Voters ARE Stupid… Even When They Agree With Me

— Matt Welch reports on the horrified lefty reactions to the Schwarzenagger election. To sum it up, voters are stupid. Now, Matt's right to imply that there's almost certainly some level of hypocrisy here. When the majority agrees with you, you'll tend to wax enthusiastic about the “mandate” for change established by the unimpeachable legitimacy of the “general will.” On the other hand, when the majority disagrees, then it's just that voters are stupid, and we all need to be VERY VERY worried about voter ignorance and their susceptibility to manipulation.

I think the latter position is ALWAYS CORRECT!

Some democracy fetishist political theorists like to trumpet Condorcet's theorem, which states that if voters in general are more likely than not to make the right choice, then the greater the number of voters, the greater the chance the election will deliver right answer. In fact, given a smart electorate, the probability that they'll get it right approaches certainty when you get a voting population as big as California's. What democracy fetishists don't so often point out is that the downside is exactly as nasty as the upside is nice. If voters in general are more likely than not to make the wrong choice, then the probablitity that they'll make the right choice quickly approaches zero as the number voters increases.

So, the question is: are voters smart or stupid? Answer: They are very very stupid!

Almost no one has or even can have the relevant information. And even if they CAN have the relevant information, it will be an immense waste of their scarce time and energy to get it, so they WON'T get it. The evidence points to stupid voters. (I am not impressed with models that argue that following the lead of parties, interest groups, and so forth is a low-cost trick that improves the quality of voter decisions. Parties and interest groups are stupid too!)

So my conclusion about Schwarzennegger is that he was almost certainly the wrong choice, or if he was they right choice, almost everybody voted for him for the WRONG REASON. But this is not unique to Schwarzenegger. The point is perfectly general. Winning an election with incredibly high turnout is about the best possible evidence that you shouldn't have won!

Yes, I'm being a bit flip. But only a bit!

  • stylized.fact

    Personally, I’d recommend reading Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans book.