Blogs > HNN > The American Voter, revised

Jul 24, 2008 8:12 pm

The American Voter, revised

The WaPo reports this morning that political scientists have issued a revised version of the landmark study, The American Voter, which first came out in 1960. The new edition reaches the same conclusion as the first: Americans don't know much and base their opinions on dopey considerations (like whether they'd want to have a beer with a candidate).

The story goes on to note that not all academics agree with this dismal assessment, citing the work of Samuel Popkin, author of The Reasoning Voter. Popkin argues that voters use short-cuts to get around their lack of information.

The story takes an objective on the one hand and on the other approach. A thumb on the scale might be in order. As I have been pointing out on this blog repeatedly the PIPA study,"Misperceptions, The Media and The Iraq War" (Oct. 2003) demonstrated that people ignorant of basic facts are easily bamboozled.

To reiterate the high points:

In March 2003 some 60% of Americans believed that Saddam was behind 9-11 despite the absence of evidence for the claim. 80 percent of the people who backed the war cited this misinformation as a key reason for their position. A year later the 9-11 Commission reported that Saddam had no connection to 9-11. Still 50 percent of the American people believed he did.

The debate is over as far as I'm concerned. While short-cuts can be employed in certain situations to make up for the public's lack of information, they cannot protect the public from wily politicians eager to exploit public ignorance.

Ignorant voters are sitting ducks for manipulation.

When are we going to face this fact?

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Gerry Dantone - 7/31/2008

Of course, it's also how you define stupidity.

If it's stupid to meekly accept what you're told by those who obviously have conflicting interests, such as the corporate media, then it IS stupidity.

Somehow I have seen through the propaganda. All I did was ask questions and make an effort to find the real truth which is, ironically, available in the mainstream media, but sometimes between the lines, de-emphasized or treated with euphimisms.

It is stupid to make less of an effort in order to preserve our democracy.

Randll Reese Besch - 7/30/2008

As told in "Manufactured Consent" in the 1970's and still relevant today, we are a society of little literacy and corporate ownership of the most of the easy to reach information outlets.
We live in an environment of propaganda saturation. It is just more prevalent now than ever before.

A-literacy plays a huge role in it. People who do not continue their education from school. If they graduated with a 7th grade reading and comprehension level it stays the same or decreases the rest of their life. Anti-intellectualism is still promoted in most cases. Sad but true.

If you wish to be informed you must take your time out from being with family, friends and lovers to study it. I find it so ironic how in our information awash society most of it is manipulated to manipulate us. So much of it is junk in that it isn't useful except for the gossip type of non-information of any good use. Bread and circuses for the electronic age.

No it isn't stupidity it is a near total monopoly of information by those who wish to dis-inform us. I am still puzzled at the Pew Research poll recently that showed those who listen to Limbaugh are more informed. Not what I found just 5 years ago. They think they are informed but it is the reich-wing talking points and propaganda they spew hundreds of hours a day.

Gerry Dantone - 7/27/2008

I recently saw your book in a book store and bought it on sight. The title echoed something I have been writing about for a while.

I am a blogger and editor of the Center for Inquiry Community of Long Island newsletter, the INQUIRER, and as such we promote reason and inquiry into all matters. Voting, of course, is one such matter. The Center for Inquiry was founded by philosopher Paul Kurtz who I'm sure you are aware of.

It is remarkable that we have basically the same conclusions and cite the same studies (notably PIPA) is arguing that the voting public must bear much blame for the mess we are in. I'm glad to have found someone to affirm my suspicions.

I have pointed this out in articles in the newsletter such as "Working to Corner the Stupid Vote," @, and "Our Democracy in Trouble, parts 1 & 2" @

Your book is certainly more thorough and detailed but I hope I get credit for being an early warning to this danger to our democracy - that of uninformed, lazy and uninterested voters who undoubtedly make the difference in every election we have.


Gerry Dantone
Center for Inquiry Community of Long Island