Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Uninfomed Voters Become Educated, They Are Less Likely to Be Republicans

This is an interesting study - most liberals or progressives assume this is true, and the Dems have consistently focused their campaign message on policy and ideas. Yet they tend to lose. People may identify as Democrats intellectually following exposure to information, but my guess is that many will still vote their beliefs.

Interestingly, this runs counter to Bartels' (1996) findings that the more informed voters are, the more likely they will vote Republican in presidential elections.

Michele Margolis
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Anthony Fowler
Harvard University - Department of Government; Center for American Political Studies

March 30, 2011

MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2011-12

Survey researchers and political pundits bemoan the lack of political information within the American electorate. Not only do Americans fail to meet the democratic ideals of an informed electorate, but this lack of knowledge also has political consequences. An empirical analysis of survey data finds that informed voters are more likely to vote for Republican candidates; however, these correlational findings may be plagued by reverse causation and omitted variable bias. We present a model of an election with uninformed voters and experimentally test the effect of political information. Our results suggest that the lack of information in the American electorate typically biases election results toward the Republican Party. When uninformed citizens receive political information, they systematically shift away from the Republican Party.
Complete citation:
Margolis, M. and Fowler, A. (2011, March 30). The Bias of Uninformed Voters. MIT Political Science Department; Research Paper No. 2011-12. Available at SSRN:

This is a long paper - but it's interesting (although frustrating). Here is the brief introduction:
Beginning with the country’s founding, an informed electorate has been assumed to be necessary for a well-functioning democracy. Thomas Jefferson believed: “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government” (to Richard Price, 1789); however, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be” (to Charles Yancey, 1816). Applying Jefferson’s standards of knowledge to today’s electorate means that citizens have policy preferences, are informed about the electoral choices on offer, and successfully vote for the candidate that best represents these interests. These standards, as we know, are rarely met. Over the past 60 years, survey researchers have marveled at the level of ignorance in the American electorate. Today, 48 percent of Americans do not believe in evolution (2007 Gallup poll), 41 percent believe that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks (2007 Newsweek poll), and 18 percent believe Barack Obama is Muslim (2010 Pew survey). These survey responses cast serious doubt on the Jeffersonian ideal of an informed electorate.

In this paper, we explore the extent to which the lack of political information may bias the results of U.S. elections. More specifically, we want to know if information changes the partisan preferences of the electorate. Using experimental evidence we argue that an increase in political knowledge leads to more support for the Democratic Party. The paper proceeds as follows. In the next section we review the literature on the role of information in political behavior. We then present a model of elections with uninformed voters and derive the potential bias that occurs from a lack of information. After explaining our experimental design and set-up, we show that exogenous information shocks produce more support for the Democrats. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings.

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