50 Percent of Voters Are Below Average


Go read today's bang-up essay from Bryan Caplan on voter irrationality at Cato Unbound. Voters don't, on average (present company excepted, of course) know much about what the government actually does:

The National Survey of Public Knowledge of Welfare Reform and the Federal Budget finds, for example, that 41% of Americans believe that foreign aid is one of the two biggest areas in the federal budget — versus 14% for Social Security.

Caplan's commentary in the essay strikes the perfect tone for the oddly inflammatory topic of what to do about an electorate riddled with false beliefs: Sober professor of economics with a dash of "mmmm hmmm, you tell it like it is, sister" sass:

The prevailing view even among the well-educated is that it is unseemly to question the competence of the average voter. Many elites go further by praising the insight of the average voter, no matter how silly his views seem.

As long as elites persist in unmerited deference to and flattery of the majority, containing the dangers of voter irrationality will be very hard. Someone has to tell the emperor when he is naked. He may not listen, but if no one speaks up, he will almost surely continue embarrassing himself and traumatizing spectators.

Caplan has a new book coming out in 2007, The Myth of the Rational Voter, in which he discusses these issues at length. In the meantime, content yourself with reading the whole essay here.