Are voters well informed?

Are voters well informed?

  • This change-failure-change cycle reveals the difficulty of introducing change in a meaningful way
  • Change may be at the same time both self-fulfilling and self-defeating
  • But, then again, many dictators have come to power through so-called fair and free elections

Most voters, especially those disillusioned with the political process, become either more engaged and support the changes promised by politicians and reformers, or become indifferent and consequently apathy becomes the norm.

Following elections, particularly the ones tainted with high hopes and expectations, the political and economic conditions of citizens do not improve that much after the so-called changes were “introduced.”

This disillusionment causes voters to aspire to reform the dysfunctional system again on the next Election Day.

This vicious circle continues without significant changes occurring to the political system and/or the lives of the citizens.

This change-failure-change cycle reveals the difficulty of introducing change in a meaningful way.

Change may be at the same time both self-fulfilling and self-defeating. Often change becomes the victim of its own success, granted it was successful.

Disappointment with one set of change provides a justification for a further round of change proposals which are sometimes antithetical to previous changes.

Although this seemingly dialectical method may spur more change, it likely does little to improve the lives of people.

Politicians and reformers tend to overpromise. Of course, overpromising provokes huge disappointment and is counterproductive to democracy. Furthermore, voters become more cynical and lose confidence in the political system.

Does more democracy, more change, more reform necessarily solve our society’s ills?

Not according to Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, the authors of Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (2016).

Achen and Bartels challenge the assumption that more democracy results in better living conditions and more informed voters.

The authors also question “the folk theory of democracy” and the”retrospective voting theory.” The former states that voters choose representatives who share their political views. The latter champions the notion that citizens evaluate the performance of elected officials in order to reward or punish incumbents.

democracy-for-realistsAchen and Bartels, after seriously examining both models of democracy, advance an alternative theory of elections based on group and social identities. They assert that “people view parties as a collection of social groups, not as packages of policy positions.”

The arguments propounded in this book are timely and insightful. They elucidate the emergence and election of Donald Trump. The president-elect’s white-identity-politics is spelled out and the notion of rational voter dismissed.

According to the authors, most voters are deeply uninformed and it’s social-group identity politics that drives most voters to vote a certain way.

It’s not based on logic and facts, but deep emotion and us-versus-them narratives.

Ordinary people do not have time to study all the potential ramifications of existing and proposed policies. Most citizens are not sufficiently informed about government workings and policy issues.

For most voters, social and economic issues sometimes collide with each other, and get diluted in the American two-party system.

Citizens are left to choose between a Republican and a Democratic candidate. It is a lamentable binary choice that vitiates democracy instead of elevating and invigorating it.

Given the election of Donald Trump, the significance of identity politics in the 2016 election became more evident and unmistakable.

READ: Rasmussen – 83% Of Americans Think American Voters Are Not Well Informed

Political pundits and party strategists ignore at their own peril the populist wave that swept Britain, some European countries, and the United States.

However, will this populism start to take root in the American political system without necessarily strengthening one major political party at the expense of the other?

Of course, the authors’ arguments have some flaws. Social identities are critical components of voting patterns. However, beliefs and ideas are inherent parts of social identities.

Some people believe that change is fundamental and irreversible.

True, some changes are irreversible and people just hold on to them as long as the cost of reversing them is too prohibitive.

However, sometimes change is reversible because either it did not firmly take root in society and/or in the political system or it ran out of its usefulness and lost its purpose.

Of course, my purpose here is not to nurture dissatisfaction or a certain degree of apathy, but to state that voters, usually, are either not well informed or are misinformed or both.

Some political theorists are floating the idea that in order to be eligible to vote, voters should be required to pass an issue-specific exam to cast their votes on different issues.

This is rather a restrictive and unconstitutional proposal….

READ: Forbes – American Voters Are Ignorant, But Not Stupid

Although we all want citizens to develop the ability to make well-reasoned and well-informed voting decisions, some political philosophers say, at the end, we should trust the voters as long as nothing illegal and unconstitutional transpire.

But, then again, many dictators have come to power through so-called fair and free elections.

Edmund Burke, the 18th century philosopher, said that society is not held together by the rational self-interest of its members, but rather by a strong sense of belonging. Something similar to the social theory of group identity.

Furthermore, he did not believe that we could create a better world through reason. According to him, this proposition was tantamount to ignorance and arrogance.

Maybe he is right. Or is he?

About the author

Vahe Tcharkhoutian is the founder and editor of Los Angeles Intelligence. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science [American Politics] and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration. He currently teaches in Glendale, California.