The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The CNN website has just published my op ed on political ignorance and the 2016 campaign. Here are a few excerpts:
A specter is haunting this year's presidential election: political ignorance. Both Democrats and Republicans love to accuse the other party's supporters of that sin. Sadly, both are often right.
The presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has raised exploitation of ignorance to new heights. Many of the main themes of his campaign prey on it….
Trump is far from the only candidate to exploit ignorance this year, merely the most successful. Bernie Sanders, the "democratic socialist" who has mounted an unexpectedly strong challenge for the Democratic nomination, shares some of Trump's demagoguery on trade.
Like Trump, Sanders has also put forward budget projections that most experts, even in his own party, regard as fantastical. Surveys consistently show that most Americans greatly underestimate the percentage of federal spending devoted to big entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security… As a result, many voters accept Trump and Sanders' claims that we can not only deal with our serious fiscal problems without reforming them, but also pile on enormous spending increases (Sanders) or tax cuts (Trump)….
The problem of ill-informed voters is certainly not confined to Trump and Sanders, or to the 2016 election; more conventional politicians often manipulate ignorance, as well….
Although it is easy to think otherwise in the year of Trump, most of the public is not stupid. They just need better incentives to make smart choices.
The op ed in part builds on ideas presented in much greater depth in the much-revised and expanded second edition of my book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter.