There is an increasing nervousness in the US about the ability of average voters to understand the many and complex issues that they are voting on when they choose a candidate. Too much emphasis, it is felt, is placed on the question, "which man would you like to share a beer with," rather than "which man can be expected to handle well the economy, foreign affairs, health insurance problems, the approaching crisis in Social Security and Medicare, and the defense of our homeland in the face of terrorist threats."
Just How Stupid Are We? points out that to make informed decisions we need to be informed. And instead we have statistics that tell us that the average voter gets most of his or her information about the candidate and issues from . . . political advertisements. Some get all of their information from ads.
The coverage of serious issues on TV news, even cable, can be appallingly superficial, and much of it is biased. The only place to get truly objective information about US politics and policies in from the Economist and some other British papers. Readership of newspapers is, as we know, way down, not that it was all that high to start with. And it is the youngest voters who know the least. There is a disturbing tendency for voters to be proud of not knowing about important issues.
It has been said that war is God's way of teaching Americans geography. This is no way to run a country.
As the author says,
"What it means in a democracy to have so few understand how our government works, who pays taxes, and how they are spent we do not care to inquire about too deeply. If we did, what troublesome debates we would have to have. We would have to consider the possibility that polls are meaningless since the polled often lack a sound basis upon which to make their choices. . . . We would have to consider requiring voters to pass a basic civics test before allowing them to cast a ballot. . . . And we would have to say to the politicians who insist on telling us The People are wise and true that they are full of it and should cease forthwith from insulting our intelligence with empty democratic gestures."
Rick Shenkman, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter (2008) 210 pages. 5 / 5 stars.