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WAS BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA BORN OUTSIDE the United States, so that his presidency and all laws passed under it are unconstitutional? Are two out of every five Americans black? Did the crime rate rise during the first 15 years of the twenty-first century? These are questions of factual information, to which there are correct answers--respectively, no, no, and no. Knowing the right answer to each question is important for making appropriate political choices and policy decisions. And yet in opinion polls, mainstream media, and general public discourse, many sensible and educated Americans have answered yes to each of these queries. They are wrong, and their views are likely to be associated with--and may even contribute to--consequential and problematic political actions or public policies. Consider another set of questions: Do higher taxes reduce car owners' consumption of gasoline? Do more Americans vote in local elections, where their vote has a much greater impact, than in state or national elections, where their vote may be substantively trivial? Can intensive tutoring improve reading and math skills of inner-city students? These are slightly more complicated questions of fact because they involve causal links. But they, too, have correct, or at least generally consensual, answers--respectively, yes, no, and yes. Many Americans would concur with these answers and support the implied policy or political goals--and yet do not select the actions that would seem to follow directly from them. These two sets of questions point to two problems for political discourse and action: the use of incorrect information and the failure to use correct information. These problems stand in opposition to the view of almost every serious thinker who has considered how to make democratic governance stable and effective. Sympathetic observers of democracy have consistently emphasized the need for a knowledgeable citizenry that uses relevant information to inform public choices. Let us allow Thomas Jefferson, in his "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," to speak for the many: Much more recently, Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter made the same point in their authoritative study of the role of knowledge in a democracy: This article addresses the various ways in which people acquire--or do not acquire--and use--or fail to use--correct information of the type to which Jefferson and subsequent scholars of democracy refer. Our starting point is Jefferson's ideal: that is, knowing and using correct information to make policy or political choices. However, we pay more attention to two deviations. The first is knowing but ignoring correct information, as when people smoke despite their knowledge of cancer or buy gas-guzzling SUVs despite their awareness of global warming. The second deviation from Jefferson's ideal is believing and using incorrect information, as when voters oppose the Affordable Care Act because they incorrectly believe that it establishes "death panels." Understanding these three alternative relationships between facts and politics will, we hope, help residents of the United States pursue Jefferson's ideal and ward off the risks he warns of. Our task is given urgency by the fact that...
Source Citation (MLA 8 th Edition)
Hochschild, Jennifer L., and Katherine Levine Einstein. "Do facts matter? Information and misinformation in American politics." Political Science Quarterly, vol. 130, no. 4, 2015, p. 585+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 20 Feb. 2019.
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