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Political Ignorance and the Iowa Caucuses:

One of the underanalyzed questions in the current presidential election is the extent to which the results are likely to be influenced by political ignorance. In general, primary voters are likely to be better-informed than the average citizen, and caucus goers even more so (because attendance at a caucus requires a much higher investment of time and effort and therefore tends to draw more committed voters with a higher level of interest in politics). Nonetheless, this recent Des Moines Register poll of likely Iowa caucus voters suggests that ignorance may well have a major impact even in the election with perhaps the country's best-informed voters. The poll asked "likely" participants in the Republican and Democratic Iowa Caucuses whether they believe they need more information about 19 major issues in the campaign (click on the image to get a clearer picture):

It is striking that large numbers of likely voters admitted that they need "more information" on a variety of major issues. For example, 56 percent of Republican voters and 50% of Democrats admitted that tney need more information about Social Security - despite the fact that this issue has been extensively debated for years. Similarly, 52% of Republicans and 46% of Democrats admitted they need more information on American's "relationship with other countries" - even though foreign policy has been perhaps the most important issue on the political agenda since 9/11. Forty percent or more of Iowa voters in both parties admitted to lacking information on eight of the other issues surveyed, including major ones such as judicial nominations, trade policy, and taxes.

These figures very likely understate the true degree of ignorance among likely Iowa voters for three reasons. First, as I point out in this article, surveys show that many respondents are unwilling to admit ignorance. For example, 20-30% will express opinions on nonexistent laws made up by pollsters rather than admit that they haven't heard of them. Second, the more ignorant you are, the more likely you are to be unaware of the full depth of that ignorance and to underestimate the amount of information you need to be a better voter. Third and finally, Iowa caucus voters - unlike most of the rest of us - have a great deal of personal exposure to candidates. While this personal experience might itself be a source of useful information, it is also likely to lead voters to underestimate the degree of their residual ignorance, because cognitive biases lead people to overstate the signficance of information derived personal experience and underestimate the importance of more remote sources of knowledge.

It's also worth noting that Iowa caucus voters are perhaps the best-informed in the entire country, given the amount of exposure they have to campaign information and the fact (noted above) that caucus voters are likely to be better-informed than primary voters. If Iowa caucus voters - by their own admission - lack adequate information on numerous major issues, the rest of the electorate is likely to be even worse.

Freddy Hill:
The only surprising thing in this list is that there are people that actually think they don't need more information about the issues listed: "No sir, I know all there's to know about global warming, the war and the financial solvency of social security."

I understand somebody taking that position on "black and white" moral issues such as abortion or gay marriage, but the others? How could you say that you know all there is to know?

I don't think that that reflects ignorance at all, but wisdom.
12.21.2007 2:39am
Maniakes (mail):
That survey is not a measure of ignorance. It's a measure of humility.

I can imagine people who know volumes about an issue saying they need more information, because there's some nuance they don't know that they think is important, perhaps even a bit of knowledge that isn't definitively available to anyone yet, like "will we win in Iraq". And I can imagine someone who knows almost nothing about an issue honestly believing that they know all they need to know about it.
12.21.2007 2:42am
Maniakes (mail):
Disregard my comment. Freddy Hill said it better while I was typing.
12.21.2007 2:44am
Ilya Somin:
I don't think that that reflects ignorance at all, but wisdom.

The two are not mutually exclusive. One can be wise enough to recognize one's ignorance.

I can imagine people who know volumes about an issue saying they need more information, because there's some nuance they don't know that they think is important, perhaps even a bit of knowledge that isn't definitively available to anyone yet, like "will we win in Iraq". And I can imagine someone who knows almost nothing about an issue honestly believing that they know all they need to know about it.

Both are possible. Indeed, I point out that self-reporting of ignorance on surveys tends to underestimate it's true level. However, it's not likely that highly knowledgeable people would say they need more info on this survey, given that it merely asks whether they need more information for voting purposes. Few people believe you have to have in-depth expertise to decide who to vote for.
12.21.2007 2:48am
ChrisO (mail):
At a certain point you realize additional information is quite unlikely to change your mind, so you don't need additional information. It is a sign that you can manage your time.
12.21.2007 2:48am
Ilya Somin:
How could you say that you know all there is to know?

