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Posted by on Jun 8, 2015 in At TMV | 5 comments

Better Informed or More Misled?

Ezra Klein shows how higher information voters often lag behind more casual voters in measures of factual political knowledge on vox.com.

In a world where we pick our information and our experts based on whether we agree with them, it’s little surprise that sometimes the most informed can be the most badly misled. For instance, 9/11 truthers typically have a tremendous amount of information about 9/11 at their disposal. They know much more than the average American does about the physical composition of the Twin Towers, and the melting point of steel, and the pattern of warnings that preceded the attacks. But they have used that information to convince themselves of something that isn’t true.

 

The same process can play out, in less dramatic fashion, with hardcore partisans. In 2003, I knew a lot of very informed liberals who were skeptical that President George W. Bush would even allow a presidential election — at the time, many lefties feared the establishment of martial law, or at least the wholesale theft of the election through the use of Diebold voting machines. In 2010, I knew many very informed conservatives who believed Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim born in Kenya, and therefore ineligible to hold the presidency.

 

If you ranked these groups in terms of political knowledge, they would be off the charts. They were constantly reading about politics online, learning about the issues, talking to other high-information partisans. But their information, as voluminous as it was, had profoundly misled them. They had a much less accurate view of American politics than people who paid far less attention to the news.

 

Hurdles to voting don’t primarily select for intelligence; they select for interest in American politics. That’s why Pew finds that people are most likely to vote when they’re consistently conservative or consistently liberal. Those are the people most ferociously committed to winning the ongoing war that is American politics — and for that reason, those are the people who see the most reason to go to the polls, and those are the people the two parties make the largest effort to push to the polls.

 

But a ferocious commitment to destroying the other side in American politics doesn’t necessarily lead to clear reasoning on the issues facing the country. Partisanship is normal and even healthy in a competitive democracy, but it’s not such an unalloyed good that we should be biasing the electorate toward hardcore partisans.

 

Universal voter registration won’t necessarily mean that dumber Americans heads to the polls; it will mean that less politically attached Americans head to the polls. And in an age as polarized as this one, that’s probably a good thing.

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

http://thesensiblecentercom.blogspot.com/2015/06/klein-better-informed-or-more-misled.html

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  • Rebel Tuba

    No. Just no. If you are seriously misled, you are not “highly informed”. You have been suckered, and you have wasted your efforts. If you are highly informed, you are closer to the truth. If you’re further from the truth, you’ve been deceived, whether by yourself or others.

    • Greg

      Well, you and Ezra are both right. One can be highly factually informed but still fall prey to poor analysis of the data. Conversely, if one possesses lots of facts but not all the facts, or a balanced sampling of all the facts, it is questionable whether that person can be called highly informed. Book of Job: ‘Where can wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding?’

    • semperhonesta

      I think it depends on how you interpret the information. If you have a lot of facts about an issue, but you trust the opinion of a pundit because you agree with his/her political ideology, then you can be highly informed and completely misled by that person’s opinion or interpretation of the facts. I believe that’s the real point of this article.

      Personally, I believe the problem is pundits are paid to have a certain opinion, regardless of the truth. They will twist the facts or intentionally misinform their viewers to assert that opinion. Unfortunately, I’m not sure very many people are watching for that.

  • Slamfu

    I can empathize with the concepts put forward here. There are many old adages for this, “Check your sources”, “Garbage in, garbage out”, etc…. and the many different ways for people to get information they couldn’t access before also makes many new ways to misinform people, and I think the more craven political folks out there(most Republican) have really jumped on part of it.

    I also have a bit of sympathy for the misled voters. I happen to work in a situation where I have some free time and internet access, so I can easily spend up to 2 hours a day familiarizing myself with whats going on and sorting info. But I realize that the majority of people don’t have that time or luxury. People generally don’t know a whole lot outside their own profession, and politics is complex even without large powerful media groups and people going out of their way to plant misinformation out there. A lot of this I put on the media for not calling each other out when one of their own does so. Frankly the best source of calling liars out on their BS has been from John Stewart and his various proteges. If the regular news networks were 1/10th as good as Stewart, Colbert, Oliver on this stuff the people would be much better informed. They have simply failed as watchdogs and as journalists.

    Fortunately, GOP policies are so god awful that even low information voters are starting to clue in to the big picture. It’s so painfully slow, but it’s happening.

  • Rcoutme

    The scientific method is what is lacking. The reason that “science” is virtually always right is because the scientific method does not make something factual. Scientists look at what is, how reproducible it shows itself to be, and proposes theories as to why the reproducibility occurs. Thus: gravity is 1/r^2 between the two objects. This is a reproducible result. Why? Newton defined it as the force, “gravity”. Most scientists would be chomping at the bit to find a place where such did not occur: that would provide the possibility of a new discovery in physics!

    However, the scientific method also is a challenge. Anyone who finds an aberration in the proposed theories has the right to question the validity of the theory. Meanwhile, the robust nature of the theory tends to establish scientific acceptance.

    Consumption of ice cream (in the general population) and quantity of murders tend very closely to the same curves. In other words when one has gone up, so has the other; the same with both going down. Science does not declare ice cream consumption a horrific threat to mankind. Why? Because, unlike normal human perception, correlation DOES NOT equal causation. Experiments must be conducted to test hypotheses.

    In other words: it is not the quantity of times that ice cream consumption has correlated with murders that matters. It is whether or not a forced reduction (or increase) in the consumption has a corresponding reduction (or increase) in murders. It doesn’t, btw. Both tend to increase as the weather gets hotter.

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