29c. Low Information Democracy

2:15 PM–3:30 PM Mar 2, 2018 (US - Eastern)

(HR) Centennial I & II



  • David Dunning, Univ. of Michigan
Thomas Jefferson once famously observed that any nation expecting to be both ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be. Yet surveys of American citizens have shown for decades that voters are largely uninformed. In 2012, for example, one survey found that 35% of native-born citizens would fail a naturalization civics exam. More important, this voter ignorance is best described as being not uninformed but misinformed, in that voters harbor false factual beliefs about government and social conditions that increasing correlate with partisanship. Voters do not disagree on priorities for their country as much as they now argue about the ground truth taking place in their country. Voters also suffer the Dunning-Kruger effect, mistakenly thinking themselves as more informed to the extent they endorse both false and true political facts. I discuss the implications of misinformed “low information” voters for political debate, civic action, and classic arguments that democracy can survive the shortcomings of its citizens.