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: [email protected]


  1. Joanna

    Crazy sauce. 

  2. fred

    They have no incentive to be informed!

  3. Matt Wavle

    Are you trying to say that I’m wasting my time by trying to become well informed?

  4. Chocolate Thunder

    I love the animation of the ballot paper plane hitting the politician. This is perhaps the perfect way of getting people to understand what their vote means.

    However, does rational ignorance apply at the local level, where one has a greater influence?

  5. taschrant

    I would think that rational ignorance at a local level would be less significant when compared to the federal level.  It’s a person’s immediate community.  I could be wrong though.

  6. EnsenLux

    If history has repeatedly shown that the majority can often be wrong, where’s the legitimacy of voting?

  7. Steve Davies

    I can attest to the high cost. I still think I’m better off being better informed.

  8. Gavin Moore

    because the alternatives are horrific. democracy is the least worst system of gov

  9. Gavin Moore


  10. Anonymous

    If you are completely ignorant and make a choice based on flipping a coin, you a least have a 50/50 (assuming two candidate/options) of being “correct”.  If you go for information, you have a chance of being misinformed and therefore increase your chance of the wrong decision.


    Give me some dice, I am going voting.

  11. thomas6698

    The animation is astonishing!

Leave a Reply