Voter Irrationality

Bryan Caplan’s new book takes a look at voter irrationality, and Tyler Cowen defends him.   I have yet to read Caplan’s book, so I can’t comment on the specifics of his argument,  but on the subject in general I tend to agree that voters are irrational. Here’s my blurb in Cowen’s Comment section.

I fully agree that voters (and consumers and individuals) are irrational in so far as they don’t think through their decisions far enough.  They ARE rational in the short term (based on their beliefs of what is going to happen), but if they had a longer view, they would likely back different choices.

It’s like chess.  How far down the line you can see changes what kinds of moves you’re likely to make.  Average people (ie, basically all of us) don’t have the capability of seeing far enough down the road, nor of taking into account enough factors, that would allow us to make what would seem (for a purely objective viewer who had all the info) to be a rational choice.

That goes for voters and politicians alike.  There is no escaping it. It’s human nature.  And neither degrading nor upgrading the level of democracy in a system is likely to make dramatic differences in the level of the overall irrationality in the system.


I might have added:  What I like about our current system is that there is a balance between the kind of irrationality that his prone to voters, and the kind that is prone to politicians in office.  While clearly not a Utopia, a Constitutional Republic is a good model for how to deal with this kind of irrationality among actors in a system.   The question is not whether we can end the irrationality among voters or politicians, but rather, can we curb the worst effects of both from within design of the system itself?  Can we prevent voters from electing Hitlers, and engaging in mob rule?  And can we prevent politicians from becoming dictators who act purely unilaterally without regard to public opinion?

Clearly our Country has failed numbers of times on both accounts (we’re living one).  But, it rebounds surprisingly well.   And there in lies the miracle.

On that score, the “founding fathers” did a pretty good job.


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