Study: Voters Are Dumber Than You Thought

I’ve always said that if you don’t know, don’t vote. It is not “honorable” to vote ignorantly, nor is it your “civic duty.” In fact, it is more of a duty to abstain from voting if you’re doing so merely on a whim, or if you are choosing on some silly criteria such as affability. Now we have more evidence of voters indecisiveness and irrationality:

At the time, some psychologists wondered whether the graph could unduly influence how other viewers perceived the debate, potentially amplifying feelings in a handful of people across millions in the audience. The hypothesis was plausible, informed by decades of observations on decision-making and influence, but lacking hard data.

Some of that data now exists. In an experiment described March 31 in PLoS One, British psychologists secretly manipulated a similar onscreen graph broadcast during a Prime Ministerial debate. The results confirmed their fears.

“We were able to influence their perception of who won the debate, their choice of preferred prime minister and their voting intentions,” wrote the researchers, who were led by Colin Davis and Amina Memon of the Royal Holloway University of London. “We argue that there is an urgent need to reconsider the simultaneous broadcast of average response data with televised election debates.”

This lends even more credence to Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter:

I offer an alternative story of how and why democracy fails. The central idea is that voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational—and they vote accordingly. Despite their lack of knowledge, voters are not humble agnostics; instead, they confidently embrace a long list of misconceptions.

Economic policy is the primary activity of the modern state. And if there is one thing that the public deeply misunderstands, it is economics.


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