[…] People ignorant of the facts could simply choose not to vote. But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions. A striking recent example was a study done in the year 2000, led by James Kuklinski of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He led an influential experiment in which more than 1,000 Illinois residents were asked questions about welfare — the percentage of the federal budget spent on welfare, the number of people enrolled in the program, the percentage of enrollees who are black, and the average payout. More than half indicated that they were confident that their answers were correct — but in fact only 3 percent of the people got more than half of the questions right. Perhaps more disturbingly, the ones who were the most confident they were right were by and large the ones who knew the least about the topic. (Most of these participants expressed views that suggested a strong antiwelfare bias.)
I have a strong opinion that it’s predominantly right-wingers and religious nutjobs that suffer from this fact ignorance, and no evidence will convince me otherwise…
Seriously though, I’ve maintained for a while now that we should live in a referendum based democracy where we vote regularly on all the key issues (that we feel strongly enough to vote on), and that each vote has a factual test with it. You have to score above a certain threshold for your vote to count. Or perhaps your vote has a weighted value. It wouldn’t even matter if people cheated and were provided answer sheets by biased parties – they would still have to tell their followers the truth.
(Headline via The Onion, BTW. It’s mentioned in the Boston Globe article, which is well worth a read. I hope it makes you angry.)