In The New Yorker there is a review of Bryan Caplan’s book, “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Politics,” and while I doubt I will read the book, I think I learned enough from the review. Caplan is an economist, so there. The last book I read by an economist was “Freakonomics” and I haven’t recovered from that reading yet.
But Caplan’s premise is that people shouldn’t be voting, or at least not the one’s who are. First is the argument that there is no reason for any one person to vote. Especially in the presidential election, which will never be decided by a single vote. Spending time and effort educating oneself about different candidates and then driving to the polls and waiting in line (like that really happens) to cast a vote that will not influence the election is not a good investment of one’s time.
And like the author, if I had voted for the other candidate in every presidential election since I started voting in 1972, it would not have affected me or anyone else in the nation one bit (other than the guilt I might have felt…).
He has a point there, and while I know people who adhere to that policy for that reason, I still think people should educate themselves about issues and candidates and take all the time necessary to cast their ballots.
But even more important than the single vote, I think, is the influence an educated (or uneducated) person exerts over other potential voters. Even if I don’t vote, if I convince 23 others to vote for candidate B, and lots of other influencers do the same, then candidate B might win.
That’s boring, isn’t it? But here is what I wanted to say. In the review is a paragraph about the political knowledge of the average (supposedly educated) voter (as opposed to the average supposedly uneducated non-voter). Read this as if it is a test. I hope you feel good about yourself afterwards.
“The political knowledge of the average voter has been tested repeatedly, and the scores are impressively low. In polls taken since 1945, a majority of Americans have been unable to name a single branch of government, define the terms “liberal” and “conservative,” and explain what the Bill of Rights is. More than two-thirds have reported that they do not know the substance of Roe v. Wade and what the Food and Drug Administration does. Nearly half do not know that states have two senators and three-quarters do not know the length of a Senate term. More than fifty per cent of Americans cannot name their congressman; forty per cent cannot name either of their senators. Voters’ notions of government spending are wildly distorted: the public believes that foreign aid consumes twenty-four per cent of the federal budget, for example, though it actually consumes about one per cent."
And these are the people who choose our leaders. But I guess you really don’t need to know any of the above to know which candidate you prefer. At least that’s what the candidates want you believe.