Are Americans still competent enough to vote?

With both Ted Cruz and John Kasich suspending their campaigns, Republicans are left with Donald Trump.

Perhaps we could chalk it up to the Dunning-Kruger effect but we might be too ignorant of it the ramifications of that to adequately speculate.

The Dunning-Kruger effect basically states that people’s views of the level of their own competence is greatly inflated — like Trump’s view of himself and his supporters’ views of themselves and Trump.

David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University, and then-graduate student Jason Kruger wrote about their effect in 1999 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a 2014 article, Dunning recounts that for more than 20 years he has been researching people’s understanding of their own expertise  and “the results have been consistently sobering, occasionally comical, and never dull.”

Dunning explains:

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous  —  especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power. … As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers  —  which just ain’t so.)

Twain also did not say, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed,” but he should have.

Dunning also found that one’s political beliefs can warp one’s logical skills:

In ongoing work with the political scientist Peter Enns, my lab has found that a person’s politics can warp other sets of logical or factual beliefs so much that they come into direct contradiction with one another. In a survey of roughly 500 Americans conducted in late 2010, we found that over a quarter of liberals (but only six percent of conservatives) endorsed both the statement “President Obama’s policies have already created a strong revival in the economy” and “Statutes and regulations enacted by the previous Republican presidential administration have made a strong economic recovery impossible.” Both statements are pleasing to the liberal eye and honor a liberal ideology, but how can Obama have already created a strong recovery that Republican policies have rendered impossible? Among conservatives, 27 percent (relative to just 10 percent of liberals) agreed both that “President Obama’s rhetorical skills are elegant but are insufficient to influence major international issues” and that “President Obama has not done enough to use his rhetorical skills to effect regime change in Iraq.” But if Obama’s skills are insufficient, why should he be criticized for not using them to influence the Iraqi government?

Now, what does this say about the concept we call democracy, which based on the belief in that average citizens are competent enough to choose competent leaders?

(Photo: Gregg Segal)


25 comments on “Are Americans still competent enough to vote?

  1. nyp says:

    Well, maybe.

    But if I were you I would hesitate to label a large percentage of the traditional Republican electorate as morons.

  2. That’s why I wrote “but we might be too ignorant of it the ramifications of that to adequately speculate.”

    The argument becomes circuitous.

  3. nyp says:

    Yes, we may be too moronic to accurately determine whether everyone else is a morons.

  4. Please note that Democrats are voting for Hillary and Bernie.

    That might be even stronger argument that democracy is in decline.

    “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820.

  5. nyp says:

    No one would conflate Hillary Clinton and Senator Sanders with Donald Trump.
    You may vigorously disagree with their positions and even impugn their character, but their selection by the Democratic Party is in no way comparable to the selection of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President. It just isn’t.

  6. On that we can disagree.

  7. nyp says:

    No, we don’t.

    You do not actually believe that Democratic voters choosing Hillary Clinton are just like Republican voters choosing Donald Trump.

    You are simply trying to hold onto something in the wake of a massive repudiation by Republican voters of what you had believed were bedrock Republican values. It may be somewhat more comforting to tell yourself that the electorate — Democratic & Republican — is simply composed of easily-conned morons than it is to admit that the coalitions that have held the Republican Party together since 1968 are fracturing. But no one really believes that line — especially not you.

  8. Steve says:

    No, it’s the Sanders candidacy that parallels and is 180 out of, the Trump candidacy.
    Though anecdotal, I have a good number of liberal Democrats who will vote Trump if Sanders doers not take the Democrat party nomination.

    Both Sanders and Trump are anti establishment candidates.

    Clinton (and Patrick is correct on this point) is the only front running candidate who is also mainstream. She also happens to have a lot of traditional Republican values in her plank.

    “If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for … but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein

    This is an easy one, Gary Johnson may well be the Libertarian candidate. A vote there is a vote against the establishment and the crazy.

    Also, I maintain Trump will go off the deep end soon after the race is between Clinton and he. With Perot it happened shortly after running mates were announced, remember?

  9. Bill says:

    Well, it now appears that Donald will be the standard bearer for the R’s and Hillary for the D’s. This represents a Hobson’s choice for the faithful party adherents. There are 3 options presented by the forthcoming presidential election. (1) Vote for Hillary, (2) vote for Donald or (3) don’t vote, or vote for a minority candidate which may be a protest but is at best a symbolic gesture. Donald, IMHO, is a narcissistic vulgarian. Hillary is a pathological liar who may or may not be indicted before the election. There is of curse Bernie who is not likely to make the cut as a D and in any event is an avowed Socialist. Historians and social scientists will analyze this years election to death looking for an answer. Neither party should be particularly proud at this moment. Is the Dunning-Kruger effect simply another explanation for low information voters?

  10. Steve says:

    Funny you should say that just now, Bill.
    You posted it within minutes of Scott Pelley saying on CBS news that both Trump and Clinton are disliked by a majority of the voters.
    Doesn’t that statistic give third party candidates a real chance this time?

  11. nyp says:

    I’m lovin’ it.

  12. Patrick says:

    Thomas never saw you as falling for psychobabble, but I guess….straws and what not.

    This story, and the accompanying map, does a reall good job though of identifying the landscape for republican presidential candidates (whatever their names).

