My Forbes Column on Political Ignorance and the Government Shutdown

The Forbes website recently published an op ed I wrote on public ignorance about the issues involved in the government shutdown. Here is an excerpt:

As a government shutdown begins, much of the public knows very little about the issues behind it: Obamacare and the future of the federal budget. An August Kaiser Family Foundation survey showed that 44% do not even realize that Obamacare is still the law. Kaiser’s June poll found that 33% say they have heard “nothing at all” about the controversial insurance exchanges that are a central element of the law, and 34% “only a little.”

When it comes to the budget, numerous polls show that voters grossly underestimate the percentage of federal spending that goes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, while greatly overestimating the amount spent on foreign aid….

Public opinion will probably play a key role in determining the outcome of the shutdown battle. Both parties want to attract public support and focus voters’ frustration on their opponents. But the voters politicians seek to win over are often very ill-informed.

Widespread political ignorance isn’t limited to spending and health care. It cuts across many other issues, and even the basic structure of government….

There is no easy solution to the problem of political ignorance. Providing more information is unlikely to work, since most people fail to assimilate the information that is already available. But we can help alleviate the problem by limiting and decentralizing government. When people “vote with their feet” in the private sector or in choosing what state or local government they want to live in, they have much better incentives to acquire information and use it rationally than when they vote at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, public ignorance about these issues is just the tip of a larger iceberg.