The Myth of the Rational Voter

caplanUS economist Bryan Caplan’s ‘Myth of the rational voter‘ is well worth a look.

Caplan probably doesn’t tell us anything that would surprise us much, but the way that he addresses the conflict between the notion of rationality that underpins the idea of homo economicus and the evidence from the way that people actually vote is interesting.

He identifies a number of types of irrationality – the willingness to sentimentalise and allow loyalty to get in the way, for instance – ‘rallying around the flag’ in a time of war, even if the war may not be in the national interest.

He looks at the way that voters simply get the facts spectacularly wrong before they vote on a subject (Americans, Caplan points out, believe that the US spends a huge amount more on foreign aid than it actually does – yet it votes accordingly).

Elsewhere, he echoes Matthew Parris’ views on the public perception of immigration – not understanding the more obscure economic benefits, and among his conclusions, he urgently entreats the political elites not to flatter the majority but instead to stand up to them.

I’m not sure that it’s a message that the public are very keen on at the moment.