You can have a sufficient amount of information for voting purposes without knowing "all there is to know."
12.21.2007 2:50am
Freddy Hill:

You can have a sufficient amount of information for voting purposes without knowing "all there is to know."

Sure. All depends on how the question was asked. You don't provide a link to the main article, and I was unable to find it after a few simple searches. So I went with the description on top of the table you link to. Maybe the actual question provided the qualification you suggest.

Even then, a few weeks before the caucus, it would be very hard for me to affirm that no new information could surface on most of these issues that would cause me to change my mind.

Of course, I'm the kind of person that can't choose from a restaurant menu until the waiter starts tapping his foot.
12.21.2007 3:23am
Thoughtful (mail):
I take it then, Ilya, that you would have answered "I need no more information" on most of the topics listed? I happen to be among the most informed people I know, and I know a lot of intelligent people, but I spend more time reading about political issues than most. Yet I would have said, for most of these topics, "I need more information" (which doesn't necessarily mean "need more to make an intelligent vote"; it may mean "want more information because I'm always happy to learn more" or "need more information to better convince my spouse" or many other things). So while I agree with you that voters are woefully ignorant (I even agree with Caplan that they are irrational), I don't think this particular poll result proves it.

In fact, your own reasoning goes against your point. If the Iowa caucus goers are generally MORE informed than the average voter, and if the LESS INFORMED voters are so ignorant they don't even recognize they need more information, then the results of this poll CONFIRM these respondents ARE more informed than most voters, not that they are ignorant, because they are AWARE they need more information.

Your error is thinking "needing more information" is the same thing as "being ignorant". You can, of course, define "ignorance" as simply "absence of knowledge", but I think the sense it which it is used in discussion of voter ignorance is not simply non-omniscience on a topic but "severe or significant lack of basic knowledge, to the point where it is concerning or paradoxical that democracy can function." But this poll doesn't show that of these Iowa caucus voters. It merely shows that many desire (even) more information. Scientists often seek more information. This is not because they are ignorant (in the sense discussed). Lawyers read lots of legal blogs. Is this in part to get more information? Is that done because they are ignorant of the law?
12.21.2007 3:34am
Jagermeister:
I think it important to remember the context of the questions. On <s>most</s> <i>all</i> of the issues listed I know enough to have a policy stance - to have a preference for the type of policy that I desire from a candidate. It doesn't mean that I'm not interested in learning more, or that I don't have an open mind, it just means that I have a <i>reasoned and informed</i> opinion. Frankly, any one who wouldn't have an opinion on such things is disconnected from the national debates.

On the other hand, I have no idea where any number of the candidates stand on the majority of those issues, because of deliberate evasiveness and obfuscation on the part of the candidates and their campaigns. So, if asked if I needed more information on the <i>candidate</i>'s position on the topics, I would assuredly answer in the affirmative.

Its not clear to me what was exact question asked in the poll survey, and whether people answered regarding their knowledge or their knowledge of candidate's positions.
12.21.2007 5:05am
blcjr (mail):
Most of the commenters so far have made the basic point: wanting "more information" is hardly the same as being "ignorant." Take a specific example, like social security. The very complexity of the issue makes it likely that even a well informed voter would want "more information" about a candidate's stance on the issue because of the tendency of candidates to reduce their positions on complex issues to simplified sound bites. And while I know very well where I stand on a host of foreign policy matters, I'd sure like to have "more information" about where certain candidates stand on those issues because of their tendency to be vague and vacillating. If I'm ignorant, I'm ignorant of where they stand, not where I stand.
12.21.2007 7:02am
DiverDan (mail):
I have to agree with the posters who think that the poll reflects more interest than ignorance. I consider myself fairly well informed on many (certainly not all) of the issues listed, but I almost certainly would have checked "Need more information" on those issues I was most vitally concerned about -- and it's not that I necessarily need more information on the issue itself, but on the individual candidate's Positions and Programs on those issues. For example, with a background in accounting and actuarial science, an understanding of the various assumptions which underpin the various estimates of underfunding of Social Security and Medicare, and having read the Trustee's most recent reports, as well as expert commentary and reaction to those reports, I believe that I have a pretty good grasp of the nature and scope of the problems facing both the Social Security and Medicare programs in coming years, as well as the possible solutions - cutting benefits, raising taxes, eliminating inflation adjustments, raising retirement age, etc. But, having listened to several candidates on this issue, excluding those who just deny that there is a problem, I'll be damned if I know what ANY candidate proposes to do about the issue. So, does my checking "Needs more information" on the Social Security issue reflect political ignorance, or just frustration with the fact that political candidates almost never offer concrete proposals, since that would expose them to more criticism &risk offending voters who agree that a problem exists but favor other courses of action?
12.21.2007 7:04am
Han Solo:
Personally I think what your seeing here is what a complete disaster this whole EARLY primary thing is.

