January 30, 2008

Voter awareness

A reader writes:

On the subject of voter ignorance, one of the great revelations to me has been the research tending to show that the voters most likely to keep an open mind about candidates are also the most ignorant. Conversely, voters who have acquired the most political information are also the most partisan and ideological which, on reflection, is not surprising, since its their partisanship that inspires them to acquire political knowledge in the first place. Hardly anyone seeks out knowledge for the (boring) purpose of making an informed voting decision.

Only when you look at ignorant voters do find people who arent so cabined by their ideological or partisan loyalties that they will consider voting for any candidate. So, it is not only possible but probable that the voters who went for McCain have no idea what McCain actually stands for. They probably, as you suggest, use a heuristic like McCain is the maverick candidate and thats what we need right now. Little do they know that McCain actually wants to extend Bushs failed policies.

All this was set forth in Philip Converses extraordinary paper The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics. I cant find it online, but heres a fair summary: http://www.brucesabin.com/nature_of_belief_systems.html.

The typical undecided voter is not like Mickey Kaus in 2000, who argued with himself on his blog back and forth for ten days in a row before finally deciding to vote for Gore.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

I suspect, from anecdotal evidence, that this is an unusual primary in that because of all the buzz and excitement generated, it is pulling in more average (and ignorant) voters. You once said something about the caliber of our Presidents over the span of American history and its relation to the intelligence of the voters.

I have yet to hear of a McCain voter here in Florida, encountered by anyone in my circle, who knew he was for amnesty, let alone the fact that the legislation has his name on it. The stories all end the same: they are upset with themselves when they find out.

Anonymous said...

"Regrettably, the elites are such a small minority of the electorate that they have only marginal impact on elections. The vast amount of political weight is carried by people who cannot accurately differentiate between ‘liberal' and ‘conservative.'"

Depressing, but not surprising. As my father always says, "Suffrage needs to belong only to property owning men!" Of course, that would mean I would be disenfranchised, but I could live with that if it led to wiser leaders.

Anonymous said...

that is accurate and sad. steve - do you really not have CNN? you need a fundraising drive for a year of cable.

Anonymous said...

It's a combination of people still framing him as anti-Bush from the 2000 race and the general respect that's owed to POW's.

Keep in mind he's winning primaries with roughly only a 1/3 of the vote.

Of course, when all the republican candidates (save Ron Paul) are more or less in favor of the iraq war it takes away that needed contrast to truly see what McCain stands for.

TGGP said...

Critical Review had an issue on Converse which included his article. I don't have that, but I do provide Volume 19 Issue 1 here.

Justin said...

Saw a great example of this in the last elections here in Arizona. The exact same group of people, in the exact same election, reelected both Jon Kyle (Senator) and Janet Napolitano (Governor). It is beyond my ability to explain how they were able to drive home after voting without being disabled by a massive attack of cognitive dissonance, if we assume they exercised cognition. Clearly, thought was not an element of their voting behavior.

Anonymous said...

i find it hard to believe that people understand what they are voting for when they vote for john mccain. it just does not seem possible that they actually want what he is sure to deliver.

he even voted AGAINST tax cuts. AGAINST them.

who votes for the republican who voted against tax cuts?

Anonymous said...

JUAN McCain.

Lets call him JUAN McCain. Therefore the voters will not be so readily decieved about what he stands for. Perhaps we can call him JUAN "five aero-planes McCain" or Juan 894th McCain, but we need to get the Juan in there.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably voting Democrat, but do you conservatives want this "100 years of Iraq" fool in there? Better Obama. Obama, assuming he does next to nothing, is better for America.

Hate to get all IQ on you (nobody likes Mensa), but we've already seen what a third-rate man does as president. Have you guys ever had a third-rate man as your BOSS? Have you seen the retarding effect this has, institution-wide? Electing a competent human being is a BIG deal, and this farce we have is disgusting. Think about where you've worked...and think where we are, and where the drawbacks of over-intelligence puts us...indecision? GREAT! Sit there. Do nothing. GREAT!

