I’m often accused of being too cynical and too negative about the intelligence of voters. In contrast, I think most people put too much faith in democracy and over-estimate most voters.
Democracy has become a new faith. Simply saying the word supposedly makes an argument stronger, as though there is some inherent morality in two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. Democracy has it’s uses — it allows you to change government without any killing and it puts downward pressure on corruption. But I doubt that it leads to better policy, and indeed I think it has a built-in bias towards ever more totalitarian policy controlled by special interest groups (as suggested by Schumpeter nearly 100 years ago).
As for the intelligence of voters… well… I suspect that about half of them have below-average intelligence. 🙂
But more seriously, the issue isn’t intelligence. Plenty of smart people remain rationally ignorant of politics, and rightly so. It would make little sense becoming an expert on every policy debate just to inform your 1/15,000,000 vote between two mostly-identical political leaders. And so I find it very easy to believe that most voters don’t have a clue about health policy, or fiscal policy, or micro-economic reform, or international trade, etc. The idea that the better argument wins in democracy is laughable. Clearly, the better spin wins.
I recently came across an interesting paper looking at political knowledge in Australia. These were some of the findings:
* 55% of voters don’t know that the Senate is proportional representation
* 63% don’t know how the constitution is changed
* 70% were confused about how long between federal elections
* 30% of people don’t know who their MP is, and 40% don’t know which party they’re from
And these people control the rules you and I live by.
In other contexts, people are assumed to be quite dumb. Apparently, Australians aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions about smoking, drinking, drugs, wearing helmets, saving for their retirement, wearing seatbelts or generally taking risks. Well, if people aren’t smart enough to do those things, then I suggest they are not smart enough to run my life.
Democracy may be better than dictatorships… but it’s still shit.