The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Problem #1 With Democracy: Voters Are Stupid

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 17, 2010 @ 09:44

One my my favourite pieces of news these past few days is this gem, which illustrates why – maybe – we have to be a little cautious about consulting the people too regularly…

… a Pew Research Center poll released Friday showed that nearly half of Americans incorrectly think the government’s bank bailout was enacted by President Barack Obama.

The Pew Research Center’s latest News IQ Quiz showed that 47 percent incorrectly said that the Troubled Asset Relief Program was signed into law by Obama, while only 34 percent correctly said that the bailout was enacted under the Bush administration.

All this despite the fact that, as far as I know, no Republican has ever come out and actually said the words “President Obama’s TARP bank bailout”, i.e. directly attributed this bailout to Obama. The reason is simple, because they would immediately be called a liar, trying to hide from the fact that it was President George W. Bush who created the program.

Because we’re all humans, and we all use our brains to varying degrees, people like to think they know what they’re talking about. Everyone thinks they can add 2 + 2; everyone likes to think they have some degree of critical thinking, but not everyone can get the answer of the 4.

That is the problem here. Republicans have done enough to muddy the waters, make the voters think the economic impact of the last 18 months is because of what Obama did, and nothing to do with those eight years of Republican regulation-removing, deficit-busting profligacy, shovelling shedfuls of cash to the rich in tax cuts.

Then they’ve let the voters take care of the rest, thinking there is some big-government conspiracy going on to turn America into a socialist paradise, whatever that is.

Meanwhile the Democrats are trapped. If they come out and challenge misperceptions like this, the Republicans can paint them for attacking a straw man, since no one actually said it in the first place. “Too busy trying to cover their tracks rather than resolving the financial crisis!” they’d say, making the voter even more suspicious of Democrats.

Such a good idea, but I'm not sure they'll cope with AV...

And naturally, as time goes by, voters with short memories soon attribute blame to the present government, regardless of what the actual facts on the ground are.

Yes, we all make factual errors from time to time. But this is more. This is about people wilfully ignoring reality because they have already decided only the opposite can be true. Correcting such a misconception, once its embedded in people’s minds, is almost impossible. That’s why levels of crime are so low, whilst people’s perception of crime is so stubbornly high, no matter what the politicians say.

Too many voters these days are think-they-know-it-alls, mistrusting statistical fact in favour of rumours, gossip, conspiracy theories, what Facebook/Twitter says, and downright lies. It’s far more exciting after all to believe that “they can’t be trusted” or “they don’t understand what it’s like to be one of us”. It distracts us from our mundane, boring, simple reality. And who wants that when we can pretend they don’t trust us to handle the truth?

Democracy will eat itself if such cynicism isn’t stopped.

But while we can change our politicians, we can’t change the electorate…

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One Response to “Problem #1 With Democracy: Voters Are Stupid”

  1. Nietzsche said

    Obama as a Senator voted for the TARP.

    Obama as a Presidential Candidate lobbied his party and the people to support the TARP.

    As President he implemented and expanded the TARP and bailouts of the rich and powerful generally.

    Perhaps that suffices for the TARP being politically owned by Obama?

    Of course it does.

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