Sunday, August 20, 2006

Which is worse: not voting or not knowing anything about the candidates?

Last week in class, we explained why so many people don't vote or don't know anything about the candidates because of rational ignorance. Basically, the probability that one vote will have any affect on an election means that many people think their time is more valuably spent on other activities.

Law Professor Ilya Somin has an interesting blog post about whether we should be concerned about low voter turnout (which was about 59% in the last Presidential election). He argues voter turnout is not low enough to be really concerned about and that the bigger problem is that most people don't know anything about the candidates they are voting for or against. (Read the post for his specific arguments)

What do you guys think is the bigger problem here? Should we be more concerned with the fact that only 60% of the country votes in the Presidential elections and even less vote in local elections? Or should we be more concerned about getting those people who do vote to be more educated on the candidates or issues they are voting on?

(Source: Cato @ Liberty)


Anonymous said...

I agree with Professor Ilya Somin that political ignorance is probably the bigger issue when in comparison with voter turnout percentages. Insufficient voter knowledge keeps the government from truly representing what the majority wants. About 20% of voters would vote for a ham sandwich if it ran for office under the title of Republican, and another 20% of voters would vote for a ham sandwich if it ran for office under the title of Democrat. This leaves only 60% of the 60% of people in our country that are actually voting, but if those people are actually paying attention to the topics of the election and helping to represent the majority of the country, then that is what will keep democracy afloat. Therefore, voter education should be considered more important.

Kate Vanderlip

Anonymous said...

I think that Somin is correct in his assertion that it is political ignorance that threatens democracy and our political system as a whole instead of low voter turn out in elections. Democracy does indeed depend on an informed electorate. If voters just make decisions based solely on party ties or other arbitrary reasons, then a democracy would certainly become the mob rule feared by the founding fathers, where a simple majority is enough causation for policymaking. Without an informed voting population, the candidates with the best policies and proposals will not come into office, but rather those candidates that are best at manipulating the majority, just as described by de Tocqueville in his attack on the democratic system as a whole, Democracy in America. Though the low numbers of voters at the polls is disheartening because we feel that a small minority is making decisions for the majority, the fact of the matter is, as described by Somin, that a larger percentage in voter turnout would not necessarily mean that a better sample of the entire population would be represented. In addition, all the focus on increasing voter registration and poll activity has shifted the focus from what elections are really about. Media movements such as P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign may have won over some young people to the polls, but are those new voters any more informed with the idea to vote coming from MTV and not from their desire to voice their opinions and promote the policies and candidates they think best for society? Thus, simply getting people to vote is not the most pressing problem, but rather the overall ignorance of the voters. How can decisions and progress in society be made if all elections results come from a group of voters (the size of the group doesn’t even matter) who made random, arbitrary decisions?

-Sarah O'Donohue

Anonymous said...

^^^please ignore that one i didnt mean to hit enter & i messed up & wasnt finished! SORRY!!!

I agree with Professor Somin and Kate and Sarah, political ignorance is definitely a greater issue than voter turnout percentages. If people are unwilling to educate themselves about the candidates or the issues they are voting on, then they should not be voting. I would actually prefer if uninformed people were discouraged from voting. Instead of making advertisements that encourage people to vote, more ads should be made that advertise the issues. Well educated people are more likely to vote, because they are going to have an opinion and they are more likely to care about the outcome. Also, if more time and money is spent on educating people, instead of simply encouraging them to vote, not only will the people who already vote be able to make a more informed decision, but also more people will vote because they will have more of an intrest in the outcome. So, voter education is not only important because it leads to better made decisions, but also, it could potentially lead to an increase in voter turnout percentages. Like Huxley wrote in Brave New World Revisited there must be education for freedom. Like Sarah said, "those candidates that are best at manipulating the [uninformed] majority" will be elected into office. That is why people need to be educated, so that they will not give in to any piece of propaganda thrown at them. An uneducated mob is definately a threat to democray.

--Emily Spurlock

Anonymous said...

The real question here is whose responsibilty is it to educate the voters? Is it the canidates or the voters themselves. I know personally how a campaign is run and what type of information is sent out to people. One major part of sending literature out to voters is that the only people who are on the list are those who vote...It's interesting to see that the main people who vote are those who get the information on the candidates. The canidates do the best they can with the money they have but a piece of mail to every one in even a small state house district would be very exspensive and in many ways a waste. in my point of view if the population refuses to become educated and vote then they are cutting themselves out of the democarcy. Canidates and P Diddy can do all they want to try to and get peolpe to vote but its truly up to the voters to go out there and do it.