The Irrational Electorate
A Princeton political scientist reveals that many of our worst fears about America’s voters are true.
One of thebest-selling political books of the 2008 election season has been Just How Stupid Are We? a report on “the truth about the American voter” by popular historian Rick Shenkman. Shenkman’s little book presents a familiar collection of bleak results from opinion surveys documenting some of the many things most Americans don’t know about politics, government, and American history. “Public ignorance,” he concludes, is “the most obvious cause” of “the foolishness that marks so much of American politics.” Lest this pronouncement seem dispiriting, an obligatory hopeful coda offers anodyne proposals for civicimprovement.
Never mind whether the additional civics courses and “democracy parties” Shenkman proposes are really going to stem the tide of public ignorance. The reader’s first response to Shenkman’s indictment should be: Sowhat?
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Larry M. Bartels directs the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is the author of Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, published earlier this year by the Russell Sage Foundation and Princeton University Press.more from this author >>