Political Ignorance and Policy Preferences
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.