THE DANGERS OF POLITICAL IGNORANCE
The theory of Political Ignorance (along with Public Choice and Complexity Theory) charts the limits to how much we can hope to accomplish through large, centralized organizations like most modern governments. Because of the complexity of politics, much of what occurs in political systems is ‘irrational’. Complex political systems lead people to rely on oversimplified worldviews based on ideology. These ideologies stand in the way of social progress by dividing people into ‘parties’ or ‘camps’ and ignoring important aspects of the world.
‘Political ignorance’ is basically the ignorance about how a political system works in general rather than necessarily ignorance about any specific policy issue. The voters really don't know much about what is happening. They make decisions and assumptions without listening to both sides first and just vote or agree with a certain party.
Most surveys of political knowledge show that voters know remarkably little about the political system. For a rather long time, it has been argued back and forth about whether voter ignorance really matters.
“Political ignorance is often conflated with sheer stupidity.”  But even highly intelligent voters can rationally choose to devote little or no effort to acquiring political knowledge. One of the most unfortunate aspects of political ignorance is that it is actually rational. For most people, the benefits of devoting more than minimal time and effort to learning about politics are greatly outweighed by the costs.
Political ignorance matters because Democracy as a concept is the rule by the people. Elected officials conduct the day-to-day business of government and these leaders are ultimately responsible to the public. If they fail to serve the interests of the voters, they can be replaced at the next election by others who will do better. The key to the entire scheme is the accountability of elected officials to voters, but this requires the voters to have at least some political knowledge.
Accountability is also difficult to achieve if voters do not know which official is responsible for what, and this is unlikely to be effective if the voters do not know what their government is doing, do not understand its effects, or to hold which official responsible for what issue. A majority influenced by ignorance imposes its decisions not only on themselves but on the nation as a whole, including those who may have disagreed.
The problem of political ignorance is not a recent one. Political philosophers have debated the implications of voter’s ignorance since that system of government first originated in ancient Greece, in the city-state of Athens.
In The Georgia, the great philosopher Plato contended that democracy is defective because it adopts policies based on the views of the ignorant masses and neglected the better-informed counsel of philosophers. Adolf Hitler, too, rejected democracy in part because he believed that voters are ignorant and easily manipulated, a problem that could only be solved by instituting a dictatorship headed by a far-seeing leader. In his view, “the receptivity of the great masses [to information] is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous.”
The dangers associated with ‘political ignorance’ are many but most importantly, the future of a country is at stake along with the economic position of the country in the world market is also hampered.
The reasons for ‘political ignorance’ are plenty. Demographic dividend occurs when the proportion of working people in the total population is high because this indicates that more people have the potential to be productive and contribute to the growth of the economy. The youth today is not interested in actively participating in this field. They seem to be indifferent towards the country’s future when it comes to politics. Also, the lack of education and political awareness among the citizens eventually leads to a politically ignorant society.
A good democracy demands an informed electorate. Voters who lack adequate knowledge about politics will find it difficult to control public policy. Inadequate voter knowledge prevents the government from reflecting the will of the people in any meaningful way. Such ignorance also raises doubts about democracy as a means of serving the interests of a majority. Voters who lack sufficient knowledge may be manipulated by elites. They may also demand policies that contravene their own interests.
 See: Richard Shenkman, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter, (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
 Plato, The Gorgias, trans. Walter Hamilton (New York: Penguin, 1971).
Author: Anu Manoj
College: NMIMS School of Law
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