Somin Comments on Political Ignorance

Professor Ilya Somin believes political ignorance may be viewed as a rational response for individual voters.

Commenting in a Reuters article about the ways in which external events can shape elections, Somin proposes that because any particular vote is unlikely to influence the outcome of an election, some individuals may believe it does not make sense to invest the time needed to gather sufficient information to determine whether a candidate reflects the voter's own policy views. 

Within the limitations of time and interest, many voters rely instead on shortcuts like party affiliation or a sense that a candidate shares the voter's values, he says.

The article cites decades in which studies have shown that a significant number of voters lack even basic knowledge about things political. Further, a growing body of research indicates many Americans vote based on something as unrelated as how they feel on a particular day.

It's not just the economy: Why football and sharks can affect elections, Reuters, October 6, 2012. By Andy Sullivan.

"Nearly half of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center in July didn't know that Republican Mitt Romney favors more restrictions on abortion than Obama.

"Only 40 percent knew that Republicans control the House of Representatives - a crucial piece of information needed to assess the Democratic president's tenure and the partisan gridlock that has plagued Washington.

"Voters with strong partisan affiliations tend to know more about politics. But they also are more likely to retain inaccurate information if it reinforces their views.

"For example, nearly one-third of Republicans polled by YouGov last January said they believed Obama was born abroad - and therefore ineligible to be president, as conspiracy theorists claim - even though Obama had released a long-form birth certificate showing that he was born in the United States."

Read the article