Should Everyone Vote?


[Originally posted on]

To ask it another way: Is it really a good thing to tell people who are ignorant of law (so they don’t know which proposed policies are illegal), and/or ignorant of economics (so they don’t know what the actual outcomes of proposed policies will be), and/or ignorant of political science (so they don’t know which proposed policies are politically feasible with the actual people and institutions we already have)?

If politics is serious business, shouldn’t people have more than causal understanding law, economics, and political science before voting? How are people supposed to judge platforms otherwise–by what “feels right”?

Imagine you’re on a panel to choose a team of rocket scientists to send a spaceship to Mars. But let’s say you’re ignorant of the general laws of physics, the specific laws of rocket science, and the knowledge of project management knowledge of how different teams of engineers are supposed to work together.

How would you judge which engineers to hire?

By what the engineers merely say they’ll do? That doesn’t work, since you have absolutely no framework for what is and isn’t physically possible. They might be suggesting breaking the laws of physics but you’d have no idea.

By what the engineers have done in the past isn’t a good metric either. Sure they may have sent a rocket to space before, but what if they did it really economically and wasted a lot fuel and other resources? They may have also had a rocket blow up mid flight–but what if they didn’t even expect the rocket to ignite and so it was a great feat of engineering that it went up at all?

What’s even worse is if people not only are ignorant of the required knowledge to judge candidates, but have psychological biases that make it even harder for them to distinguish good from bad. If people had a false understanding of physics–for example, that helium balloons prove the law of gravity wrong–they’re not only more likely to believe an engineer who panders to their false understanding, but also to brush off legitimate scientists as kooks or crooks.

I’m not saying that voting should only be done by experts, or that no one without a PhD shouldn’t vote.

What I am trying to say is that politics is a complex problem and to understand it requires several proficiencies. Most people do not have these proficiencies–through no fault of their own, since there’s more to life than politics and economics. Asking people to contribute to solving a problem when they lack the basic tools of understanding the problem is unlikely to lead to a good outcome.