Announcing the second Article Series from Of Politics and Men: Government 101
Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them . . . .
And in the federal Constitution, the importance of an informed citizenry is enshrined in the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Getting the basic facts right is essential to governing well, and voters’ misperceptions are a formidable obstacle to the functioning of our democracy. One of the most striking examples of voter misperception in the previous decade concerns the Iraq war. In May 2012, a YouGov poll found that fully 63 percent of Republican respondents still believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003, despite the fact that we have known for some time that Iraq did not have WMDs. Similarly, a Washington Post poll in 2003 found that nearly 70 percent of all Americans were convinced Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks – even though there is no evidence for such a link. This is not something that can be shrugged away; in a democracy, misperception carries an enormous cost.
There is no single fix to this problem. Members of Congress, the press, and civic groups all need to work hard to counter the misinformation flooding the airwaves in America. But in the end, the burden lies with each of us as citizens. Shouldering this burden is difficult. It takes time and energy, and it is not something we are inclined to do. According to research published by the American Psychological Association, the less people know about important complex issues (e.g., the economy, energy consumption and the environment), the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed. The more urgent the issue (e.g., the fiscal cliff), the more people want to remain unaware.
But even if it getting informed is something we don’t necessarily want to do, it is something that we must do. Without discriminating citizens, the country suffers, no mater how good our leadership. Of Politics and Men is committed to promoting a more informed citizenry. And while each article strives to achieve this goal, the “Government 101” Article Series will present articles focusing specifically on the structure of our federal government, from the Electoral College to how bills are passed in Congress.
This Article Series is ongoing, and articles will continue to be written for the foreseeable future. In addition to being located in the Directory page, each article can also be found in the page entitled Article Series, which serves as the directory page for all OPaM series.