Somin in Forbes: Voter Ignorance Crosses Party Lines

Partisan activists ignore the inconvenient truth that their own party's voters are just as ignorant as the opposing party's, says Professor Ilya Somin in a commentary published by Forbes.

"Voter ignorance and irrationality are general shortcomings of modern democracy," says Somin. "Most voters have incentives to be 'rationally ignorant' about politics because of the extremely low chance that any one vote will be decisive in an election. For similar reasons, voters also have incentives to do a poor job of evaluating the political information they do have."

Somin points to studies showing voters tend to discount information that counters their preconceptions, while putting too much stock in anything that appears to confirm them.

"The best response to voter ignorance is to reduce the size and scope of government," Somin says. "When people act in the market and in civil society, they have much better incentives to make well-informed decisions."

An Inconvenient Truth,, February 12, 2010. By Ilya Somin.

"A recent poll sponsored by the liberal Daily Kos Web site shows that many self-identified Republican voters hold irrational and extremist views--a finding that Kos founder Markos Moulitsos deems 'startling.' Unfortunately, too many commentators mistakenly assume that such ideas are confined to one side of the political spectrum.

"There are some methodological problems with the Kos survey. It probably oversamples the most committed Republicans. Strong partisans are more likely to hold extreme views, such as the 'birther' belief that Barack Obama wasn't really born in the U.S. (endorsed by 36% of Kos' respondents). Despite such flaws, many of the Kos findings are roughly accurate. But one can easily find parallel examples of dubious views among Democratic voters.

"Moulitsos highlights the 36% of Republicans in the Kos poll who seem to endorse birtherism, and the 22% who say they aren't sure. Yet a 2007 poll found that 35% of self-identified Democrats believe that President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, and 26% said they didn't know if he did."

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