Extreme Ignorance

Jacob Sullum has an interesting article on all the moralizing that surrounds the decision to vote .. or not: When it comes to politics, Americans who don’t know what they’re talking about have a lot of company. In fact, as George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin shows in a Cato Institute paper published last month, they represent a majority of voters. Somin reviews survey data from the 1950s on that indicate “most individual voters are abysmally ignorant of even very basic political information.” Furthermore, “a relatively stable level of extreme ignorance has persisted” despite rising education levels and increased availability of information. How extreme? A survey conducted last April, Somin notes, found that 70 percent of Americans did not know about the ballyhooed, budget-busting Medicare drug benefit, “the largest new federal entitlement in decades, and arguably the most important piece of domestic legislation adopted during the administration of George W. Bush.” Why don’t we know more? “Perhaps the most fundamental cause of ignorance resides in the collective action problem created by the insignificance of any individual vote in determining an electoral outcome,” [Somin] writes. “Acquiring significant amounts of political knowledge for the purpose of becoming a more informed voter is, in most situations, simply irrational.”