Are Knowledgeable Voters Better Voters?

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It is widely believed that democracies require knowledgeable citizens to function well. But the most politically knowledgeable individuals also tend to be the most partisan, and the strength of partisan identity tends to corrupt political thinking. This creates a conundrum. On the one hand, an informed citizenry is allegedly necessary for a democracy to flourish. On the other hand, the most knowledgeable and passionate voters are also the most likely to think in corrupted, biased ways. What to do? This paper examines this tension and draws out several lessons. First, it is not obvious that more knowledgeable voters will make better political decisions. Second, attempts to remedy voter ignorance are problematic because partisans tend to become more polarized when they acquire more information. Third, solutions to citizen incompetence must focus on the intellectual virtue of objectivity. Fourth, some forms of epistocracy are troubling, in part, because they would increase the political power of the most dogmatic and biased individuals. Fifth, a highly restrictive form of epistocracy may escape the problem of political dogmatism, but epistocrats may face a steeper tradeoff between inclusivity and epistemic virtue than many would like.
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First archival date: 2021-01-05
Latest version: 2 (2021-03-19)
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