Is Voter Ignorance Slowly Killing America?

Many of us, meaning moderates and conservatives, constantly bemoan the existence of low-information voters. It is they who tend to vote for initiatives and candidates who in the end prove harmful to us and our nation, damaging out freedoms, our economy, or our diplomatic standing throughout the world. How else can you explain the election of Barack Obama, not once, but twice?

Much of this ignorance of low-information voters is by design, put forth for decades by the con men (and women) who see themselves as our betters. Now we're seeing the fruits of their labors, with an economy in shambles and falling increasingly into the hands of cronyism, freedoms to make our own choices being eroded away, and any remaining good will from other nations being discarded like a used tissue.

One would have thought the Founding Fathers would have foreseen such a thing and would have tried to prevent it from happening.

It turns out, they did.

Writes Ilya Somin:

It is indeed true that Framers sought to “engineer” the Constitution around the problem of political ignorance, thereby diminishing its harmful effects. But they did so in part by trying to do the very thing I advocate in [my] book: placing tight limits on the power of government, especially the federal government. James Madison famously emphasized in Federalist 45 that the powers of the central government are to be “few and defined.” In a passage from Federalist 62... he emphasized that “[i[t will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read." I doubt that Madison meant that adequately informed voters literally need to read every provision of every law. But he did clearly imply a tradeoff between the quantity and complexity of law and the ability of voters to understand it. He clearly was not confident that what Rogers called "canary in the mineshaft" democracy would work well in a situation where the role of government in society is massive and complex. The greater the size and scope of government, the less likely it is that rationally ignorant voters will pay attention to more than a tiny fraction of the many canaries competing for their attention.

Moreover, Madison ultimately concluded that increasing political knowledge was an important objective for making representative democracy work effectively. As he explained in an 1822 letter advocating the use of publicly financed education to increase political knowledge (I quote the letter at the start of my book): "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the Power that knowledge gives." Thomas Jefferson and some of the other Founders expressed similar views. Unfortunately...public education has been much less successful in increasing political knowledge than Jefferson and others hoped.

Indeed. In fact, over the past 50 years or more public education has done just the opposite, replacing the teaching of what our children needed to know in order to make them good citizens – understanding the tenets of our laws and constitution as well as the history behind them – with feelgood indoctrination that tells them what to think rather than how to think. How else can one explain the dismal understanding of our citizenry about the things they need to know in order to ensure our nation remains a bastion of freedom and the economic powerhouse of the world? Their ignorance of history and economics, and the disdain they have been taught to feel about many of our institutions at all levels are all symptoms of a 'progressive' education that seeks not to enlighten, but to enslave.

Heavy rhetoric? You betcha. But that doesn't mean it isn't true. I have certainly seen it here even in my home town and elsewhere in my home state. I see it in plenty of places across this country. I see it every day on television, in the newspapers, and on the 'Net.

I'd like to think we're coming close to a tipping point where the people will finally declare “We've had enough of this crap and we're not going to take it any more!” and that they will start acting in their own best interests and tell our so-called betters to “Piss off!”