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May 11, 2017



Randomly choose a number of voters, they are not allowed to opt out.

Ask them questions based on policies available from parties.

The one they are most in line with wins their vote.

They have no idea which party they voted for.

Possibly a bit radical for the country that rejected the slightly more democratic AV though :-)


I wouldn't call Portes 'a fine economist'. No doctorate, for a start. Just a former civil servant who owes his place in the New Labour aristocracy to having a distinguished member of the profession as his father.


"How can we achieve a better polity – one that respects people’s interests and maintains respect for facts and rationality in political debate – in the face of mass inattention to politics?"

Ask pundits to stick to facts and logic, and avoid talking about voters' perceptions of the facts and logic.

Or at least clearly distinguish between the two.


On the subject of fine economists and PhDs, Martin Wolf doesn't have one and if I'm not mistaken, neither does the noble Lord King.


Low information voters aren't the problem. Mis-information voters are the problem.



8 million women not registered to vote (Fawcett Society) and one of this week's cut through stories: Girl and Boy Jobs. I'm rapidly reaching the conclusion, far from maintaining the status quo: proactively, a dictatorship friendly future is being mapped out; while as ever, fighting for consensus, 'progressives' try to keep us all on track by arguing around the intricacies of yesterday's issues. Immigration will continue. Its not at risk of being seriously curtailed. Jonathan Portes is great, but anti immigrant rhetoric leading to damaging policies applied across the board, affecting all, native and immigrant alike is the actual lived experience of “the many” and has been for decades.
“politics dominated by the ignorant at one end and by partisan obsessives at the other”. Yes, but which end is which? We know don't we, maintaining opportunities for shared cultural/political experience, which costs of course, is what it takes to achieve something better. So vote for Labour's manifesto.

Steven Clarke

I'm sure you've read Bryan Caplan's 'The Myth of the Rational Voter'.

He categorises voter's systemic economic biases into:

* Make-work bias - being against productivity gains that reduce the need for labour.

* Anti-foreign bias - being against trade and immigration.

* Pessimism bias.

* Anti-market bias.

Patrick Kirk

Its interesting that lots of potential voters are not just uninformed - they are apathetic about politics. And this seems concentrated in the young, the poor and minorities; parts of society that you'd think would be demanding change. This US survey illustrates the problem.


The Gonch

Not your finest post (and most of the time you are spot on).

To say "The left likes to blame the media for its unpopularity. But very many voters avoid newspapers and TV news." and then link to the Freedland article that has rightfully been pillored for making this point in a completely cack-handed manner (lacking any evidence) is daft, to say the least.

You rightfully say a lot of poeple are mistaken about many elements of politics and policy, but you need to be clear about whether people are mistaken (have the wrong info), or ignorant (do not know something exists) and I think you confuse the two ideas. Whoda_Ida is right.

You are making the mistake the press themselves make (that you criticse them for) in that you assume politics is *party* politics. Actually, every person is hugely interested in politics, because everyone has an opinion about 'power'. They just don't necessarily know how to express their thoughts in terms for political theory (perhaps because it is not taught in schools), or they don't care about party politics because it does not seem relevant to the politics they experience everyday in 'ordinary' lives. Also, most party politicans have no understanding of political theory either. Theresa May sometimes sounds like someone who is a bit of a fan of Carl Schmitt...but I am sure she would just think that name is a nasty memeber of Junker's negotiating team.

Finally "With politics dominated by the ignorant at one end and by partisan obsessives at the other, this important question goes unasked".

More accurately, there is a huge ammount of literature attempting to answer the question, if you bother to look.



Dave Timoney

Re the Jonathan Freedland piece you linked to, it's odd how people who claim never to read the papers or watch the TV news have somehow managed to form an opinion on Jeremy Corbyn. Freedland put it down to "instinct", which is weak even by his standards.

People are obviously interested in the factors that impact on their jobs and public services, but they don't necessarily associate this with "politics", which for many is something to be avoided, like chuggers and Jehovah's Witnesses. This is rational given that politics is designed to be exclusive.

Democracy's major problem is falling turnout. Unless you believe that older cohorts more disposed to vote are blessed with the wisdom of age, which doesn't quite tally with the popular explanations of Trump and Brexit, it doesn't look like that trend correlates with growing ignorance. In other words, "I'm not into that stuff" may reflect more than just a lack of knowledge.

Peter K.

About 538, Nate Silver was wrong about Trump.

The problem is the center left which has contempt for the job class or working class who in turn reflect that contempt back at the politics and focus on family and work, overworked as they often are.

