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Somin in Forbes: Public Has Little Knowledge of Government Shutdown

In an op-ed appearing in Forbes, Professor Ilya Somin discusses why much of the public is ignorant of the reasons behind this week's shutdown of the federal government and offers a suggestion for countering this ignorance.

Despite the array of information on most political issues that is available through the media, most people don't take the time to educate themselves, in part due to lack of incentive, Somin says.

"The probability that one vote will actually make a difference to the outcome of an election is infinitesimally small," explains Somin. "Because there is so little chance that your vote will be decisive, people whose only reason to acquire political knowledge is to make a better decision at the polls tend to be 'rationally ignorant.'"

The problem of ignorance is also exacerbated by the size and scope of government, says Somin.

"By reducing the size of government, we can enable more choices to be made in the private sector, where people have better incentives to become informed. By decentralizing more of its functions, we enable people to make more decisions by voting with their feet between different state or local governments. Moreover, a smaller, less complex, government would be easier for rationally ignorant voters to keep track of."

The 'Low-Information Voter' Knows Very Little About Why Government is Shutting Down, Forbes, October 1, 2013. By Ilya Somin.

Excerpt:
"Widespread political ignorance isn’t limited to spending and health care. It cuts across many other issues, and even the basic structure of government. For example, a 2006 Zogby survey found that only 42% of Americans can name the three branches of the federal government: executive, legislative and judicial.

"In addition to knowing little about politics, voters also often do a poor job of evaluating the information they do have, overvaluing anything that supports their preexisting views, while devaluing or ignoring information that cuts the other way. A recent experiment by Yale Professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues found that otherwise mathematically competent Democrats and Republicans systematically misconstrue simple data about the effects of gun control on crime when it goes against their preconceptions."

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