Low information voter
Low information voters, also known as misinformation voters, are people who may vote yet are generally poorly informed about issues. The phrase is mainly used in the United States and has become popular since the mid-1990s.
American pollster and political scientist Samuel Popkin coined the term "low-information" in 1991 when he used the phrase "low-information signaling" in his book The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Low-information signaling referred to cues or heuristics used by voters in lieu of substantial information to determine who to vote for. Examples include voters liking Bill Clinton for eating at McDonald's and perceiving John Kerry and Barack Obama as elitist for wind-surfing and golfing, respectively.
The ideological views of most low-information voters tend to be more moderate than those of high-information voters. Low-information voters are less likely to vote and when they do they generally vote for a candidate they find personally appealing. They tend to be swing voters and they tend to vote split-ticket more than well-informed voters do. Researchers attribute this to low-information voters not having developed clear cut ideological preferences.
Linguist George Lakoff has written that the term is a pejorative mainly used by American liberals to refer to people who vote conservative against their own interests and assumes they do it because they lack sufficient information. Liberals, he said, attribute the problem in part to deliberate Republican efforts at misinforming voters.
In a 2011 article titled "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult", thirty-year Republican House of Representatives and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren characterized low-information voters as anti-intellectual and hostile-to-science "religious cranks" and claimed Republicans are deliberately manipulating low information voters to undermine their confidence in American democratic institutions.
Popular syndicated talk show host Rush Limbaugh became aware of the term in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, initially joking that it could be interpreted to signify stupidity. However, Limbaugh later clarified that a low information voter may also be considered in his view a "high liberal information voter", expounding on media bias thusly: "I have never said that low-information voters are stupid. I just said they don't know what they think they know. They are prisoners to the media, which has dumbed them down. Low-information voters can be doctors. Low-information voters can be scientists. They can be among all walks of life. It has nothing to do with IQ. It has to do with what they don't know because of their media sources. Low-information voters are clearly people that don't have all the information available to make a voting choice. That's all they are. And they're all over the place. And most of them do vote Democrat. Most of them did vote for Obama. It's not a comment on their intelligence. It's not that they're stupid or don't understand the issues. They just haven't had it all explained to them".
A 2012 paper by six American political scientists called "A Theory of Political Parties: Groups, Policy Demands and Nominations in American Politics" challenged the idea that Republicans want a low-information electorate and argued instead that both major American parties do. Noting that 95% of incumbents in the highly polarized House of Representatives win re-election despite voters' preference for centrist representation, the paper theorizes that voters' infrequent penalizing of extremist behaviour represents not approval, but a lack of attention and information. This, the paper says, is supported by the fact that when congressional districts and media markets overlap to create more informed electorates, extremist House members are at much greater risk for defeat. The paper proposes that in the American political system interest groups and activists are the key actor and that the electorate is uninformed and bamboozled.
A 1992 study found that in the absence of other information voters used candidates' physical attractiveness to draw inferences about their personal qualities and political ideology. A study performed using logistic regression analysis on data from the 1986 through 1994 American National Election Studies found that low-information voters tend to assume female and black candidates are more liberal than male and white candidates of the same party. A 2003 study that analyzed precinct-level data from city council elections held in Peoria, Illinois between 1983 and 1999 found that the placement of candidates' names on the ballot was a point of influence for low-information voters. An analysis concerned with the "puzzling finding" that incumbent legislators in mature democracies charged with corruption are not commonly punished in elections found that less-informed voters were significantly more likely to vote for incumbents accused of corruption than were their better-informed counterparts, presumably because they did not know about the allegations.
In popular culture
In September 2012, comedian Bill Maher made fun of undecided voters on his HBO program Real Time by calling them "low-information voters, otherwise known as dipshits". Also in September, the NBC program Saturday Night Live ran a mock public service announcement featuring undecided low-information voters asking questions such as "When is the election?" and "Who is the president right now? Is he or she running?".
In January, 2013, Alicia Colon used the similar phrase "low-info" in her column "Low-Info Voters Just Not Interested In Politics" for the Irish Examiner USA newspaper.
In November 2016, Claire Lehmann, editor of Quillette, wrote an essay discussing why the term "low information voters" is disturbing as high information voters are essentially the ones suffering from more confirmation bias.
- Walker, Diana (24 April 2008). "The Incredibly Shrinking Democrats". Time magazine. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Palfrey, Thomas R.; Keith T. Poole (August 1987). "The Relationship between Information, Ideology, and Voting Behavior". American Journal of Political Science. 31 (3): 511–530. doi:10.2307/2111281. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Lauderdale, Benjamin E. (June 2012). "Does Inattention to Political Debate Explain the Polarization Gap Between the U.S. Congress and Public?" (PDF). unpublished.
- Smalley, Suzanne (31 May 2008). "Just How Low Will They Go?". Newsweek magazine. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Lakoff, George (9 August 2012). "Dumb and dumber: the low-information voter". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 26 August 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
- Lofgren, Mike (3 September 2011). "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult". Truthout. Retrieved 26 August 2012.
- Limbaugh, Rush (25 March 2013). "Colbert King's Low-Information Definition of the Term "Low-Information Voter"". Time magazine. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
- Bawn, Kathleen; Cohen, Martin; Karol, David; Masket, Seth; Noel, Hans; Zaller, John (September 2012). "A Theory of Political Parties: Groups, Policy Demands and Nominations in American Politics" (PDF). Perspectives on Politics. 10 (03): 571–597. doi:10.1017/S1537592712001624.
- Riggle, Ellen D.; Ottati, Victor C.; Wyer, Robert S.; Kuklinski, James; Schwarz, Norbert (1 March 1992). "Bases of political judgments: The role of stereotypic and nonstereotypic information". Political Behavior. 14 (1): 67–87. doi:10.1007/BF00993509.
- Mcdermott, Monika L (1 December 1998). "Race and Gender Cues in Low-Information Elections". Political Research Quarterly. 51 (4): 895–918. doi:10.1177/106591299805100403.
- Brockington, David (1 January 2003). "A Low Information Theory of Ballot Position Effect". Political Behavior. 25 (1): 1–27. doi:10.1023/A:1022946710610.
- Klasnja, Marko. "Why Do Malfeasant Politicians Maintain Political Support? Testing the "Uninformed Voter" Argument". Social Science Research Network. SSRN .
- Maher, Bill. "Loafy's Choice". Pop Modal. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
- Krakauer, Steve (3 October 2012). "How will the debates sway the undecideds?". CNN. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
- Grier, Peter (24 September 2012). "'SNL' depicts undecided voters as dumb. Is that right?". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 13 October 2012.
- Colon, Alicia (8 January 2013). "Low-Info Voters Just Not Interested In Politics". Irish Examiner USA.
- Lehmann, Claire (30 November 2016). "Stop Calling People "Low Information Voters"". Quillette.