A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll (Kaiser is one of the leading pollsters focusing on health care issues) finds that 42% of Americans are unaware that the Affordable Care Act is still the law of the land. Kaiser reports that that figures includes “12 percent who believe the law has been repealed by Congress, 7 percent who believe it has been overturned by the Supreme Court and 23 percent who say they don’t know enough to say what the status of the law is.” And as both Kaiser studies and other polls reveal, it is likely that many of the remaining 58% do not actually know very much about what is included in the law. If only the Kaiser poll had been published a little earlier, I would have included it in my forthcoming book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter (forthcoming this fall from Stanford University Press).
This kind of widespread ignorance is striking in light of the fact that the ACA has been widely debated for over three years, and information about is readily available from a wide range of sources, online and elsewhere. Some will find the result shocking. But it will not surprise long-time VC readers who know about the problem of rational political ignorance. Much of the public often ignores readily available information about politics and public policy because they find the subject uninteresting and there is little incentive to learn about it just for the purpose of becoming a better-informed voter. For that reason, even people who are by no means stupid can and often do rationally choose to remain ignorant about a variety of political issues. Those who do become relatively well-informed about politics often evaluate political information in a highly biased way, which is also rational, given that truth-seeking may not have been their main objective in following politics. Unfortunately, individually rational behavior often leads to bad collective results when voters take their ignorance and bias to the polls.