It’s easy and tempting to brand the American voter as “stupid,” and getting dumber all the time. But, the accusers miss the real point and ignore the real perpetrators. All of us are only as smart as the information we receive; and when voters in America are (more than ever) receiving “news” and political” information in the form of propaganda and unabashed lies, what do you expect? It’s not stupid voters, “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid!”
The money behind the propaganda is also a big factor, and getting worse; but we’ve been operating with gross mis-information well before Citzens United.
Whether you are a Democrat who thinks there were too many stupid voters in 2014, or a Republican who has the same view of the 2012 electorate, you are focusing on symptoms rather than root causes, and blaming the victims. Solving the propaganda (and money) issues is so daunting, we are more comfortable with scolding average people for not being better informed.
Charges of “stupidity” have been in the news a lot lately, and from some people who ought to know better, especially the usually level headed Fareed Zakaria. Zakaria featured a new international survey on his last Sunday morning program. It says the American electorate is the second most ignorant among the fourteen nations studied. The USA trailed only Italy. (Manifestly non democratic systems, like North Korea, were of course not surveyed).
Zakaria’s commentary surprisingly lacked perspective. I think he knows the information lifeblood of our democracy has been terribly degraded. Maybe he meant the whole segment to be whimsical? It was admittedly amusing, on top of shocking, to learn that French voters think 31 percent of their population is Muslim. (Its really 8 percent).
Zakaria wasn’t the only one talking about “stupidity.” While economist Paul Krugman didn’t use the “S” word to express dismay about the November 4th outcomes, you could feel him chomping at the bit, as he called the election results “so wrong about so much.”
Republicans of course aren’t calling the 2014 decisions of the electorate “stupid.” But they are still saying that about voters in 2012; loudly and explicitly. I found that out driving eight hours north from San Diego to Monterrey recently, through areas of California where all I could get on the radio was Limbaugh and Limbaugh clones. Four hundred miles of unabashed propaganda drowning out anything resembling real news; literally clogging the “public” airways.
For some time now, the political and economic information used by most Americans hasn’t been much better than what Pravda fed to the poor Soviet masses. Is that extreme or alarmist? I would understand if you thought so. But all of the recent (non partisan) studies of voter information sources, such as a series by Pew Research, show that Americans are receiving more and more of their political information from polarized, “non traditional” sources – ones not even trying to be objective or fact based.
I concede that voters share some of the blame for liberally using bad sources of information. But I’ll bet propaganda helped move them there in the first place. I can’t blame average people, overwhelmed by daily life, looking to tweets, bumper stickers, and conversations on the Wal Mart check-out line, for political intelligence.
In Escondido (near San Diego), where I live, good political and economic information is scarce. One daily newspaper with significant circulation survives, but its coverage of Escondido is rare and superficial. The paper’s stated mission (from its still relatively new owner), is to promote a particular ideology in the region, not just through its editorials, but also in its “hard news.” He doesn’t understand (or care) how shocking that sort of statement would have been from a metropolitan area newspaper owner even just a few years ago. A few good on-line news sources and “free” print news papers have emerged in San Diego County, but their reach is still very limited.
Most of the “information” about the local candidates in Escondido came in the form of mailers. The candidate I supported (and who lost by a big margin) couldn’t afford to send out nearly as many as her opponent. The information she did provide, which was (relatively) nice, honest, and substantive by today’s standards, was overwhelmed by an avalanche of propaganda, made-up economic data, sheer lies, sprinkled with some dog-whistle hate lines, arriving in the mail on an almost daily basis.
Yes, “turnout” was low, which hurt the loser a lot more than the winner. By my rough estimate, the winner received the votes of about 10 percent of the voting age population in Escondido. That’s deplorable, regardless of which candidate won. But stupidity certainly was not the reason for either low turnout or the outcomes of the election in Escondido. “It’s the Propaganda, Stupid.”