Low information voters


by Tom Heuerman, Ph.D. • 9/18/08 • I heard the term “low information voter” recently. Some definitions:

• Individuals who are not knowledgeable and vote anyway,


• Those who rely on talk radio and less-than-factual hearsay from friends and family members to shape their political decisions.

As the 2008 election approaches, TCDP is receiving many thoughtful opinion columns about candidates and issues. The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on (mostly) national and world issues, including elections.

Low information voters were deceived by the “compassionate conservative” in 2000 (fool me once, shame on you) and were scared by “the decider” in 2004 and re-elected the worst president in our history. Republicans counted on their ignorance—the country paid the price (fool me twice, shame on me).

They are the folks John McCain targets with dishonest television ads—strongly criticized by even conservative columnists. They are the people who pass along and then parrot the lies in emails that tell us Barack Obama is a Muslim, a friend to terrorists, and isn’t like the rest of us white folks. The McCain camp counts on their mindlessness.

Thoughtless voters got hysterical about the invented Sarah Palin—a symbol of a romanticized past–before they knew a single thing about her experience, her belief system, or her policies, and some hastily decided to vote for McCain—no feminist he. Such silliness is wishful thinking at its worst—the regression of maturity. The solution to our nation’s problems isn’t a fearful return to the past—the remedy is a bold step into the future.

Ignorance isn’t reserved for low information voters. Some people have much data but little insight. Delegates at the Republican National Convention thumped their chests and yelled “drill, drill, drill.” Thomas Friedman, columnist at the New York Times, said that was like screaming “carbon paper, carbon paper, carbon paper” as the computer replaced the typewriter. As Obama said, “They take pride in being ignorant.”

We are told that these folks want a president they can relate to—someone like them. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said about Obama, “With people who have a lot of gifts, it’s hard for people to identify with them. Barack Obama is handsome. He’s incredibly bright. He’s incredibly well spoken, and he’s incredibly successful—not exactly the easiest guy in the world to identify with.” Some of us don’t like smart people. But we want our kids to be smart. Go figure. We need smart people to get things right in America.

I don’t want the neighbors next door to be my president and vice president nor them me. I want my president to be smarter than me. I’d like him to be more mature and spiritual than I am too. I don’t expect to relate to him or for him to relate to me. I want him to solve the problems we face: two wars, global warming, an economic meltdown, and universal health care for starters.

A role of citizenship is to pay attention to what is going on—to be mindful. Thomas Jefferson said that an enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a nation. Self-government is not possible unless citizens are educated enough to hold leaders accountable. New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, “Democracy is not average people selecting average leaders. It is average people with the wisdom to select the best prepared.”

The elections this year are important. Will a segment of voters be fooled again? Will the least informed or the least discerning again be manipulated by fear and nonsense to vote against their and the nation’s self-interest? Or will they become informed and put country first? We will all be affected by what they do.

Obama expresses great faith in Americans to get this election right—to vote based on the potentially catastrophic issues facing the nation. McCain has a more cynical view of the wisdom of the electorate.

Fool us three times, and we deserve our fate.

Heuerman, Ph.D. is a change consultant, former Secret Service agent, & former executive at the Star Tribune. He lives in Moorhead, MN