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Ilya Somin writes


Recent research suggests that even the most sophisticated and highly rational voters may rely on shortcuts that have little relevance to political candidates’ likely performance in office. For example, a recent study of elections for the presidency of the American Economics Association shows that the relative physical attractiveness of the rival candidates is a powerful predictor of which candidate prevails in the voting (Hamermesh 2005). The AEA electorate consists of academic economists who are presumably knowledgeable about the functions of the AEA--and presumably more committed to rational, maximizing behavior than is the average voter in ordinary elections. If such voters nonetheless rely on dubious information shortcuts, it is likely that voters in other elections are at least equally likely to do so.

Of course, vacationing co-blogger Bryan Caplan, author of the forthcoming classic Myth of the Rational Voter, is cited.

Somin argues that Federalism (allowing people to vote with their feet) is one mitigating factor for rational ignorance. Judicial over-rides could be another. He writes,


If most citizens have little or no knowledge of politics and public policy, it is likely that many laws enacted by legislatures are not actually products of the popular will in any meaningful way (Somin 2004b). In the many cases where this is true, judicial overruling of the law in question is unlikely to be “countermajoritarian” in any meaningful sense. Indeed, judicial review may sometimes actually reinforce democratic control of the state by reducing the scope and complexity of government (thereby diminishing voters’ information burden) or by limiting the powers of the central government, thereby facilitating foot voting


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CATEGORIES: Political Economy



COMMENTS (1 to date)
Dan Landau writes:

Voters, consumers, lovers, etc. all face 2 constraints which produce, ex poste, poor decisions: one, the information about the choices is very incomplete, two, better decisions take time, often have high opportunity costs. With these constraints, and knowing one’s decision will not determine the outcome of an election, short cut decision rules are rational and extended efforts to make the “right” decision are irrational.

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