The Myth of the Rational Voter

I heard an interesting interview on CBC Radio One today with Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, and the author of The Myth of the Rational Voter.

I haven't read the book -- and, after hearing some of Caplan's suggestions,1 I don't plan to. But I agreed with some of his arguments.

He points out that the large majority of voters isn't merely uninformed, but badly misinformed. Bad ideas and false notions are accepted uncritically by large segments of the population, and this has significant consequences at election time. And a lot of people, he said, make irrational choices for emotional reasons.

One doesn't have to look too hard to see this at work. I read the other day about the large numbers of women who have changed their mind about voting for Obama now that Sarah Palin -- a regular mom, like them -- is McCain's running mate. Only when politicians' actual political positions are considered less important than the shape of their reproductive organs could such a switch possibly take place. Utterly irrational, but still happening right in front of our eyes.

Here in Canada, the Tories are playing right into voter stupidity with their asinine TV spots. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is shown talking about how much he loves being a father, how much respect he has for veterans, blah, blah, blah. At the end we see: "Canada: We're Better Off With Harper."

Why? Because he likes to play cards with his kids? It's sad to think that anyone might actually be influenced by this.


[1] One of Caplan's suggestions in the interview (but not, apparently, in the book), is that there should be a test that everyone should be required to pass before they can vote. That a politically neutral test could ever be created and fairly administered strikes me as profoundly naïve. I sort of lost interest in what he has to say after he suggested that.

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