I could write an entire book just documenting how little voters know. But since many others have already done that, I’ll only offer a few examples:
•During election years, most citizens cannot identify any congressional candidates in their district.
•Citizens generally don’t know which party controls Congress.
•Immediately before the 2004 presidential election, almost 70 percent of US citizens were unaware that Congress had added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, though this was a giant increase to the federal budget and the largest new entitlement program since President Lyndon Johnson began the War on Poverty.
•In the 2010 midterm presidential election, only 34 percent of voters knew that the Troubled Asset Relief Program was enacted under George W. Bush rather than Barack Obama. Only 39 percent knew that defense was the largest category of discretionary spending in the federal budget.
•Americans vastly overestimate how much money is spent on foreign aid, and so many of them mistakenly believe we can significantly reduce the budget deficit by cutting foreign aid.
•In 1964, only a minority of citizens knew that the Soviet Union was not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. (Yes, that’s right: NATO, the alliance created to oppose the Soviet Union.) Keep in mind this is just a short time after the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the United States almost went to (nuclear) war with the USSR.
•Seventy-three percent of Americans do not understand what the Cold War was about.
•Most Americans do not know even roughly how much is spent on social security or how much of the federal budget it takes up.
•Forty percent of Americans do not know whom the United States fought in World War II.
•During the 2000 US presidential election, while slightly more than half of all Americans knew Al Gore was more liberal than Bush, they did not seem to understand what the word liberal means. Fifty-seven percent of them knew Gore favored a higher level of spending than Bush did, but significantly less than half knew that Gore was more supportive of abortion rights, more supportive of welfare state programs, favored a higher degree of aid to blacks, or was more supportive of environmental regulation. Only 37 percent knew that federal spending on the poor had increased or that crime had decreased in the 1990s.18 On these questions, Americans did worse than a coin flip. Similar results hold for other election years.(Check the book for references.) If we assume that there are independent standards for evaluating elected and appointed officials (i.e. standards besides from the fact they were elected), the fact that large numbers of the electorate are so ignorant should give us reason to suspect that the electorate are incapable of voting into office public officials who can govern well.
That several Trump-like presidents in the past has not been elected should be considered a serendipity.
And by and large, I think the statistics about the US electorate are the norm.