Political Ignorance:

Regarding Stuart Benjamin’s post below, the study he cites is just one example of the broader problem of political ignorance, well-documented by my colleague Ilya Somin. Since, as I recall, studies show that conservatives are overall better-informed than are liberals, I suspect that the study Stuart cites is an artifact of two factors: (1)Bush supporters are inclined to think well of Bush, Kerry supporters are not. Part of thinking well of Bush is to think that people around the world think well of him and his actions; part of disliking Bush is the opposite. So, when pollsters ask Americans whether they think most of the world supports Bush and his actions, most Bush supporters and most Kerry supporters, being politically ignorant, won’t know. The Bush supporters will guess “yes,” the Kerry supporters “no.” If I’m correct, this is not a reflection of greater ignorance on the part of Bush supporters, just worse guessing. (2) Most people have no idea what global climate treaties, land mine treaties, the International Criminal Court, etc., involve. But they all sound good to an ignorant voter. So, if an ignorant Bush supporter is asked whether Bush supports these treaties, he will likely say yes. That doesn’t mean that the Bush supporter has any idea of what these things are, or whether he would actually support these things if he knew about them. Rather, the average Bush voter is as (or perhaps more) rationally ignorant about the content of these international agreements as he is about whether his candidate supports them.

The fact that people tend to be much more knowledgeable about things that they can actually affect as individuals than they are about presidential politics is one good reason for limiting the size and scope of the federal government.

UPDATE: Kaimi Wenger, I’ve just learned, posted a similar analysis on the Tutissima Cassis blog yesterday.

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