"Never underestimate the ignorance of the American electorate." I don't know who said that, but whoever it was, he knew what he was talking about. And now there's proof.

The Cato Institute (search) has released a new study that ought to outrage and sadden all of us. The study concludes that most voters don't know enough about issues and the candidates to cast an informed ballot in the Nov. 2 election.

While they may know who is running for national office, 70 percent of those surveyed do not know much about what they believe. They don't know that Congress recently passed a law adding a massive prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. Equally appalling is that 60 percent do not realize that a massive increase in domestic spending is largely responsible for the huge federal deficit.

It gets worse. Following the 2002 election, Cato discovered that just 32 percent knew the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives prior to the election.

Not only are most voters ignorant about specific policy issues, the Cato study found they are also ignorant of such basic aspects of the U.S. political system as who has the power to declare war, the functions of the three branches of government and who controls monetary policy.

Voters also mainly lack an "ideological" view of politics. So, when you tell someone he may not know what he is talking about, you now have the proof to back it up in most cases.

For anyone who pays attention to politics and government, this study is discouraging, because it allows politicians to manipulate large numbers of voters based on image and not substance.

We used to learn the basics of government in school. Not anymore. It seems kids know more about sex than government, more about cultural icons than historical ones.

If ignorance is bliss, there will be a lot of happy people voting on Nov. 2. But that ignorance ought to disgust the rest of us.

And that's Column One for this week.

To check out more Column One features, click here.

What do you think? Send your responses to: afterhours@foxnews.com.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.