If you don’t know much about the electoral races on the ballot, should you cast a vote? In addition to serious discussions of that topic, TIME magazine’s Joel Stein tackles the issue in his latest “Awesome Column.”
Once I knew I was a high-information voter, though, I wasn’t sure it was a good idea for our society to pressure low-information voters into casting ballots. Cornell constitutional-law professor Michael Dorf told me that the Founding Fathers, like me, were not Rock the Vote kind of guys: they permitted states to require voters to own property and allowed only elected officials to vote for Senators and the President. My position of not encouraging everyone to vote, he said, was “a high Federalist view. And there’s a reason the Federalist Party died out in the early 19th century.” If this was a constitutional-law scholar’s idea of a zinger, I could see why Obama sucks at debating.
After much searching for someone who agreed with me and hasn’t been dead for 175 years, I found Jason Brennan, an assistant professor at Georgetown, who wrote The Ethics of Voting. He argued that Dorf and [University of California at San Diego political science professor Samuel] Popkin are wrong because voters, who understand how little effect their individual votes have tend to vote not selfishly but for what they believe is best for the nation, even if they have no idea what that is. Low-information voters, Brennan says, vote for all kinds of things they think are good for America but aren’t. In studies with hypothetical elections, 30% of people change their mind after being given more information. Low-information voters–even Democratic ones–tend to be protectionist, anti-immigration, anti–gay marriage and hawkish. So we get candidates lambasting China and Mexicans and talking about “clean coal,” which is an unconvincing phrase to anyone who has ever tried to shower using a lump of coal.