Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

Millions Of Voters Can’t Be Wrong... Can They? [2]

The theory behind the “Wisdom of Crowds” would hold that the collective opinions of a nation’s voters are invariably “right”.  Some economists would hold that they are “wrong”, as discussed in the first in this series of blogposts.  Then there is the growing mass of anecdotal evidence for the notion that voters are collectively “ignorant” or even “weird”. 

If America is our example, there is plenty of material to support the “ignorant voter” argument, or at least the “people don’t understand how politics works” argument.

In polls taken since 1945, American voters have repeatedly had difficulty defining terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, explaining what the Bill of Rights is, or naming their congressman. People think that US foreign aid eats up a quarter of the federal budget;  (the reality is about one percent).  Few can see that the idea of lowering taxes is logically incompatible with the idea there should be more government programs.  Ask Americans if they favor spending more on welfare, and most say ‘No’;  ask, however, if they favor spending more on assisting the poor, and they say ‘Yes’.  Hmmmm...

Ignorance really is bliss for some people, it seems.  Only about fifty percent of eligible Americans have hitherto been voting in presidential elections, a noticeably lower proportion than in most democratic countries.  This fact could well be linked to the idea of being a supposedly powerless individual in a very big country.  “What difference is my single vote ever going to make?” is a difficult question to answer without saying “yes, but...”.  In fact not voting could be cast as a perfectly rational choice.  One more ballot paper never made a difference to the outcome any national election.

Those who do vote, however, can be nudged towards one party or the other by the most surprising things.  Seeing the national flag on the way into the polling booth, for instance.  American voters who were exposed to Old Glory in a voting-intention survey conducted by Cornell University showed a noticeably increased propensity to say they would vote Republican. 

Pi will continue looking for evidence for and against the argument that “voters are basically sheep”...

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: USA / North America Product –