The Metallic Metals Act Shows People Always Bluffed About Politics

A staple segment of partisan talk shows, or regular comedy shows, is sending a camera operator out on the street and demonstrate - via a quick survey - how little people these days know about politics. But political ignorance, covered by bluffing, is not a modern thing, as the Metallic Metals Act shows.

Every election season, we see plenty of tv shows that prank people on the street. The have reporters in suits walk up to people and ask them to give opinions on deceptively-named political issues, policies which are presented as coming from their preferred candidate but which actually come from the candidate they oppose, and nonexistent laws. Sometimes the segments have a political ax to grind, but sometimes they're just out to prove that people are not informed about politics and will lie to cover their ignorance.

Often these segments have a "people these days" attitude to them, or even a "kids these days" attitude. Both ignorance of politics, and the desire to cover that ignorance, have been around for quite some time. In 1947, we got an infamous example of this with the Metallic Metals Act. The act was made up by a reporter, Sam Gill, who started surveying people about this nonexistent act. He even gave them multiple choices to pick. About seventy percent of people surveyed decided to express their opinion on the fake act, and only about four percent of that got the correct answer - that the act was "of no value at all." Over fifty percent of the people surveyed believed that fictional acts should be left to up to the states to decide. The rest were just a bit more in favor of the act than not in favor of it.

What's funny is Gill's survey, which ran in Tide magazine, might be even more a reflection of the timeless nature of political attitudes than the results suggest. Gill never told anyone how he chose his respondents, how big the sample size was, and how much pressure he put on people to fake their way through an answer, rather than back out. So not only were people the same in 1947, the media was as well.

Image: German Federal Archives

[Via Forcing a Choice.]