(This is the third in a five-part essay on the U.S. Electoral College and the alternatives for the long-term future of that vital institution.)
The Sad State of the American Electorate
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Whenever people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government.” He is also quoted as saying, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
In November 2008, the Zogby organization decided to find out just who was behind Barack Obama, the upstart young black “community organizer” from South Chicago. In a poll conducted on November 13-15, they interviewed 512 Obama voters… 97.1% high school graduates and 55% college graduates. Their responses illustrate the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson’s caution. Among those polled:
57.4% could not identify which party controlled Congress.
71.8% could not identify Joe Biden as the candidate who once engaged in plagiarism.
82.6% could not identify Barack Obama as the candidate who won his first political primary by having all of his opponents removed from the ballot on technicalities.
88.4% could not identify Barack Obama as the candidate who said that his environmental policies would bankrupt coal-burning electric utilities and drive consumer power costs through the ceiling. However,
86.3% of those polled identified Sarah Palin as the candidate whose political party spent $150,000 on her campaign wardrobe.
93.8% identified Sarah Palin as the candidate with a pregnant teenage daughter.
86.9% identified Sarah Palin as the candidate who said that she could see Russia from her home in Alaska (In truth, Palin did not say that. That quote is from comedienne Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live).
Clearly, the voters interviewed for the Zogby poll obtained most of their political information from Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, and Saturday Night Live; rendering them incapable of distinguishing baseless political humor from reality. Only 12 of the 512 Obama voters answered at least eleven of the twelve multiple choice questions correctly, while only 3 of the 512 interviewed answered all twelve correctly.
In a follow-up Wilson Research Strategies poll, the 12 Zogby questions were duplicated and the results were essentially the same. When asked where voters get most of the information on which they base their political decisions, the Wilson Research poll yielded the following results:
64% of Fox News viewers answered the “congressional control” question correctly.
70% of those who watch Fox News voted for McCain-Palin.
61% of those who listen to talk radio voted for McCain-Palin.
63% of those who watch CNN voted for Obama-Biden.
73% of those who watch MSNBC voted for Obama-Biden.
64% of those who read national newspapers voted for Obama-Biden.
Sadly, all of those who didn’t know which party controlled Congress, who didn’t know that Joe Biden was guilty of plagiarism, who didn’t know that Obama said he would bankrupt coal-burning power plants and drive electricity costs through the ceiling, and who thought that Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her house in Alaska… they all carry their ignorance into the voting booth with them and they all VOTE.
What these poll results clearly show is that a substantial majority of Americans do not take their citizenship responsibilities seriously enough to be entrusted with full voting privileges. If they were voting on issues such as whether or not to declare Super Bowl Sunday a national holiday, or whether or not to adopt the Dodo Bird as our national symbol, what difference would it make?
But those are not the issues that the uninformed and the misinformed are ultimately deciding. They are deciding whether or not we can grow our economy by taxing the investor class and transferring their wealth to the dependent class; they’re deciding whether or not to protect our national sovereignty by maintaining control of our borders; and they’re deciding whether or not to give taxpayer subsidies to those who own no property and who choose not to work, while imposing higher taxes on the assets of property owners and on the income of those who earn a weekly paycheck. These are the issues that the uninformed, the misinformed, and the indifferent are deciding.
So, let’s take Thomas Jefferson at his word. Let’s declare it a core principle of national policy that ignorance and freedom are totally incompatible concepts and that the uninformed cannot be trusted to govern themselves… let alone all the rest of us.
In an essay titled “Democracy or Republic First?” blogger Sultan Knish suggests that, “A truly relevant system of elections understands that voting is a responsibility that requires some minimum demonstration of competence. Just as driving a car requires being able to prove that you understand the principles of the automobile, choosing the nation’s driver should require some understanding of how the system of government works so that the voter demonstrates the ability to (distinguish) completely hollow promises from workable proposals… A truly informed electorate is what distinguishes a democratic republic from a bread and circuses democracy.”
To insist that the right to vote is implicit, regardless of whether or not the uninformed or misinformed voter has an adequate understanding of the candidates and the issues, begs the question of what we as a nation of free men, hoping to maintain our freedom, are all about. Given the life or death nature of the issues, we must do whatever we can to ensure that those who vote have the best interests of our nation at heart.
Sultan Knish concludes his essay by saying that, “in embracing the mantra of unlimited democracy as good in and of itself, we have placed real democracy in jeopardy…” The time for real electoral reform has arrived… but only if we have the courage to seize the moment.
(Next week: Part IV – Unintended Consequences of the National Popular Vote)