adults were surveyed this spring in Moscow and Kursk, an industrial city of 425,000 people, 300 miles south of the capital.

Nearly 11,000 people in Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and West Germany were tested in the spring of 1988 and the results were announced last year.

Geographic Society President Gilbert Grosvenor said the survey result ″reinforces the need to strengthen the teaching of geography in American classrooms.″

Vladimir Andreyenkov, of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which conducted the survey with Gallup, said, ″It was a shock″ that the overall Soviet results fell short of Soviet researchers’ expectations.

″I didn’t believe Soviet citizens know so little about geography,″ he said. ″I rechecked the data many times. The results were unbelievable. They will have very great repercussions in the Soviet Union.″

Neil Upmeyer, a Gallup vice president, attributed the poor overall ranking of the Soviets to low scores among those over 55 years old, who grew up in war times without adequate educational opportunities.

Nearly 90 percent of the Soviets surveyed - compared with 47 percent of the Americans - said they had taken a course devoted entirely to geography.

Those surveyed in the 10 nations were interviewed in their homes and asked to locate the same 13 countries, Central America, the Pacific Ocean, and the Persian Gulf on an unmarked world map. The Soviets also were asked to locate Afghanistan, which borders it to the south.

Despite heavy Soviet involvement in Afghanistan during the past decade, only four people in 10 could find it on the world map.

Only about a third of the Americans and Soviets located Vietnam. And, only about 25 percent in each country picked out the Persian Gulf. About 40 percent of the Soviets did not recognize the Pacific Ocean, confusing it with the Atlantic or Indian Ocean.

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