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They overvalue anything that supports their preexisting views, and to undervalue or ignore new data that cuts against them, even to the extent of misinterpreting simple data that they could easily interpret correctly in other contexts. Moreover, those most interested in politics are also particularly prone to discuss it only with others who agree with their views, and to follow politics only through like-minded media.

All of this makes little sense if the goal is truth-seeking. A truth-seeker should actively seek out defenders of views opposed to their own.

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Those are the people most likely to present you arguments and evidence of which you were previously unaware. But such bias makes perfect sense if the goal is not so much truth as enhancing the fan experience. The problems of political ignorance and irrationality are accentuated by the enormous size and scope of modern government.

The most obvious way to overcome political ignorance is by increasing knowledge through education. Unfortunately, political knowledge levels have increased very little over the last fifty to sixty years, even as educational attainment has risen enormously. Rising IQ scores have also failed to increase political knowledge. Perhaps the solution is a better public school curriculum that puts more emphasis on civic education. The difficulty is that governments have very little incentive to ensure that public schools really do adopt curricula that increase knowledge.

If the voters effectively monitored education policy and rewarded elected officials for using public schools to increase political knowledge, things might be different. Even if public schools did begin to do a better job of teaching political knowledge and minimized indoctrination, it is hard to see how students could learn enough to understand and monitor more than a small fraction of the many complex activities of modern government. Incremental improvements are probably possible. In Chapter 4 of my book, I discuss many different types of shortcuts and explain why they are usually not as effective as advocates suggest.

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Shortcuts can indeed be useful, and political ignorance would be an even more serious problem without them. But they also have serious limitations, and sometimes they make the problem of ignorance worse rather than better. If things are looking up, they can reward the incumbents at election time. Unfortunately, effective retrospective voting requires more knowledge than we might think. Studies show that voters routinely reward and punish political leaders for events they have little control over, particularly short-term economic trends. The second common shortcoming of shortcuts is that we often choose them for reasons other than getting at the truth.

Unfortunately, if we look at the most popular opinion leaders, most of them are not people notable for their impressive knowledge of public policy issues. They are people like Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart, whose main asset is their skill at entertaining their audience and validating its preexisting biases. Such a happy outcome is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely in the real world. Foot Voting vs.

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There is no easy solution to the problem of political ignorance. Two types of foot voting have important informational advantages over ballot box voting. The first is when we vote with our feet in the private sector, by choosing which products to buy or which civil society organizations to join. If you are like most people, you probably spent more time and effort acquiring information the last time you decided which car or TV to buy than the last time you decided who to support for president.

Is that because the presidency is less important than your TV, or deals with less complicated issues?

In fact, they have strong incentives to seek out useful information. They also have much better incentives to objectively evaluate what they do learn. Far from it.

But, on average, they do a much better job than ballot box voters do. In the book, I discuss some dramatic cases of foot voters acquiring and effectively using information even under highly adverse conditions. This, despite the fact that southern state governments deliberately tried to keep them ignorant by impeding the flow of information about opportunities in the North. Foot voting certainly did not solve all the problems of oppressed African-Americans in the Jim Crow era.

Nothing could in a society as racist as early 20th century America. But it did significantly improve their situation.


  1. Tsunagaru mise o tsukuru (Japanese Edition).
  2. Introduction: Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, 2nd edition;
  3. "Book Review. Somin, Ilya, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Small" by Steve Sanders.
  4. The Ignorant Voter.
  5. Der Bergdoktor - Folge 1681: Kleiner Engel in Gefahr (German Edition).

The informational advantages of foot voting over ballot box voting strengthen the case for limiting and decentralizing government. The more decentralized government is, the more issues can be decided through foot voting.

Representing the People: British Democracy in an Age of Political Ignorance - Phil Parvin,

It is also usually easier to foot vote in the private sector than the public. A given region is likely to have far more private planned communities and other private sector organizations than local governments. Many people understand that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome of an election and don't see the point in learning much about politics. This creates a nation of people with little political knowledge and little ability to objectively evaluate what they do know. The second edition of Democracy and Political Ignorance fully updates its analysis to include new and vital discussions on the implications of the "Big Sort" for politics, the link between political ignorance and the disproportionate political influence of the wealthy, assessment of proposed new strategies for increasing political knowledge, and up-to-date survey data on political ignorance during recent elections.

Ilya Somin mines the depths of the current state of ignorance in America and reveals it as a major problem for democracy. He weighs various options for solving this problem, provocatively arguing that political ignorance is best mitigated and its effects lessened by decentralizing and limiting government.


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