Voting for misperceptions - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 2 (permalink) Old 11-07-2006, 06:01 PM Thread Starter
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Voting for misperceptions

The Myth of the Rational Voter

by Bryan Caplan
Lead Essay
November 6th, 2006
There's an election tomorrow. Do voters know what they're doing? According to the typical economist — and many political scientists — the answer is "No, but it doesn't matter." How could it not matter? The main argument is that the public's errors cancel out.[1] For example, some people underestimate the benefits of immigration, and others overestimate the benefits. But as long as the average voter's belief is true, politicians win by promoting immigration policies based on the facts.

This story is clearly comforting, but is it correct? Are the average voter's beliefs true? In The Myth of the Rational Voter, my forthcoming book with Princeton University Press, I review a large body of evidence and conclude that the answer is definitely no. Like moths to the flame, voters gravitate to the same mistakes. They do not cancel each other out; they compound.

In my book, and in this essay, I focus on the public's mistaken beliefs about economics. Partly, this is because I am an economist, but mainly it is because economics is such a clear example of a subject that is politically important ("It's the economy, stupid,") yet poorly understood. I suspect that the public's errors extend far beyond economics. There is convincing evidence that the public holds systematically biased beliefs about toxicology and cancer.[2] In foreign policy, similarly, we have the "rally round the flag" effect, the public's tendency to support wars as soon as they have been declared. But even if the average voter perfectly understood every non-economic subject, misconceptions about economics by themselves would pose a serious problem for democracy.

MUCH, much more at:
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old 11-07-2006, 06:04 PM Thread Starter
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Interesting referenced source of stats used by the article, above.
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