We need about 4 more debates (real ones, not like IA) where people can have at least a real chance at seeing all the candiates positions.


There are about 1000 questions I still have as a voter about many of the candidates.


We are letting people who have NO IDEA what they are doing pick our next president, and that really pisses me off because I happen to live in a state that by the time it gets here its too late the press will already have 'anointed' one by then.

We need to have NO PRIMARIES before Jun 1 if you want a really educated public.
12.21.2007 8:15am
Sk (mail):
Gotta agree with the commenters.

If I asked you whether you know enough about the safety of the bridges in your town, or the current rules regarding your medical insurance, or the status of environmental protection in your community, or anything whatsover outside of your own professional or personal interest, would you respond that you 'know enough about it?' You drive over bridges every day; you belong to a medical insurance group; and so on.

The fact that social security has been debated for years is irrelevant; in my job, environmental policy has been debated for years. That doesn't mean you have participated in those debates for years.

Not everybody loves to debate social security policy the way pundits do (and not all pundits love to debate environmental policy the way I do, or bridge building policy the way engineers do, or health insurance policy the way insurance adjusters do, etc etc).

Give people a break. Politics is a hobby for some, but not everybody. Most of us have better things to do with our time. Rational ignorance and all that.

Sk
12.21.2007 8:20am
veteran:
DiverDan says:

"So, does my checking "Needs more information" on the Social Security issue reflect political ignorance, or just frustration with the fact that political candidates almost never offer concrete proposals, since that would expose them to more criticism &risk offending voters who agree that a problem exists but favor other courses of action?"

I think you hit the nail as far as the candidates go. The next question is where do the news media fall into this?
Finding good and accurate info through internet is good but requires work and time. Not everybody has both.
12.21.2007 8:27am
MDJD2B (mail):
Three points--

First, it's nice to see that the more technical the subject, the more people felt they needed more information.

Second, it was striking that the results in the two parties were so similar.

Finally, paucity of information is not a disqualification for making a wise selection. Someone who knows little about law or medicine may reasonably choose a lawyer or doctor based on what he knows about the proffesional's qualifications and background, and on what he sees of the person's congnitive abilities and personality when meeting him or her.

Similarly, with minimal knowledge of the issues, a voter can reasonably select a candidate based on background, general philosophy, and the like. Yes-- these are subject to manipulation, and voters may have been able to do a better job before the introduction of modern campaign advertising. But you don't need to be expert on a laundry list of issues to be able to vote responsibly.
12.21.2007 8:55am
TechieLaw (mail) (www):
Another point one can take from that poll:

Republicans care about Terrorism, Immigration, Abortion, National Security, Faith &Values, Judicial Nominations and Gay Marriage much more than Democrats.

Democrats care about Education, Ethanol &Renewable Energy, Health Care/Insurance, National Debt, Relationships With Other Countries, Global Warming (by a long shot), Economy &Jobs, and Social Security much more than Republicans.

(with "much" defined as > 10%)

Anybody want to explain what this means?
12.21.2007 9:02am
Temp Guest (mail):
It would be interesting to know how the poll questions were worded. My suspicion is that the "need more information" and "have sufficient information" responses actually distinguished persons who were undecided on the issue in question from people who had formed a sufficiently strong enough position on the issue that they used this opinion to help form their candidate preference. Some (perhaps most) of the former are probably far better informed than some (perhaps most) of the latter.

