It’s a conceit of political science that everyday Americans don’t know all that much about politics, especially local politics. Sure, they can identify the president, but what about their state senator—who arguably has a far greater impact on their lives? Not so much, as it turns out. Even as educational attainment has spiked over the last fifty years, most Americans’ knowledge of who their political leaders are has stagnated.

North Carolina, it seems, is no exception.

A new poll from Elon University that tests this thesis and determines that many more of us are familiar with prominent sports figures like Cam Newton and Coach K than legislative and cabinet-level leaders. As the poll notes, this isn’t surprising, nor is it exceptional in a national context: “While one may see these results as suggesting that North Carolina has particularly low-levels of political knowledge, we discourage this interpretation. Rather we see these results as largely consistent with a broader national pattern rather than an issue specific to North Carolina.”

With that out of the way, let’s see how we did.

Some observations:

  • It’s amazing that more people know who the labor commissioner is than they do their member of Congress. Those elevator pictures are really paying off for Cherie, I suppose.
  • Maybe it’s because I pay attention to this stuff for a living, but I’m similarly dumbfounded by the low recognition levels of Tim Moore and Phil Berger, who are probably the most powerful political figures in the state.
  • From the poll: “Another exception to this trend was knowledge of county sheriffs. Nearly half of respondents (46%) could identify the job of their county sheriff based just on their name. In rural counties in North Carolina, 57% could correctly identify their sheriffs. In contrast, in urban counties, only 35% correctly identified their sheriffs. In general, North Carolinians in rural counties had higher knowledge of local elected officials than those living in suburban and urban counties.”
  • One substantive thing the poll found: a plurality of registered voters (47 percent) believe the state’s redistricting process is unfair. Among the 15 percent of voters who have a good understanding of how that process works, however, 74 percent say the process is unfair. In other words, if you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention.

As Democratic political operative Thomas Mills writes on his blog:

“I love this poll. It really tells us a lot about the electorate that traditional polls don’t. In this upcoming Blue Moon election, incumbent members of the General Assembly should be concerned. Their constituents don’t know them, opening the door for challengers to define them early. Democrats are significantly more interested in the election than Republicans. And Democrats’ attempt to brand Cherie Berry as the Elevator Lady backfired, giving her name recognition that other Council of State members would love to have.”