Why Low-Information Voters Are Worrisome

low-information-voters22Consistent with earlier research, Somin estimates that nearly a third of the American public are “know-nothings,” who possess “little or no relevant knowledge” about public affairs. As he notes, “[i]f the public really is often ignorant [about public affairs], we might have a serious problem on our hands.” (Hint: We do!)

In addition — either as a cause or a corollary — a large portion of the public is politically apathetic. Except in times of crisis, most Americans don’t pay much attention to what happens in the political arena, and most don’t care much about what’s going on in U.S. politics. They are more concerned with personal and family matters than with public affairs.

(I do not mention America’s low voter turnout rates when writing about apathy. Although some focus on low turnout rates – relative to other western nations – when discussing apathy, voting is not always, and perhaps not even usually, a reliable indicator of how attentive people are to public affairs. Some people who are turned off by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may not vote in 2016, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t pay attention to public affairs.)

When it comes to the quest for the presidency in 2016, what are we to make of the fact that Americans are more familiar with Donald Trump the TV celebrity than they are with his policy proposals? In addition, substantial percentages of people who supported one of the Democrats seeking the presidency weren’t very well-informed about their favorite candidate. When young people who supported the 74-year-old socialist, Bernie Sanders, were asked to explain what socialism means, they tended to offer only vacuous definitions. In addition, one wonders what percentage of Hillary Clinton’s backers are aware of her promise to raise taxes by one trillion dollars over a ten-year period, and, if necessary, to do so via an executive order?

Americans’ political apathy and ignorance are especially worrisome when one considers that the U.S. political system was created by men who assumed – hoped? – that the Republic would be sustained by an engaged and informed populace. James Madison, often said to be the Constitution’s father, wrote that “[a] popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.” Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third president, wrote that we should “[e]ducate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

Full article: Articles: Why Low-Information Voters Are Worrisome


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