Saturday, November 29, 2014

Who is a Low-Information Voter?

Typically, campaign consultants and local activists talk about the low information voters in an election as though they are stupid or fundamentally ignorant.

Parody posters like the image above give the impression that voters are vastly stupid or ignorant about what is going in the world. Surveys portrayed like the one below may support this claim:

Or maybe you've heard comments like this from citizens who don't pay attention:

The truth is that low information voters possess a great degree, a wide array of information, but not about politics.

At a recent celebration for a winning candidate, I met with a number of enthusiastic partisans. Hardly what one would call "low-information" voters.

Yet one of them acknowledged to me her ignorance about the term of a state assemblyman (do you know the answer?)

Another individual, the candidate who the election, whose victory we were celebrating, acknowledged his lack of knowledge about the individuals who held his office prior to him.

No one would suggest that these persons were stupid. Not at all.

No one would call them ignorant. No one would contend that they do not care about their country, or about their leaders' decisions.

Yet they did not know this basic information.

An auto mechanic who owns his own business told me that he had no idea who to vote for in the city council elections that year. No idea.

How could he? There were more than ten candidates, and few seats open to fill. The City of Torrance was facing a comprehensive shift in leadership, followed by top-ranking retirements.

This mechanic was not a stupid man at all, nor would anyone conclude that he was callous or uncaring. There was simply not enough time for him to invest in learning about so many issues.

Then there is the low-rider effect. One voter by himself cannot make a difference. This mentality multiplied many times over creates the low-voter turnout which pundits and social critics decry.

Critics like President John F. Kennedy:

JFK's take on low-information voters

Is it really true, thought, that the ignorance of one voter will end, or rather upend our democracy? To the Framers, that question was immaterial. The House of Representatives was the popular chamber, directly elected and thus directly accountable to the people. The US Senate would represent the states and the state legislatures would elect their representatives.

One voter without information on candidates and initiatives will not destroy or liberities. The widespread assumption that "My vote doesn't matter" will, and the ambitious willingness of interest groups to fill in that void can work to our advantage or against our liberties.

What about Ronald Reagan? What were his thoughts about the setbacks from uninformed, or rather  misinformed voters?

To know nothing is bad, but to know the wrong things as if true is worse. Liberals have grand, large-scale ideas, and they are bad ones. No matter how good they may sound, they turn out nothing but worse for use.

What are the consequences for people who take pride in remaining low-info?

Political decisions affect you and me, whether we like it or not. What goes on in City Hall does not stay there. Are you paying more for your food? Consider the recent minimum wage increases forced on businesses, or the red tape which has made it more difficult for working men to gain gainful employment. Bad policies downtown trickle down to your suburbs, too.

Crime and corruption become the norm, and no matter how much the political attuned and active may have warned, the low-information voter chose not to care.

This is not a fate which anyone should want, nor sit idly by and wait to happen.

To treat the low-information voter as a complete fool, however, is not just immoral, but false.

From the examples I related above, we should realized that American citizens all over have their own particular knowledge base, whether in their careers or other diverse interests, which does not include politics.

Washington Post columnist George Will argued that low-information voters operate from an acceptable rationale, in that their one vote does not make a difference. This fact is inescapable.

How then do we rectify this problem? Voters need to feel connected and competent that their involvement makes a difference. As long as I feel that my vote is part of a larger movement to get something accomplished, not only am I more likely to vote, but I will encourage others to do the same.

For the stay-at-home Mom, or the busy professional, for the overwhelmed business owner or the unemployed parent, the present frustrations to their well-being take great precedent over political concerns, and therefore we should not be surprised if they are low-information voters.

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