when voters just won’t care about the issues

Politico sounds the alarm on ignorant voters, the voters who refuse to follow the news and won't even try to learn how their government works.

homer simpson brain scan

It’s always been a common refrain in politics to call one’s opponents or detractors ignorant and we’re all quite aware that ignorance exists across the entire political spectrum, and that people who don’t have a solid grasp of the issues vote on a regular basis. Or as Politico put it bluntly, there are stupid people out there and they’re voting with their gut rather than their minds. Of course, many political news junkies would shout, voters do not understand what really goes on because they don’t pay attention to the news like we do.

But there’s absolutely no indication that just paying attention to the news keeps one informed either and those obsessed with soap operas spun on Capitol Hill and in the White House aren’t necessarily all that knowledgeable either. The vast gap between knowing what issues do and don’t exist, and how they can or can’t be handled seems to exist on a much deeper level with voters believing that politicians have power over things out of their control. Just take something as simple as figuring out whether a president can do something about gas prices. For Politico, it’s just one of the numerous examples of how all too many voters are simply not researching issues…

The present furor over gas prices is a case in point: Obama’s job approval dropped 9 points over the last month according to a CBS/New York Times poll, as the cost of fuel has risen abruptly. The survey found that 54 percent of Americans believe that the president could do a lot to combat high gas prices. That’s not really true, but it’s the dynamic that’s shown up in other polls too: 26 percent of respondents told an ABC News/Washington Post poll that they approve of Obama’s handling of gas prices, versus 65 percent who disapprove. […] To reassess a president’s performance in the context of a short-term increase in gas prices is more of a tantrum-like response to a new feeling of discomfort over which the president has relatively little control.

Certainly a president could have a direct effect on gas prices with things like, oh say, military actions in a very volatile and oil rich region, but other than that, he would have to start controlling the international commodities market which can a) infuriate fiscal conservatives around the world, b) trigger dangerous conflicts between oil exporters and consumers that could erupt into paroxysms of military threats, c) disrupt global trade leading to serious market convulsions, or d) all of the above and worse, which is why it will never happen.

But the voters still expect him to do something because hey, he’s the president and we elected him to fix things so he better do his job and fix things. Remember the “will this be on the test” culture developed by many Americans? It’s also at play in politics. Understandably, if one wanted to be informed about everything happening in the world today as well as study it’s social and economic context and consequences, reading the news and volumes of books on the relevant subjects would quickly become this person’s predominant occupation. But this isn’t an issue of knowing exactly how trade between the U.S. and Azerbaijan breaks down to the dollar. This is a basic matter of knowing that the president’s power if far from unlimited and gas prices are set by the market, not an edict from one government, no matter how powerful this government is or how much oil it consumes.

The paradoxical thing at play here seems to be that Americans consider voting to be a right and an obligation, and see politicians as people who are chosen to fix problems, but they don’t really want to care about the real scope or nature of the problems, and don’t really want to educate themselves on how likely it is that what their chosen politicians are offering good solutions to current dilemmas. They’ll elect someone to fix Washington’s culture of political stagnation, create jobs, and lower healthcare costs, but woefully underestimate the level of entrenchment in the establishment, won’t realize that no politician can fix decades of mismanagement in both primary and secondary education with no resources and in one term, or change the multi-trillion dollar market for healthcare without insurance companies, lawyers, and medical equipment corporations playing ball for a common good rather than their bottom lines, or change the course of global trade.

They don’t even know how much we spend and on what, assuming we devote more than ten times what we do to science and that as much as 25 times more foreign aid is given than actually is. And that’s pretty scary. Too many voters just don’t care, wanting a charismatic someone to solve complex problems while strictly adhering to a partisan dogma many of the most vocal voters take to be nothing short of holy writ, and just skip all the details…

# politics // elections / partisan politics / voters


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