A real way to find out the knowledge of persons on these issues would be to ask a series of questions with objectively correct answers, e.g., "What countries border Iraq? What party controls the government of Syria and used to control the government of Iraq? Who is the chief of state of Iran? What percent of US GDP is spent on medical care? What percent of the US budget is spent on defense, social security, medicare and medicaid, interest on the national debt? etc. and build an index of actual knowledge. It would be a fascinating study to compare actual knowledge of voters with their choice of candidate.
12.21.2007 9:10am
Gramarye:
It would be interesting to see this same poll given in another state where voters are arguably "less informed" in some objective sense--a small state with a late primary, for example, which would presumably have gotten much less exposure to both the candidates and the issues--and see how many of its voters stated they needed more information on these topics. I tend to agree with those who said that this is more a measure of humility than ignorance. The rational way to test that is to see how many people with a lesser command of the issues nevertheless felt that they had sufficient information to make their decisions come primary or election time.
12.21.2007 9:11am
Joe Gator (mail):
Isn't it also possible that the voters polled may need "more information" about the candidates' specific policies regarding the issue?

I basically know how I feel about social security and consider myself reasonably well-informed, but I could not tell you how each candidate feels about it.
12.21.2007 9:31am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
For example, 56 percent of Republican voters and 50% of Democrats admitted that tney need more information about Social Security - despite the fact that this issue has been extensively debated for years. Similarly, 52% of Republicans and 46% of Democrats admitted they need more information on American's "relationship with other countries" - even though foreign policy has been perhaps the most important issue on the political agenda since 9/11.

I'd say the above is mostly an indictment of the press.

There may have been a large quantity of reporting on these subjects, but what was the quality like? I'd say Mostly soundbites, horse-race analyses of how a particular twist affects a particular candidate rather than how it fits into the bigger picture, important information ommitted for reasons of bias or twisted beyond recognition for reasons of ignorance and incompetence.

Voters have always had to act with limited and partially incorrect information - it's just that thanks to the internet fact-checking the MSM's @$$ they're somewhat more aware of that fact than they used to be.
12.21.2007 9:39am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
But you don't need to be expert on a laundry list of issues to be able to vote responsibly.

Especially since chances are good some issue not even on the list is likely to become important during the tenure of whoever wins. (Where was terrorism on the 2000 voters' priority list?)

I'd much rather choose a candidate based on general political philosophy, general good judgement, and general managerial ability. My primary interest in the "laundry list" is as a way of inferring the first two.
12.21.2007 9:50am
DanG:
Ignorance isn't necessarily a problem -- the Condorcet Jury Theorem tells us that, under certain circumstances, large numbers of people with limited information will be more likely to get the "right" answer than a small panel of experts. So ignorance is not necessarily a problem.

Perhaps misinformation--e.g., thinking that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11--is more of a problem.
12.21.2007 9:51am
Pon Raul:
I agree with Freddy Hill. Ilya, you are reading too much into this poll. There is simply too much informaiton and the well informed voters realize that they do not know it all.
12.21.2007 10:14am
Elliot Reed (mail):
I'm with those who think this is a very poor metric of "ignorance." On top of the reasons others have mentioned, I also suspect that statements that they don't know enough are likely to be an expression of frustration with the candidates: "I wish the candidates would talk more about issue X rather than running attack ads and wishing the voters a Merry Christmas."
12.21.2007 10:21am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
Ilya, you are reading too much into this poll.
As with most newspaper polls, merely noting its existence would so qualify.
Meaningful social science is really hard to do, and is not particularly successful at delivering eyeballs to advertisers.
12.21.2007 10:25am
David Drake:
Like many of the commenters, I took this to mean information about the stands of the various candidates rather than about the issues themselves. The article in the DeMoines Register takes that tack, and the questions seem to be aiming at this, rather than at the general knowledge level of the voters on the isues.

As to the questions:


The poll asked: "Here are some issues people pay attention to in choosing a candidate. For each, please tell me how important this is to you - extremely important, very important, just somewhat important or not that important.

"I'm going to mention the topics that you said are extremely or very important. This time, please tell me if you think you need more information or if you already have enough - just answer 'need more' or 'have enough.' "


(DeMoines Register May 20, 2007, article by Jonathan Roos.)

Note that this poll was taken some months ago, so voters in Iowa may well have enough and more than enough info on candidates stands on these issues by this time.
12.21.2007 10:29am
Redlands (mail):
Read a column this a.m. by an editorialist who advocates dumping the electoral college. I think it's a bad idea but if it would put an end to obsessing about Iowa I'd jump on the bandwagon.
12.21.2007 10:52am
iowan (mail):
This is all about the media making itself the story. There is zero information in the story. like masturbation it only effects the one involved. In this case the Des Moines Registar Can delude itself into thinking it is a great deep thinking paper (lover)
12.21.2007 11:08am
DiverDan (mail):

Another point one can take from that poll:

Republicans care about Terrorism, Immigration, Abortion, National Security, Faith &Values, Judicial Nominations and Gay Marriage much more than Democrats.

