Somin on Problem of Political Ignorance

"Democracy is intended to be rule by the people. But all too often, the people have all too little understanding of what they rule over," explains Professor Ilya Somin in an op-ed appearing in the University of Pennsylvania's REGBLOG.

Somin draws on his book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, saying "Political ignorance is a ubiquitous and persistent problem in modern democracy. It strengthens the case for limiting and decentralizing political power, and for judicial review."

The Problem of Political Ignorance, REGBLOG, February 3, 2014. By Ilya Somin. 

"Some scholars argue that voters don’t need to know much about politics because they can rely on 'information shortcuts' to make good decisions. A good example is 'retrospective voting,' the idea that voters don’t need to follow the details of policy, but only need to know whether things are going well or badly. If things are looking up, they can reward the incumbents at election time. If not, they can vote the bums out, and the new set of bums will have a strong incentive to adopt better policies.

"But effective use of information shortcuts often requires background knowledge that most of the electorate doesn’t have. In order to reward or punish incumbents effectively, it’s important to know which events they have control over, and which ones they don’t. Studies show that voters repeatedly reward and punish political leaders for events they have little control over. For instance, short-term economic trends are the main determinant of most electoral outcomes, even though incumbents have little control over them."