Why Are Voters So Uninformed?

Surveys routinely show that the general public is poorly informed about government and politics. In a survey conducted in 2010, for example, fewer than half of respondents even knew which political party held the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. Professor Diana Thomas asks why the public knows and cares so little.

To answer, she draws upon an argument from Professor Anthony Downs. He claimed that it is actually rational for people to be ignorant about politics because the act of voting itself is irrational. One voter is unlikely to influence an election or lead to improvements in government performance.

Informed voters may put a lot of time and energy into researching the best candidates and understanding the issues in government. For this work, they receive little reward since the chance their votes will change the outcome of an election are virtually zero. In other words, people don’t take the time to be informed because there is little incentive to do so. For this reason, many economists will say it is completely rational to be ignorant about politics.

Animation and post-production by Tomasz Kaye: info@redshiftmedia.com

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