Democrats care about Education, Ethanol &Renewable Energy, Health Care/Insurance, National Debt, Relationships With Other Countries, Global Warming (by a long shot), Economy &Jobs, and Social Security much more than Republicans.

(with "much" defined as > 10%)

Anybody want to explain what this means?


What I think it means is that neither party is nearly as homogenous on issues or views as many political commentators would like to believe. For example, the larger percentages of Republicans who think abortion, gay marriage, or Faith &Values are important issues simply reflects that the Religious Right is an important constituency group for the Republicans, while the larger percentage of Democrats who care about Renewable Energy and Global Warming reflects that environmentalists are an important constituency for the Democrats. However, I strongly suspect (and I think the poll numbers reflect) that there are many voters in BOTH parties who do not necessarily share the concerns of these constituencies, and make their decision on which party they choose to affiliate with on other issues, based on a level of trust on those issues which are most important to them.

Personally, as a "Goldwater Republican", I couldn't care less about abortion or gay marriage; I wish the Republican Party still stood for personal freedom, and let people make their own decisions about abortion or gay marriage without Government interference. And while faith and values might be an important indicator of a candidate's character, my own belief is that government has no place telling anyone how or what to believe on matters of religion or moral values, with the exception of those moral values having a utilitarian impact on society (i.e., thou shalt not kill, or steal, and matters like teenage pregnancy, which adversely impacts the development of children, etc.). On the issue of Immigration, I'm often ashamed of the stance taken by the Republican Party - I would be much more open to an open border policy with no limits or quotas on immigration, except to keep hard core criminals &crazies out. But none of those issues are important enough to me to drive me out of the Republican Party. The issues important to me, like Social Security (I'm nearing retirement &resent the incredible inter-generational transfers caused by the Ponzi-Scheme setup of Social Security under FDR), Health Care, Education, the Economy, and Judicial Selection, are not exclusively "Republican" or "Democrat" issues, but, for various reasons, I do not trust the Democrats on any of those issues.

I strongly suspect that a great many Democrats are in a similar situation - they don't necessarily agree with the Democrats on all of the so-called "Democrat" issues, nor do they disagree with the Republicans on all of the so-called "Republican" issues, they simply do not trust the Republicans on the issues which are most important to them.
12.21.2007 11:25am
JosephSlater (mail):
Along the lines of what DanG said, here's one of my favorite quotes, from Mark Twain:

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
12.21.2007 11:30am
Gabriel Malor (mail):
I agree with those who posted that "needs more information" does not come close to "admitting ignorance."

More than that, this poll is almost a month old, according to the date on the bottom of the graphic. No wonder we can't find the article on the Register's website.
12.21.2007 11:55am
Apollo:
Forty percent or more of Iowa voters in both parties admitted to lacking information on eight of the other issues surveyed, including major ones such as judicial nominations, trade policy, and taxes.

Of course all the issues on this list are important, but not equally so to everyone. I think the ignorance here is because, for various reasons, nobody cares about everything. I'm a fairly well informed voter, and I would say that I "needed more information" for about a third of the issues on this list. That said, if you gave me the additional information, I wouldn't read it or care, because those issues are really low on my list of priorities. I make my choice of candidates off of, at most, a half-dozen issues. The "needs more information" category probably reflects ambivalence more than anything worth fretting about.
12.21.2007 11:56am
John Neff:
A caucus is not a primary it is suppose to elect delegates to the county convention who in turn elect delegates to the state convention who then elect delegates to the national convention. Years ago nobody outside of Iowa paid any attention to our caucus (if that were still true we would all be better off). I know a lot of people who are very interested who will not be able to attend their caucus for a large number of legitimate reasons and their views will not be represented. All of them could vote in a primary.