In the Golden Age of the post war years, leftist parties encouraged loyalty and solidarity among the working class with the help of unions.

Now the center left technocrats, party elite and economists are ambivalent about unions at best.

They are trying to appeal to meritocrats and appeal to the ideology of meritocracy. See Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

Bernie Sanders and Corbyn became popular in part by their message that we need to get people involved in politics.

The waitress in the anecdote is probably a result of the center left's turn towards the neoliberalism and the right.

Workers' democracy would also help encourage people to become more involved.

Peter K.

The center left and Democratic Party elite often seem to radiate a complancency and then they blame the victims, i.e. the voters.

This is reflected in center left parties across the West. Think about how in France the two main left/right political parties did poorly.


I should think the mass of voters has always been fairly uninterested in the detail of politics and have always been exploited by politicians. Cicero used bribes, beer, cheerleaders and oratory. Nowadays we are a little less direct but a look at a few online mass newspapers shows simple messages, false analyses and soft porn. Things have not changed. Sensible politicians will make every effort to keep voters spoon fed with simple messages leavened with scanty clothing, bottoms and shiny 4WD cars.

Until Brexit this scarcely mattered to most, one bunch of useless politicians was much the same as another and made little difference to Jo and Jill Average. Their hold on power usually fell apart every 10 to 15 years on the back of sleaze and incompetence and the normal economic cycles. The only note of cheer is that the Tories seem to be sowing the seeds of their own destruction and paving the way for Labour and the LDs or whatever. Trouble is this process is likely to take at least 10 years.


Its funny how the ignorance of voters has only suddenly become an issue for the Left when the voters have started to vote for things the Left really doesn't like. No-one ever said 'Most of people who voted for Labour in 1945 had no idea what they were voting for, and were a bunch of uneducated idiots', as far as I can recall. No-one ever questioned the voters decision to vote Labour under Tony Blair in for 3 large majorities. Disagreed with their decision, yes, called into question their right to make that decision, no.

This post is a long winded way of saying 'The ignorant masses won't vote for my ideas any more, so I think they should be ignored'.

With an attitude like that maybe the voters abandoning the Left are more astute than you give them credit...............


I agree with Peter k, if you want more educated informed voters and greater participation then you build up the organisations that can do this, the trade unions and co-ops and socialist societies. The leadership of Labour and other similar parties in other countries have refused to do that in any real way or to democratise their own elite organisations. They are afraid of losing power within their organisations and being challenged. That only helps to undermine them in the long run and makes manipulation by the media easier. They refuse to challenge media ownership and demand a more diverse range of organisations. If you do nothing to build up a mass movement that is informed you make winning elections a lottery.

As for Jim's snark the period from end of the first world war up to and including the duration of the second world war there was a great deal of intellectual ferment and debate about socialist ideas for the economy, health, urban planning etc Granted this may have passed over the heads of many, it is still an important reason for the success of Attlee in 1945. The ground for change was laid by the active policy of political debate and education of a high standard inside and outside the Labour movement. We could do with the revival of that tradition.


The answer, as Roy Castle would have said, is Delegation.

It works (pretty well) in the case of the law. It also works (pretty well) in the case of monetary policy.

There's also now some useful discussion of fiscal policy rules - especially at the Zero Lower bound. This would at least do something about the silly household finance analogy that you rightly complain about.

With well-designed delegation we can still maintain democracy. Like the royal family we can still keep our elected representatives, for ceremonial purposes, but largely let's keep them as far away from actual policymaking as possible.


Jim is right though.

Voters don't like my loaded policy suggestions - they are thick and ignorant.

I don't like Brexit - people who voted for it our thick and ignorant.

I quote partial statistics and economists on immigration - people who don't like it are racists.

and so on...down goes the vote of left-wing parties...and still you can't see it. The left truly do offer hate not hope.

Churm Rincewind

I love Chris's idea that immigration is a "non-issue".

Whew, that's a relief. I guess YouGov must have got it wrong earlier this week when it reported that, for the British public, immigration and asylum remains "one of the most important issues facing the country at this time".

But hey, what do the public know? As Chris points out, they're ignorant and irrational - ghastly oiks who didn't get into Oxbridge.



Simpler way to describe this problem - "democracy is the worst of all political systems except all the other alternatives".

Of course when measured against some kind of platonic ideal, decision making in a democratic system is inefficient. But democratic systems usually get to the proper answer eventually, if only by trial and error. Look at how much better off democratic countries are versus all the rest, and how much progress has been made in the last 200 years.

Its a bit like the efficient market theory, of course with hindsight you can easily see strategies that look better than using a market ETF. But looking forward is a different matter.

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