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03.19.2012 0

Are voters uninformed?

By Adam Bitely — Political scientists and perhaps some politicians are usually surprised that more people do not participate in elections. A high turnout for an election in the U.S. is around 50 percent of the eligible population, or a little more.

Many economists, though, are surprised that so many people show up to vote. When considering the likelihood that any single vote will be decisive in deciding the result of an election, the odds are incredibly low. In a presidential election, the odds that any one vote cast will impact the results are very close to 0 percent.

But all that is beside the point when you look at how informed voters are on the issues and candidates that are up for election.

In an article last week in Politico titled “How much do voters know?”, Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling said, “The first lesson you learn as a pollster is that people are stupid. I tell a client trying to make sense of numbers on a poll that are inherently contradictory that at least once a week.”

Jensen seems to be in the camp that would be surprised by low voter turnout on Election Day. He also seems to believe that if you don’t conduct thorough research on candidates for public office and the issues of the day then you are “stupid”, as he put it.

The fact is that conducting research can be hard and time consuming. If you were to sit down and read up on the candidates and the issues, you would be investing a great deal of time to obtain all of the information necessary to develop a well-informed position on someone or something. Simply put, search costs are high.

Just imagine if you were to set aside time in your schedule to conduct a thorough background on the positions taken by Mitt Romney on various issues. You would be doing a lot of research due to the fact that he has changed positions on almost all of his issues.

In that same Politico article, the case is made that voters are uninformed about how little the President can actually affect the price of gas, and that because of this lack of information, Obama is being unfairly penalized in public opinion surveys as the price of gas continues to rise. It is true that Obama can do little to change the price at the pump, but don’t blame voters for thinking he can do more.

Most politicians routinely make claims of all the things they can do to make things better. Obama is part of that group. When he ran for President he ran on “fixing” the economy. He argued for bailouts to fix Wall Street. He argued for “stimulus” to put Americans back to work.

But his wizardry stops short at the gas pump. Suddenly he can’t do anything. But what people like Tom Jensen fail to understand is that people do pay attention to the multitude of public pronouncements that politicians make. And that is how many voters form their opinions.

Voters did pay attention to all the rhetoric that Obama delivered on a multitude of issues, and due to the fact that Obama usually suggests government can fix whatever the issue of the day is, many voters likely formed the opinion that he (and the government) can do quite a bit to influence the price of gas and get it lowered immediately.

The voters aren’t necessarily uninformed, they just take in what the politicians say and also believe that they mean what they say. Voters don’t have much of an incentive to become well-educated economists or policy wonks. Instead, many voters instead get most of their information on the candidates and issues through various news outlets that they prefer. Politicians realize this and accordingly dish out rhetoric that will play well to those various audiences.

Pollsters and others in the political class in D.C. should learn from this. When politicians make it a matter of routine to inform voters that they possess powers that can cure all problems that lay before the nation, it is only fair when voters react negatively when the politicians are revealed to be the frauds they really are — charlatans who peddle rhetoric as if they are wizards, but are just meddling alchemists that lack mystical powers.

Adam Bitely is the Editor-in-Chief of NetRightDaily.com. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamBitely.

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