When the candidates meet with small enough groups so that individuals can ask questions the questions are vastly superior to those asked by the press and there are often follow up questions (which the press have been taught not to ask). The best solution would be for the press to reduce coverage of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary so things can return to normal.
12.21.2007 12:14pm
hattio1:
I haven't read the comments, but something surprised me. They apparently asked folks whether an issue was a main issue or not. And then asked if they needed more information. I expected that as an issue dropped in percent of people calling it a main issue there would be an increase in people saying they needed more information. Didn't happen though. How ignorant of an issue do you have to be before you are too ignorant to call it a main issue?
12.21.2007 12:16pm
TomHynes (mail):
<i>"The more ignorant you are, the more likely you are to be unaware of the full depth of that ignorance "</i>

That is a great concept, sure to win many arguments for me.
12.21.2007 12:16pm
Really?:
I won't endeavor to add anything to the previous comments, but I agree that Ilya is way off the mark with this post.
12.21.2007 12:16pm
ejo:
are Iowans the best informed voters? certainly, they have had more contact with candidates but equating that with best informed seems like apples and oranges to me. why our political parties seem to have a fetish for Iowa and NH escapes me.
12.21.2007 12:42pm
David M (www):
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/21/2007 A short recon of what's out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.
12.21.2007 12:58pm
Baseballhead (mail):
It's also worth noting that Iowa caucus voters are perhaps the best-informed in the entire country, given the amount of exposure they have to campaign information and the fact (noted above) that caucus voters are likely to be better-informed than primary voters.
It should also be pointed out that Iowan voters are bombarded by more biased, misleading and deceptive campaign information than any other state voting bloc. Acknowledging that they need more information seems to be a recognition that the voters are aware they're being spun.
12.21.2007 1:05pm
sbron:
Why isn't Affirmative Action on the list of issues?

In California, we have a situation where over half of
high school students (primarily Latino) are eligible
for Affirmative Action under various Federal programs,
and implicitly in state programs despite Prop. 209.

One would think the intersection of preferences with
immigration would be a significant campaign issue.
12.21.2007 1:08pm
Thoughtful (mail):
Joseph Slater:... here's one of my favorite quotes, from Mark Twain:

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
--
And as a perfect example of this, I always thought it was a quote from Will Rogers...
12.21.2007 1:24pm
dew:
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
That is why I think even if you could measure the effect of:
surveys show that many respondents are unwilling to admit ignorance
it would understate the amount of ignorance. How many party loyalists consider themselves "educated" on a subject after reading some misleading, partisan blog post (or talk radio, or whatever)? Quite a few in my experience.

And I will second (or third/fourth/whatever) that in the chart and even the original questions, it is not clear whether they are asking if you are knowledgeable on the issues, or knowledgeable on the candidates' positions on the issues, making the results rather useless.
12.21.2007 3:16pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
I expected that as an issue dropped in percent of people calling it a main issue there would be an increase in people saying they needed more information.

I would have expected it to be the other way; why would I want more information about something I don't care about?

Eyeballing the data I saw no obvious correlation either way.
12.21.2007 3:30pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Can someone tell me where and when the debate on social security was conducted? What were the issues?

Can anyone tell me what the various candidates positions are on the structure and operation of social social security in the future?

Is there anyone here who does not need more information on social security? If so, do you believe in the lockbox?
12.21.2007 3:30pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
It should also be pointed out that Iowan voters are bombarded by more biased, misleading and deceptive campaign information than any other state voting bloc.

I assume you mean more in total, not more in proportion, right?

Once again, we're seeing the interpretation that people may be dissatisfied with the quality of the information they're getting.
12.21.2007 3:31pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Thoughtful:

Now you've got me wondering what kind of trouble a minor and understandable misattribution of that quote could cause. A disapproving stare from a Twain scholar?
12.21.2007 4:06pm
iowan (mail):
Do I have all the information I need? On the subject of global warming Al Gore says yes. We All have all the information we need to start putting a strangle hold on the economies if the most productive nations. Except, that A study out of the US Senate has come up with 400 scientists from around the world that say the earth has not been proved to be warming and IF it were...nothing in the relm of human control would effect it. So I think no one ever has all the info they need
12.21.2007 4:19pm
Waldensian (mail):
Several self-proclaimed libertarians I know are obsessed with the alleged ignorance of the public. I'm trying to figure out the relationship between that view and libertarian thought, if any.

But I'm probably too ignorant.
12.21.2007 4:28pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Ilya: be careful, any suggestiong that political ignorance should play some factor in elections will get you flamed to death. Or maybe that just applies to me.

Knowledge of issues is impossible. There's too much conflicting information for anyone to be fully informed on, say, global warming or NAFTA.

