In the wake of controversy over Alexandra Pelosi’s video about ignorant voters in Mississippi, my former colleague Dave Weigel argues that voter ignorance isn’t really a problem because their political beliefs are not dependent on reason or knowledge:
Most voter ignorance, if it was cured by logic and reason and long sessions of NPR, would be replaced by the same voter preferences, justified in different ways. There are Mississippi Republicans who hate Obama because they think he’s a Muslim. Take that away, and they’ll hate him because they’re conservatives and he isn’t. Only 11 percent of Mississippi whites voted for Barack Obama, but only 14 percent voted for John Kerry. These aren’t people who’ll change their minds if they fully grokked the president’s bio.
That is why ignorant voters don’t get to swing a presidential election. The conservative who rules out all new information, who has “silo’ed” himself with talk radio news, has a party he can vote for reliably. The Bill Maher TiVo-er has a party he can vote for, too.
But I think this ignores the many ways that public ignorance does impact the country in very important ways. It distorts policy, for example, through public opinion polls. Ignorant voters push school boards to teach creationism and give politicians the ability to convince people that if we just pumped more oil ourselves, gas prices would go down. So yes, voter ignorance does matter. It matters a lot.