Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rational Ignorance of Government

Ilya Somin over at Volokh Conspiracy often blogs about how the average American is rationally ignorant of government.  They don't know much about it, they don't particularly care what it does--and this is rational.  It's not worth spending a lot of time voting, because your vote doesn't change much.

I cringe when I read stuff like that.  Yet now that I am teaching State & Local Government again, it is clear that this accurately describes the 1/3 of the American adult population that never votes.  Some of these are 20somethings, but even many of the adults in their 40s aren't clear on the difference between a state legislature and Congress.  Why?  They never much cared what government does, and so didn't pay attention.


  1. Hard to believe that it is not for the best that that one-third does not vote.

  2. Oddly enough, many of these students are pretty conservative. Perhaps that's just Boise.

  3. I think I prefer those who don't vote at all to those who just blindly check off every D on the ballot because they were told they were "good".

  4. I've always thought that the large numbers of "don't vote at all" are a useful ... reserve, you might say, against extreme excursions in American politics. They're a huge reserve of people who can register and vote a particular bum or set of bums out if the latter try to pull something that's just too raw.

    Obama's "shock and awe socialism" might prove to be a partial example of that (the more likely so the more true unemployment worsens). It's certainly the case that Nixon's Silent Majority isn't so quiet any more.