My Forbes Op Ed on Political Ignorance

Forbes has just published my op ed explaining how political ignorance and irrationality cut across both sides of the political spectrum:

A recent poll sponsored by the liberal Daily Kos Web site shows that many self-identified Republican voters hold irrational and extremist views–a finding that Kos founder Markos Moulitsos deems “startling.” Unfortunately, too many commentators mistakenly assume that such ideas are confined to one side of the political spectrum….

[O]ne can easily find parallel examples of dubious views among Democratic voters.

Moulitsos highlights the 36% of Republicans in the Kos poll who seem to endorse birtherism, and the 22% who say they aren’t sure. Yet a 2007 poll found that 35% of self-identified Democrats believe that President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, and 26% said they didn’t know if he did…..

Other examples of irrationality by Democratic voters are not hard to come by. According to a 2009 survey, some 32% of Democrats believe that Jews deserve at least a substantial amount of blame for the financial crisis (compared with 18% of Republicans). In November 2008 some 59% of Obama voters did not know that the Democrats then had control of Congress.

Voter ignorance and irrationality are general shortcomings of modern democracy. Most voters have incentives to be “rationally ignorant” about politics because of the extremely low chance that any one vote will be decisive in an election. For similar reasons, voters also have incentives to do a poor job of evaluating the political information they do have. Numerous studies show that they tend to discount information that goes against their preconceptions, while overvaluing anything that seems to confirm them.

The op ed is a revision of this Volokh Conspiracy post.

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