Rational Ignorance Effect–Revisited

College of Political Knowledge

Subject:  Voting/American Government/Political Philosophy

Paper #34
“Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.
I like that quote!  Pretty much sums up the political discourse unfolding in the Capitol…..
“Ignorance and bigotry, like other insanities, are incapable of self-government.” –Thomas Jefferson to Lafayette, 1817

Anyone that has ever read my stuff knows that I am not a big fan of Jefferson….personally, I think he was a pragmatist and NOT an idealist that many portray him as in the past….but has made some excellent points….

Ever since the election in November 0f 2008, many people, bloggers and journalists have been trying to explain the actions of the GOP.  We have heard that they are a dying party or that they are not in touch with the feelings of the voter.  No matter which or what you think is happening to the GOP there is one thing to keep in mind….they are professionals and they are pretty good at the game of politics.

So what is the reason that the GOP is appearing so weak?

First of all, the American people on an individual basis, realizes that their single vote is unlikely to determine the outcome of anything.  For this reason they do not spend too much time researching to get the reliable information they need.  The voter relies heavily on the media for their information and in these days of cable they look for those channels and reports that will reinforce their beliefs in the world view.

The voter lacks incentive to cast an informed vote.  Therefore FOX and MSNBC form their knowledge of any given situation.  Most voters will be rationally uninformed on many issues.  They will depend on political information suppliers like the mass media to the issues that are of personal importance.

This situation has a name….it is called the “Rational Ignorance Effect”

Wiki has a pretty good definition of RIE:
“Ignorance” about an issue is said to be “rational” when the cost of educating oneself about the issue sufficiently to make an informed decision can outweigh any potential benefit one could reasonably expect to gain from that decision, and so it would be irrational to waste time doing so. This has consequences for the quality of decisions made by large numbers of people, such asgeneral elections, where the probability of any one vote changing the outcome is very small.

In my opinion this is what the GOP is employing in their attacks on Obama.  They use buzzwords that have no real place in the conversation with the hope that political ignorance will play in their favor.

The classical theory of democracy states that individuals have a definite political will and that individuals have an ability to observe and interpret the facts and that these individuals will make a rational choice based on their knowledge that their reps will implement their will…..personally I do not agree with that definition….why….people do NOT have a precise concept of what they want the state to do.  Most are incapable of  objectively assessing and interpreting facts and that most are irrational in their expectations of what their reps are to do….which in turn makes them impatient and illogical in their choices when voting is necessary.

If one needs an illustration then I say just take a long hard look at the last “Tea Party” protests…..they were billed about the outrage in Obama tax increases….but if anyone bothered to check there were few if any tax increases.  Basically it was just a ploy to get people lathered up and go out and bash the president.  It was NEVER about raising taxes.

Some will say that the “Rational Ignorance Effect” is losing some of its validity…..because to the popularity of the internet……I say that is not completely accurate……voters will use the internet like they use the media….they will find information that supports their world view.  For that reason, Rational Ignorance Effect is still as valid as it ever was.