Are Voters Stupid? 

The people are to blame for the presidential choices

The people are to blame for the presidential choices

While it has been fashionable to point out that voters hold both major presidential candidates in low regard, the biggest losers this election season are probably the voters themselves.

That is said not in the usual, superficial way that suggests they are the poor victims of the bad choices in front of them. Rather, it is said in the sense that, however disappointing the candidates may be this time through, they’ve at least outperformed the voters. After all, the voters are the ones who gave them to us. It’s not like they didn’t have other primary choices; it’s not like there aren’t plenty of third-party choices.

One of the underlying principles of democracy is a belief in the collective wisdom of the people. One of the corollaries is the assertion that “politicians” are an inherently corrupt class and the problems of the nation are the result of that tribe of self-servers seeking their own interests in defiance of the wisdom of the people.

Unfortunately this year, the media has given a lot of attention to the attitudes of “the people,” affording them, for example, opportunities aplenty to speak in panels of “undecided voters.” It has been an unhappy sight.

If the voters are having a hard time distinguishing differences between the candidates, it’s not because those distinctions don’t exist. It’s because the voters aren’t willing to put forth the minimal time required to find out. After all, not even one in five Americans watched the debates and even fewer watched the conventions. Vice President Gore lost ground as a result of the debates because viewers were offended by his aggressive demand that George W. Bush debate the issues with him.

On the other side of the coin are the people who could be characterized as the engaged ignorant. They can be found ranting endlessly on talk radio and the Internet in diatribes shaped by prepackaged resentment orthodoxy and scant understanding of the actual facts.

So, after a year or so of the usual pandering coverage that the voters normally get, the media has turned on the electorate, acknowledging how out-to-lunch voters really are and refraining from blaming themselves for their ignorance.

The media haven’t been so piqued at the voters since the final weeks before the 1994 vote. At that time, election coverage focused on the contradictory demands of the people, who seemed simultaneously to want lower taxes and higher spending at a time of deficit. Voters had the last word on that occasion, although many of them were subsequently horrified that the new Republican Congress actually would try to do what it said it would do, ultimately leading to the government shutdown.

With one or two notable exceptions, American history basically indicates that the voters have made generally sensible choices for the country. Sometimes good sense and moral purpose have been slow in coming, but America’s current ascendancy indicates that the country got there in the end.

Still, it’s refreshing to see the voters taking their lumps for a change. After all, the collective electorate routinely disparages “politicians” as beneath journalists and used car salesmen. It would be healthy if, from time to time, citizens remembered that the biggest sins of the politicians may lie in reflecting too well the people they represent.


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