Friday, October 24, 2008

On Stupidity and Elections

It's a common refrain, but I've been hearing it more and more of late from the American politics people at my Ph.D. program: American voters are stupid. They make poor decisions, they support parties and politicians who manifestly do not advance agendas that would help them. They elected Bush. What's the matter with Kansas, anyway?

And of course, the common response to these points is to throw one's hands in the air and shrug.

Now, I can certainly appreciate the frustration. I think certain voters have been making idiotic statements about how it was the Democrats that were ruining the country for the past eight years (nevermind that Republicans controlled all branches of government). However, I can't go along with the idea that Americans are dumb (at least when it comes to voting). There are a lot of smart people out there, certainly smarter than me in their own areas of expertise, and definitely more knowledgeable about the matters that affect their lives directly.

So, I want to claim that Americans are dumb, I have to include myself in that measure. The more I get into this Ph.D. program, the more I am convinced that people don't know all that much more about the consequences of political decisions. Sure, I may know more than the average person about the debates, facts, and theories surrounding a political question. But that doesn't mean that I necessarily know more about who will ulimately make a better president, whether a particular decision will turn out for the best.

It's like forecasting the weather. Sure, it helps a lot to have more information. But that doesn't mean you're going to be right. And so I'm wary of painting other Americans as stupid without recognizing my own limitations.