Basic political knowledge, like "who was the last president?" "Who is the current vice president" "Which country is directly south of America?" are things that voters should be required to know.

It would be nice if people could just frame the debate on any political issue, rather than know factoids and be a wonk on the subject.
12.21.2007 4:33pm
JosephSlater (mail):
BruceM:

For the last time, what got you "flamed" in the previous thread was your repeated, serious argument that women as a class were inferior to men as a class as voters.
12.21.2007 4:57pm
Josh66 (mail):
Some people have expressed no surprise in the poll results. I am continually surprised by the fear and defensiveness exhibited by Republicans. The highest number on the chart - 90% - reflected Republicans' focus on national security. Yet the United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and has been for some time. It has never been more secure. Indeed, no people in the history of the Earth have ever been more secure than Americans are today. But their primary interest is in becoming safer. This poisonous attitude, persisting even now after six years of random military bludgeoning in the general continental area from which the 9/11 attackers came, demonstrates that the U.S. is not due to recover its senses anytime soon. I would not be surprised to see Rudy Giulani elected president. We'll continue to pour our resources into the Middle East to no gain whatsoever for decades.
12.21.2007 6:51pm
Apollo:
after six years of random military bludgeoning in the general continental area from which the 9/11 attackers came

Well I guess someone has all of the information he needs.
12.21.2007 7:16pm
ArtEclectic (mail):
My interpretation of "need more information" is "need more FACTUAL information rather than just what candidates and/or the media are spinning for me."
12.21.2007 8:42pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
My interpretation of the poll is that reporters are not knowlegeable enough about scientific, technical, or mathematical topics to decide what information is needed to understand a survey. Therefore the report of the survey is worthless, even though the survey may not have been.

Personally, I am looking forward to seeing a beer commercial again.
12.22.2007 12:17am
TLB (mail) (www):
Rather than discussing the poll, let me suggest ways to solve the problem:

1. Help push this proposal. Rather than having MSM hacks asking questions at debates, the questions would come from people who are actually familiar with the issues being discussed, and they could ask a series of questions designed to reveal the flaws in the candidates' arguments.

2. Go to campaign appearances and ask questions like those described above, then upload the responses to video sharing sites.

3. Help discredit those in the MSM (pretty much all of them) who concentrate on horserace rather than asking the candidates real questions. See the comments at Time's Swampland for examples.
12.22.2007 10:22pm
Thoughtful (mail):
TLB: Regretfully, it seems to me the proposal you mention would only work on that small fraction of policy issues where there is broad general agreement among experts (like, for example, free trade, or the unemployment effects of minimum wage laws). Otherwise, you just have the candidate sitting back while the different experts debate one another. I suspect the problem is less MSM hackery (though I agree that IS a problem) and more the sad but predictable fact that the large majority of the electorate ain't interested in being educated...
12.23.2007 2:29am
RTIII (mail):
I am a scientist and read a lot of scientific journals. The author is clearly not well informed about the subject as he has it exactly backwards...

As others here have already suggested, science has already spoken on the issue and it is VERY clear that the more someone knows the more they realize what they don't know and so are MORE likely to rate themselves as needing more information. Again, the most informed among us are most aware of what they don't know.

Yes, it also works out the other way round, too: The least informed are most likely to believe they know all there is to know on any given subject. So, the questions is really a good barometer of how informed one is, and the author of this article got the conclusions EXACTLY BACKWARDS!

RTIII
12.23.2007 1:36pm
TLB (mail) (www):
Thoughtful: the idea is to show the flaws in their positions. That can be done through one set of experts pointing that out to the candidate. Another way to do it is if one set of experts defend the policies of the candidate, and the other set of experts points out where they're wrong. If the candidate doesn't agree with either set, then both sets can attack the candidates proposals.

As for the public not wanting to learn about the details, in this case it doesn't really matter. These could be direct-to-Youtube debates that would be "loss leaders" for whoever produces them. They'd spend maybe 10 or 20 grand tops and they'd get a good amount of valuable mindshare.
12.23.2007 3:47pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Keep in mind how the Iowa caucuses work. You don't show up and pull a lever in a booth. The caucus-goers have their own debate about which candidate is best and why. They present reasons, and those who show up informed have a chance to win over the uninformed. Even if they don't win them in the first round, it may have an effect in later rounds as less-supported candidates drop off the list of choices.
12.25.2007 3:37pm