Anonymous said...

The reason for poor voter awareness is the schedule.

Unlike previous primary seasons, this one kicked off just a few days after New Years. Which meant critical debates and such did not take place in late Jan-Feb when people pay attention but over the Holidays when people tuned out.

The primary season is also compressed compared to last time, so there is no "uh-oh" time for voters to reconsider ala with Howard Dean and the Dean-scream. Obama and McAmnesty have benefited most. Both the Messiah and Lettuce McAmnesty skated past rival attack ads and critical press off the attack ads that characterized last primary on the Democrat side, and in 2000 among Republicans.

A shortened, compressed schedule with votes right up against the Holidays benefits a guy who's already "known" and has favorables. Hence McCain. It's also benefited the "swoon" stuff for Obama since no one is seriously looking at his record at some leisure.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of awareness ...

This chart of book popularity among college students as a function of SAT scores is in dire need of your attention.

Anonymous said...

McCain’s performance in the debate at the Reagan Library on CNN tonight was appalling. McCain was nasty, almost unhinged, dishonest and hypocritical. He attempted to flip flop on amnesty but wouldn’t even discuss what should be done regarding the millions of illegal aliens already here. All he would say is that he would not vote for his own bill, McCain-Kennedy, and that he would use “vehicle barriers” and get the border state governors to “certify” the border was “secure.”

It has now been confirmed that McCain called for timetables and benchmarks months before Romney discussed them but for McCain, Romney’s endorsement of private goals in Iraq is proof he is John Kerry but McCain’s call for timetables and benchmarks is down the memory hole. And you can count on the Mainstream Media to keep it that way, at least until the general election.

Most of the Mainstream Media praised McCain’s wacky and piss poor performance while the undecided voters hooked up to meters ranked McCain as terrible. But those voters were forced to watch the debate when the vast majority of such voters don’t and instead depend on a few seconds of summary from the Mainstream Media, which is in the tank for McCain.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I'm posting from the UK, and don't feel qualified to discuss the merits of US presidential candidates.

I'm curious about one thing. Isn't voter turnout in US elections really, really low? What would you think of the US embracing the Australian system, in which voting is compulsory, and people are fined for not voting? I understand that Australians who don't like any of the candidates have a means of registering that distaste too, if they want.

How would it change election results?

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about one thing. Isn't voter turnout in US elections really, really low? What would you think of the US embracing the Australian system, in which voting is compulsory, and people are fined for not voting? I understand that Australians who don't like any of the candidates have a means of registering that distaste too, if they want.

How would it change election results?

It would be a return to the 19th century. In this article, Steve sums the IQ history of the electorate:

"Inspired by this rule of thumb, historian Chapin offered a novel theory for why the first six Presidents were so smart on average, while the braininess of Presidents from Andrew Jackson through William McKinley tended to be unimpressive, and then 20th Century presidents rebounded to be generally fairly bright.

He suggests that the IQ gap between the average President and the average voter has stayed roughly the same, but the voters have changed in average intelligence level. Up through 1824, the electorate was quite smart because only elite property owners could vote. Then, politics became a kind of national spectator sport with huge turnouts, so the IQ of voters fell to the mean. Therefore, we stopped electing geniuses like Jefferson and Madison and started electing nondescript politicos like Franklin Pierce and Rutherford B. Hayes.

Then, a century ago, other forms of mass entertainment came along. Turnout dropped, especially among the dimmer elements. This allowed clever men like Nixon, Carter, Bush the Elder (Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, graduating in 2.5 years), and Clinton to win elections."

Anonymous said...

America, John McCain's sixth plane.

I like it as an anti-slogan.

Anonymous said...

I agree with previous posters, but the problem lies with Romney not being able to get those points across. McCain has the bullet proof cloak of having been a POW, which makes anyone critical of his military career look inexcusably mean spirited.

