Voters Ignorant About Federal Healthcare Law and About Winning the Lottery
Ilya Somin, writing in Forbes, notes that “low-information” voters don’t know much about the new federal healthcare reform law. Surveys show voters are ignorant about a lot of other federal policies too. Yet voters are urged to turn out and vote each election when candidates campaign for federal office eager to run or reform these federal programs.
Public choice economists argue that this ignorance is explained by the very small influence a single vote is likely to have in the next election. Why spend a lot of time learning about candidates and the various policies they claim to support if: 1) your vote is unlikely to decide the election, and 2) the candidate if elected may or may not vote as they said they would during the campaign, and 3) if they do, their vote is unlikely to decide the Congressional legislation, and 4) even if the candidate is elected, they vote as promised and the policy is passed, it is unlikely to accomplish what it was supposed to.
Don’t we have better things to do than spend hours trying to figure out political promises and the candidates who make them? Isn’t spending time and money trying to get what you think you might want out of a campaign and election a lot like trying to win the lottery? Well, people spent $58 billion in 2010 trying to win the lottery. Or did they? Just because people buy a lottery ticket, and economists think them stupid or just really bad at math, that doesn’t mean these millions of poor investments don’t pay off in a small way.
Maybe people spend $5 or $10 on lottery tickets to indulge in a little bit of hope. They like the think about fifty million dollars coming their way and what they would do with it. Maybe voters cast their ballot not so much because they don’t understand the odds of influencing an election, but because they want to indulge their hope that better candidates might get elected and bring about better policies.
And maybe a lot of people buy lottery tickets instead of voting because the odds are higher with the lottery than with the election.
Sometimes too, people have common sense insights that are closer to reality. For example, Somin notes “a 2006 Zogby survey found that only 42% of Americans can name the three branches of the federal government: executive, legislative and judicial.”
Three branches of government is a nice story to learn in school, and it is true there are famous federal buildings in Washington DC where these three branches are located. But all around them are dozens of other federal buildings where federal agencies like the IRS, EPA, NSA, FBI and other alphabet agencies are busy carrying out their missions. Most of these agencies write hundreds or thousands of pages of new rules and regulations each year, which become law, and then they work to enforce these regulations. Plus they have their own little in-house court systems to pass judgement on people who run afoul of these every-expanding nets of new regulations.
Each federal agency has its own legislative, executive, and judicial function combined in the same building, and run by the same staff of Lois Lerner type enthusiasts targeting whoever they think might be breaking bad in their little kingdom of rules and regulations.
One such kingdom is the Federal Election Commission that serves as judge, jury and executioner for folks who try their hand at political speech without proper permits. Congress has passed layers of laws on campaign finance, and the FEC has scribbled reams of rules to explain what is and isn’t allowed. Brad Smith writes about upcoming cases here. People who fall into the FEC net, and who have enough money and time to fight FEC action through the outside court system, may be able to free themselves from FEC authority over their political lives. (Link to article on CampaignFreedom.org website.)
Here’s to the never-ending lottery of casting votes to limit the size and scope of government regulation.