The everyman takes on the economically powerful

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There’s a new poll about the public’s views on the U.S. economy out from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. They ask a lot of questions about economic problems facing the nation and who’s at fault — it’s interesting, read it — but one of the more surprising results comes from a question asking people which country they think is the world’s leading economic power.

Here’s how they answer:

The United States 41%

China 30%
Japan 10%
The countries of the European Union 9%
Don’t know 10%

China? 30% of people think China? Wow. I know China gets a lot of press and all, but still, it’s a developing country. Consider this (thanks for the chart help, Feilding!):

Thumbnail image for 2006gdp.jpg

Of course, there are a lot of ways to interpret “economic power.” China does have quite a bit of weight to throw around when it comes to, say, commodities prices. Still, my intuition was telling me that 30% of people couldn’t possibly put China at the top of the list for overall economic power.

So I called Pew up and asked what, exactly, they’d asked these people. Here’s the question verbatim:

Today, which ONE of the following do you think is the world’s leading economic power?

The United States
China
Japan
The countries of the European Union

Now, I know the folks over at Pew are real pros — the survey question they sent me mentioned that the order of the four options was randomized — but, nonetheless, I felt somewhat vindicated. If people hadn’t been given the option of China, they surely wouldn’t have mentioned it so often, right?

I decided to go outside and talk to some people to test my theory. In my question, I simply asked which country is the world’s leading economic power. No multiple choice. Here’s what people had to say:

Yesterday, I gave you a cheat sheet about what was in the video. Today you actually have to watch (I’m really sorry about the ad — I don’t put that in there). Let’s just say there’s a reason the people at Pew do the polling, and I sit here and write about it.

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