It's obvious that the Republican "machine" has decreed that McCain will be our next president, because he's viewed as someone Democrats will vote for, over Clinton or Obama. Romney is not an effective public speaker. He comes across as incredibly boring, and I think Huckabee made the point that he reminds too many of the boss who laid them off, and then went on a ski vacation.

Romney (and for that matter, Paul) should take lessons from Huckabee in public speaking. Huckabee is a very effective and engaging speaker.

It is appalling that Americans don't know McCain sponsored legislation with his name on it, which the majority of them wholeheartedly oppose. I don't know how so many people can be so willfully ignorant, with information blasted at them from every direction; but why isn't Romney making hay with that damaging fact? That's an example of his lack of skill.

McCain is shrewdly using Huckabee, who knows he's not going to win, to stay in the race long enough to destroy Romney's chances. Huckabee probably thinks he's going to get a VP out of it, but I think he will be sadly mistaken.

Politics is a game, and McCain is better at playing it than Romney. Most of us apparently vote like we do everything else in this country - make an emotional decision, and then look for reasons to justify it. Romney's inability to touch emotions with his speeches is proving to be his undoing.

Anonymous said...

Some years ago, Robert Heinlein wrote a book called, "Starship Troopers." A movie version exists, although the book is much better. In this story, the voting franchise is limited to those who have served in the military or have some other significant achievement. Ordinary non-veterans are not permitted to vote.

I've often wondered if this wouldn't be a better system than the one we have now. Get out the vote campaigns and compulsory voting have always seemed the height of folly to me. Why should ignorant, indifferent individuals who have made no effort to study the candidates and the issues be encouraged to vote? Better that the lumpenproletariat stay at home watching TV and drinking beer while those who have actually taken the trouble to become informed go and vote.

Anonymous said...

Adopting the Australian system would make the results even more media-driven, I'd think. But I'm sure most of us here would hate the idea out of principle. Some would like a rational way to limit the franchise to people who at least could pick the candidates out of a lineup. Me, I'm a Heinleinist — I'd limit the franchise to honorably discharged vets. That way the electorate, if not the politicians, would have some idea of what war entails, and not be so cavalier about the implications of war and the threat of it.

Anonymous said...

Heinleinist anon, I'm sorry to tell you war is interested in you regardless if you are not interested in it. Globalization + nuclear proliferation + Always Pissed off Muslims = war.

Besides why limit participation in voting to veterans when war can come to office workers in a building, or passengers on a plane? Or maybe just people in a city, and then a flash, heat, a pressure wave?

None of the candidates will talk about that, since there are no easy solutions. NATO generals are already talking about nuking proliferators pre-emptively (because they're scared out of their minds that the next time the Pope says something or an artist makes a cartoon -- booom!)

McCain's probably the worst of the lot since he loves the Press too much. He'll pander to them rather than address reality.

Anonymous said...

McCain was absolutely brutal last night. They asked him how he was qualified to run the economy, and within about 20 seconds he was talking about being a POW. That's all he's got.

I only caught the last 15 minutes or so of the debate, but Romney sounded pretty good. I wish he were more socially conservative, but at least I know where he stands fiscally. He would run the country like a business.

Anonymous said...

It's weird to think that a major benefit in getting elected president is being someone that it's hard to attack without being seen as slimy, like a POW, a black guy, or a woman.

The Democrats could conceivably lose my vote this November, but the Republicans can't gain it (since Ron Paul has no real chance of winning). After the last seven years, I simply don't expect either competence or any kind of adherence to principles from the Republicans. McCain or Romney may promise to deal with immigration, but who would believe them, at this point? (Should I believe Romney, whose deeply-held beliefs track the latest polls? Or maybe McCain, who is pretty explicitly for making the problem worse?) I expect little better from the Democrats, but maybe we can at least get ourselves out of the business of imposing democracies at gunpoint and maybe ease up a bit on the spying on Americans and torturing suspicious looking Arabs.