No, seriously. Hold off with the glib, partisan comebacks and think about it. It’s kind of important.
Cleaning up my desk, I glanced through a copy of The Economist and saw a "Lexington" column from June 14 headlined, "Vote for me, dimwit."
It was about a book called The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University. An excerpt from the column:
The world is a complex place. Most people are inevitably ignorant about most things, which is why shows like “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” are funny. Politics is no exception. Only 15% of Americans know who Harry Reid (the Senate majority leader) is, for example. True, more than 90% can identify Arnold Schwarzenegger. But that has a lot to do with the governor of California’s previous job pretending to be a killer robot.
Many political scientists think this does not matter because of a phenomenon called the “miracle of aggregation” or, more poetically, the “wisdom of crowds”. If ignorant voters vote randomly, the candidate who wins a majority of well-informed voters will win. The principle yields good results in other fields. On “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, another quiz show, the answer most popular with the studio audience is correct 91% of the time. Financial markets, too, show how a huge number of guesses, aggregated, can value a stock or bond more accurately than any individual expert could. But Mr Caplan says that politics is different because ignorant voters do not vote randomly.
It turns out that Mr. Caplan is of a libertarian mindset — he thinks the answer to the problem that voters want stupid governmental policies is to leave less up to the government. This, of course, is ironic, since most libertarians believe individuals always act rationally, so their voting should be rational, but as you see above, Mr. Caplan says politics is different. (Now if more "the market is God" types would realize people don’t act as rational consumers with regard to health care, either, we might get somewhere as a nation with THAT problem.)
But as "Lexington" says about Mr. Caplan, he’s "better at diagnosis than prescription." So back to his diagnosis — do voters vote rationally? Judging by how many politicians who seem like smart people choose to act like dumb people to get elected, one might doubt it.
Or, to refute the Ibsen reference Karen McLeod brought up on another thread, is the majority always right? I give up. What does the audience think?