Why won’t some people vote in today’s election? Apathy? Too self-centered? Too busy? Or, will many people not vote because they choose to remain “rationally ignorant”?
Rationally ignorant means making a rational decision not to spend much time evaluating candidates or issues because taking that time doesn’t assure the voter any greater chance of getting what he or she wants than would flipping a coin. Think about it.
In the marketplace it’s rational to spend the time evaluating alternative products or services you wish to purchase. Once you spend the time deciding between, say, a Chevy and a Ford, you get the car you decided upon. Not so in an election.
In an election, we have no assurance we’ll get the candidate we decide upon, no matter how long and hard we research the issues. Why? Because every other voter is making a choice also, and we only get ours if a majority — or plurality — of them agree with what we decide. Since our time and energy are limited, it’s rational for us to remain somewhat ignorant about political candidates and issues.
We generally can’t afford to acquire complete information about goods or services we buy either, but in the marketplace we have a much higher expectation of getting what we want. Exhortations to our civic duty are fine and good, but every one of us has limited time and energy and must set some priorities in our lives.
So don’t think too badly about your non-voting neighbors. Assume that they chose to remain rationally ignorant, deciding to make more of their decisions in the marketplace, and fewer in the polling place.
And isn’t a system where most people get what they want more appealing than one where half of us are disappointed?
Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.