The deciders

‘Low-information voters’ may decide our fate

“Low-information voters”—the adults who are registered to vote, but aren’t interested in politics, don’t follow the news and don’t know the issues—are, apparently, going to decide this election.


You might be tempted—as I have been, more than once—to call these people “no-information voters.” How is it possible, in an age where a cat video can be seen by the entire country in 24 hours, not to know whether it’s Gov. Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama who thinks the government can’t create jobs? (Answer: It’s Romney, who’s said those very words even as he’s applying for a government job.)

Of course, to some of us, that’s unconscionable. We’ve been scrambling after every filmed gaffe and every campaign-related Internet meme for months now.

Yet I haven’t a clue who’s competing on Dancing With the Stars this season; the only reason I know the name Honey Boo Boo is because the 7-year-old beauty-pageant child endorsed President Obama, and I don’t know which San Francisco Giant won World Series MVP.

So, perhaps instead of vilifying these low-information voters, I ought to understand that they’ve just got other interests. There are demands on their time of which I know nothing and about which I might be described as “low-information.”

If, as has been argued in these pages before, political engagement has become another form of sport (see “Perpetual madness”; SN&R Essay; March 29, 2007), who am I to judge someone for preferring baseball or kiddie pageants? It becomes just a matter of taste.

Of course, I’m not judging a pageant or umping at the World Series. The low-information voters will be casting ballots, and their decisions will be altering the lives of the people around them, including me.

But it looks like we in the media have successfully sold politics as competition. If your high-school civics courses are 20 to 30 years in the past, and you didn’t really understand it all that well to start with—because, you know, they covered the executive branch during football season, or while you were rehearsing for the school play, or practicing with the marching band—it’s easy enough to forget.

All of which leaves a whole lot of people out there who know they ought to vote even if they know nothing else.

We can keep doing as we’ve been for years: Trying to educate the public with endorsement lists and Facebook posts and railing about low-information voters. But that doesn’t seem to have helped much, and it’s left an entire class of people who feel guilty if they don’t vote, yet don’t really know anything about the issues.

How’s this for a solution? We do the best that we can at explaining our positions, remind everyone to be suspicious of any and all political advertisements, and hope for the best. Oh, and maybe we could stop acting like “winners” and “losers,” depending on the election’s outcome.

Because here’s the thing: “Low information” or not, Democrat, Republican or “decline to state,” we all win or lose together. And the results will be with us much, much longer than the time it takes to forget the names of the finalists from last season’s American Idol.