Thursday, 5 March 2009

Political ignorance and policy preferences

A new paper from Eric Crampton, using an interesting New Zealand data set, on Political ignorance and policy preferences. The abstract reads:
Large proportions of the electorate can best be described as politically ignorant. If casting a competent vote requires some basic knowledge of the incumbent’s identity, the workings of the political system, one’s own policy preferences and the policy preferences of the main candidates, many voters cannot vote competently. Wittman (1989) suggests that, if ignorance is unbiased, overall results will be determined by informed voters as the ignorant cancel each other out. Lupia and McCubbins (1998) provides a mechanism whereby voters with little information can take cues from more informed colleagues in order to vote as if they had the requisite information. Using data from a uniquely useful dataset, the 2005 New Zealand Election Survey, I show that both mechanisms fail. Political ignorance is not unbiased: rather, it strongly predicts policy and political party preferences after correcting for the demographic correlates of ignorance. Moreover, membership in the kinds of organizations held to allow the ignorant to overcome their deficiencies fails to improve outcomes. Voter ignorance remains a very serious problem.
On the relationship between ignorance and party support we learn
In the party support specifications, I restricted the sample to those reporting having voted. When they get to the polls, the ignorant are significantly more likely to support the Labour Party (4% increase in predicted probability for a standard deviation increase in ignorance) and significantly less likely to support the Green party (1% decrease in predicted probability) and United Future (0.5% decrease in predicted probability). Understanding economics strongly predicted supporting National in 2005, which comes as little surprise: the National Party leader was former Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand. A standard deviation increase in our “economic thinking” index correlates with a 5.7% increased probability of voting National, a 1.5% decreased probability of voting NZ First, and a slight decrease in the probability of voting United Future and Maori.
From the conclusion we find out
Using a dataset allowing for testing of ignorance’s effects, I here have shown that ignorance correlates reasonably strongly with policy and party preferences and with failure to understand economics. Moreover, the effects are not trivial, often well outpacing the effects of education. Even worse, membership in the types of organizations most likely able to provide adequate cue-givers fails to substantially attenuate ignorance’s effects. We can perhaps take some comfort in that the politically ignorant also are somewhat less likely to vote.


homepaddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
homepaddock said...

Is this proof that we should all pass a comprehension test before we're allowed to vote?

Anonymous said...

Mr Crampton needs to read Bryan Caplans book "The Myth of the rational voter: Why democracies choose bad policies"

Dave Christian

Anonymous said...

So we can forget about the Wisdom of Crowds philosophy?
It's been my experience after 58+ years that people aren't willfully ignorant, but it's more that they are very selective in what they want to know, what they're willing to know and attend to.
I blame modern life.
Who has time?

Paul Walker said...

Dave: read the Caplan book closely, including the Acknowledgements on pages ix and x.

Eric Crampton said...

Dave, see also my review of Caplan's book from the Christchurch Press. Or check the references to Caplan's work in the paper.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes. Now I see why Eric's work seemed so familiar. I shall be reading the blog with interest.

Dave Christian