Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apparently, we need stupid people to vote

I have often recited this quote from Thomas Jefferson, my favorite Founding Father: "Democracy requires two things, education and participation."
Turns out it might only be half right.

A new study from the journal Science says that the uninformed are "vital for democracy."  They help to achieve consensus. 
When uninformed, people tend to side with the majority.  This has the affect of "diluting the minority factions that would otherwise dominate everyone else." 

"They prevent deadlock and fragmentation because the strength of an opinion no longer matters - it comes down to numbers," said Iain Couzin, the lead researcher on the study.  "You can imagine this being a good or bad thing."

I'll say.  It also seems as if this sway is dependent upon where we're at in the political process.  A loud minority movement can influence the more politically-inclined among us during times of primaries, mid-term elections, and off-year elections.  In bigger, more popular elections such as a presidential year, those voices are watered down in the procellous stream of white noise as less passionate voters take part in the process.

Certainly sounds like a mixed bag to me.  When "groupthink" and "I'll just follow the crowd so I'm not left out of the herd" takes over, that's when you start getting people who base their vote not on a candidate's policies but on their personal life and non sequiturs such as how they tie their ties.  "Yes.  That's it.  W would make a great president."  In fact, I remember someone once saying to me, "I like baseball and George W. Bush used to own a baseball team so I guess I'll vote for him." 

Ahhh democracy.  I'll close with another quote, this time from C. Montgomery Burns:

"This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes has cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That's democracy for you." 

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