Don’t blame the news media (at least not entirely) for the disengaged “low-information voter.” That’s what Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s School of Law, tells readers in a particularly insightful article addressing the government shutdown:
When it comes to the budget, numerous polls show that voters grossly underestimate the percentage of federal spending that goes to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, while greatly overestimating the amount spent on foreign aid. Although the latter accounts for about 1 percent of the federal budget, surveys show that most Americans believe that it is five to ten times more than that, or even higher. This kind of basic knowledge may not be all voters need to know to form intelligent opinions. But it’s hard to do so without it. Public opinion will probably play a key role in determining the outcome of the shutdown battle.
Most of the information people need is available online, Somin explains. But they are understandably too caught up in the daily challenges of their own lives to keep pace with a government that’s become too large.
There is no easy solution, but Somin suggests “a smaller, less complex, government would be easier for rationally ignorant voters to keep track of.”