    “And here’s the underlying math. If Clinton wins the 19 states (and D.C.) that every Democratic nominee has won from 1992 to 2012, she has 242 electoral votes. Add Florida’s 29 and you get 271. Game over.

    The Republican map — whether with Trump, Cruz or the ideal Republican nominee (Paul Ryan?) as the standard-bearer — is decidedly less friendly. There are 13 states that have gone for the GOP presidential nominee in each of the last six elections. But they only total 102 electorate votes. That means the eventual nominee has to find, at least, 168 more electoral votes to get to 270. Which is a hell of a lot harder than finding 28 electoral votes.”

  13. Bill says:

    I rarely watch CBS News. If that is their story, they are simply reporting the obvious as both Clinton and Trump’s negatives have been the subject of much polling and coverage. In order for a Third Party Candidate to stand a chance, he/she/it would have to have some great and widespread appeal. For the moment, there doesn’t seem to be anyone fitting that description on the horizon. There is of course the appealing thought of someone riding in at the last moment on a white horse to save the day but alas, that only happens in fairy tales.

  14. Steve says:

    Then, as I quoted Heinlein,vote against. But vote, there is a whole down ticket that probably means more than the presidency.

  15. Steve says:

    Patrick just dumped a load stinky bull shit on the breakfast table again.

    That so called “blue wall” is a fantasy. The only time Democrats get some kind of electoral edge is in a very close vote. This one won’t be close. It will be maddening.
    Both of them are very much disliked among the electorate, the USA does not have 51 individual presidential general elections; it has one big election on the same day and the public at large tends to move in similar directions the closer we get to that day in November.

    Enjoy your stinky plops of poo, Patrick. Your words are just so much psychobullshit.

  16. Patrick says:

    “And here’s the underlying math. If Clinton wins the 19 states (and D.C.) that every Democratic nominee has won from 1992 to 2012, she has 242 electoral votes. Add Florida’s 29 and you get 271. Game over.

    Facts are funny things.

    I note especially the part about the 19 states, along with D.C., that EVERY democratic presidential nominee has won in presidential elections for the last 20 years.

  17. Barbara says:

    We have been in a post constitutional period for quite some time. To guard against this soft tyranny, the Founders put in place a system of checks and balances to guard against a decline in one part of the system. Sadly, we have not kept this separation of powers, so the Presidency and the executive branch have taken on more power than the office was originally given. Previously, Americans could get away with less competence. Now – not so much.

    Voters, feeling the decline in their personal fortunes as well as the prestige of their country, and not seeing much hope for the future, were not in a mood to listen to facts. There is no fury like a voter who has been scorned, and scorned, and scorned.

    Trump was correct in that the system was rigged, but not as he spun it. The RNC agreed to a series of debates that guaranteed entertainment instead of a full vetting of a candidate’s vision, values, depth, and plan for governing. The media saw the value of Trump’s over the top personality and overwhelming traded journalist standards for ratings and access.

    The consummate insider was allowed to get away with creating the persona of an outsider who could and would take the system down. Never mind that he paid the freight that kept the system greased in the first place. No facts please, just burn it down!

    I’m still in the NeverTrump camp as well as the NeverHillary camp. A non-vote for me is a vote to let it burn. Maybe from the ash heap we can build a constitutional republic once again.

  18. Barbara says:

    Patrick is correct about the Blue states won by Dems between 1992 and 2012. This is why we need a national debate on the respective parties governing plans and what impact that would have on the economy, national security, and individual freedom. Sadly, we are not likely to get this debate now. Trump stated on CNN he is open to an increase in the federal minimum wage. No clear contrast in governing philosophy there.

  19. Steve says:

    Facts are funny…GWB wasn’t a Democrat.
    It’s NOT A LOCK.
    The blue wall is a pile of stinky bullshit.

    And Trump is running for Clinton. He’s going to pull a Perot.

  20. Barbara says:

    Not saying it’s a lock, but it is a fact that those states have went Dem for that time period. If we had a true conservative that would articulate why limited government and free enterprise means more prosperity to all Americans, we could turn those states back Red as Reagan did. If Trump had engaged in a debate with Cruz we could have had that discussion.

  21. Steve says:

    hmph. Of course those states went dem, but that’s not what Patrick is trying to psychobabble us about.
    Patrick wants everyone to roll over and play dead cuz a Democrat sweep is inevitable in November according to his pile o’stank.

    Simply put, the so called “blue wall” is nothing more than a scare tactic played by the national race horse partisan pundits.

    As a whole, the country isn’t that stupid. But that is what the electoral college is there to prevent, the off chance of countrywide stupidity.

    If it really were all about the twisted math, Sanders would announce his exit now, the Libertarians would close up shop and Hillary would declare victory today. But sometimes it’s about principle and this year there is a better chance of that than ever before.

    More than ever, this year, (we) independents will be making the decision. And that scares both the big parties.
    If it didn’t, they would be fast to bring third parties into the process rather than trying to keep them out or swallow them up in their own ranks like the Republicans did to TEA.

  22. Steve says:

    Here’s a good write up on the subject of the bullshit (insert color here) wall.

  23. nyp says:

    This year will count as the sixth time out of seven elections in which the Republicans have lost the popular vote. In each instance, their response has been to blame the American people and the democratic process.

  24. nyp says:

    I do kinda like the fact that Trump now says he is open to increasing the minimum wage.

  25. […] as Mark Twain is incorrectly credited with saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s