"Why Aren't They Interested In Politics?" Lessons From The Public Choice School
We've all heard the charge, that voters are ignorant of the parties, people and policies that they are voting for.
Some argue that we have little choice in the matter. Propounding this view are those who believe that we, the people are subject to a regime of power hungry, malignant leaders who enslave us through the use of propaganda and misinformation to encourage this ignorance. On the other side of the same coin, you have those that argue we are so fattened by excess that we don't care what our governments do, as long as we can still line our pockets in gold and live in plenty. Ignorance from bliss.
Others still might simply say our ignorance is due to a general idiocy of the population. They argue that we must inform ourselves, so that we can ensure a properly governed society.
Public choice theory is essentially an economics based school of the political sciences. One insight it has is the use of rational decision making in the voting process. Precisely put, individuals have a near microscopic chance of actually effecting an election result, so it would be irrational for them to collect large amounts of information on elections. The cost is so great, and the benefit so small, that it would simply be irrational. They might rather focus on certain issues that effect them highly, and this explains why people may decide their vote on the basis of a single policy.
Luckily the media, internet etc offer ways of bringing down the costs of informing yourself, but it's still not a particularly worthwhile exercise (Unless you are the kind of person who gets utility from impressing your friends with an encyclopedic knowledge of Australian politics, or a journalist/blogger).
So next time you worry about politics and the fact that voters aren't armed with the kind of information that you might desire them to be, take solace in the fact that they are probably the rational ones.
Tom Camp (Image by Jac Depczyk)