Working Paper No. 06-30:
Knowledge about Ignorance: New Directions in the Study of Political Information
Date Posted: 2006
For decades, scholars have recognized that most citizens have little or no political knowledge, and that it is in fact rational for the average voter to make little effort to acquire political information. This article shows that rational ignorance is fully compatible with the so-called "paradox of voting" because it will often be rational for citizens to vote, but irrational for them to become well-informed. Furthermore, rational ignorance leads not only to inadequate acquisition of political information but also to ineffective use of such information as citizens do possess. The combination of these two problems has fundamental implications for a variety of issues in public policy and international affairs, including the desirable size and scope of government, the need for judicial review, the division of power within a federal system, and the conduct of the War on Terror.