Are Uninformed Voters Justified?

The Uninformed Voter is an Irrational Voter 

We are living in a time where we are completely surrounded by uninformed people making irrational decisions that are drastically affecting our country and culture. But, do not take this with an angry tone of voice. How are people supposed to make rational decisions when they are fed the lie that they need not worry about reading the fine print on every bill and law that’s brought to the table when that is what their elected political representatives are for? 

Most social scientists agree that voters are uninformed on the majority of important issues. This error is so substantial that it will undoubtedly lead more people to make errors. However, the popular Miracle of Aggregation states that no one needs to worry about uninformed voters because all the uninformed votes will cancel each other out, and in the end, only the informed votes will be counted. This logic makes no sense. One good apple in a barrel of 99 rotten apples, hardly makes it a barrel of good apples. That one good apple will be drowned out by all the rest.

The Miracle of Aggregation also assumes that the uninformed voters are making random errors, and voting completely willy-nilly with no bias or thought. Voters do not make random errors but systemic errors. All people have a bias that will determine which way they will vote. That bias could be as simple as not liking the President’s favourite sports team or the colour of his socks, or a bias against the free market or foreign trade. But nonetheless, it will change the way they choose to vote, and this completely upends the theory of the Miracle of Aggregation.

Another term often used to describe uninformed voters and their rationale for being uninformed is Rational Ignorance. It is a public choice term, but Brian Caplin disputes this idea of ignorance with two main questions. 1) Why do people gravitate toward false beliefs, instead of remaining agnostic? 2) Why do people barely read anything and are still confident in their beliefs and positions, and then angry at those who disagree? The answer… it’s irrationality. 

False beliefs are cheap. There is very little work involved and not much incentive to research the right belief. If a person has an incorrect view about minimum wage, that view hardly changes anything in his life. He knows that his single vote, right or wrong, is going to have a minuscule effect. It takes work to become informed about all the political issues of a person’s hometown, state, and country. And it takes precious time away from work, family, hobbies, and leisure time, so it is no wonder that the majority of voters are uninformed.

But why then, if a person knows that his beliefs may be wrong, and doesn’t take the time to become informed, does he become so quick to anger when someone disagrees with him? 

Someone who’s quickly angered and defensive has chosen the easy route to hold onto cheap principles. There is little to no effort involved in having your beliefs decided by what makes you feel good and socially accepted. The uninformed voter decided that his time and effort were too valuable to spend educating himself on political, economic, and social issues. But not wanting to appear lazy or unpatriotic, he defends his socially accepted principles with a fierce disposition. These are not symptoms of ignorant voters, but irrational voters.

“Despite their lack of knowledge, voters are not humble agnostics; instead, they confidently embrace a long list of misconceptions.”

Brian Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter

The Definition of Political Representation 

There is another reason that the uninformed voter is justified in staying uninformed. The democratic system has promised that a political representative of your choice will make sure your views are made heard while spending the time you do not have to learn and research about all the political, economic, and social issues. But are political representatives actually representatives? Those who represent us are to do so at our command and stop at our command. But this is hardly what elected politicians do.

Is a political representative an agent? The definition of an agent is someone who is required to carry out the will of a person or persons who hired him. According to the online Dictionary, Britannica “an agent or agency, in law, a relationship in which one party (the agent) acts on behalf of and under the control of another (the principal) in dealing with third parties.”  This sounds a lot like what a political representative is. A person or persons hire (elect) a representative that is paid by tax dollars to represent their views and beliefs in government and act accordingly. However, what if the group has contrasting views on an issue? What if one of them didn’t like the person elected to represent them? In this case, how is the political representative going to properly represent them? It is clear that the definition of an agent does not aline with the definition of a political representative.

Is a political representative a trustee? The job of a trustee is to carry out the best interests of a person or persons, even if the person who hired the trustee does not agree with the trustee who is acting in his best interest.

“Or is he a trustee, free to act in the interests of those whom he represents according to his own best judgment of what those interests are? Or is he neither an agent nor a delegate, being simply able to do more or less whatever he likes once elected? Or are there other possibilities in addition to these?”

Gerard N. Casey – The Indefensibility of Political Representation

The political representative is not really a representative at all. The system is broken, and the uninformed voters have even less incentive to care about who or what they’re voting for, because their views, beliefs, and principles, may not even be represented by the person they elect. The central and fundamental key to democracy is the idea of representation. Those being ruled are in effect ruling themselves. It gets rid of the hierarchical system of the rulers and the rules, the oppressors and the oppressed. Therefore, the justification of having political governance relies upon democracy, which is justified by political representation.  “If the bough of representation were to break, then down would come the cradle of democracy, baby and all” (Gerard N. Casey – The Indefensibility of Political Representation).

Concluding Thoughts

It seems there is little reason for the voter to become informed. The time, effort, and dedication to become somewhat knowledgeable in past and current political, economical, and social issues are hardly worth it. Besides, the voter is also spending money, taxes that are mandatorily taken, to hire a politician who’s soul purpose is to represent him and his best interests. But we have seen there is little actual representation in a political representative. There is a threat to democracy, and not because of the latest President, Prime Minister or protests on Parliament Hill, but because the bough of representation is quickly breaking. The system is broken, and the voters know they have no power to try and fix it until the whole thing completely collapses and they can rebuild it a better way from the ground up.


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