A Wall Street Journal columnist reminds us of a sad fact about the American electorate: Many voters are ignoramuses. Jonah Lehrer quotes Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Are you a political ignoramus? Try answering these questions:
- Who is the vice president of the United States?
- What is the name of your representative in Congress?
- What congressional district to you reside in?
- Name the members of your school board, your Board of Supervisors and your City Council.
- Name the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
- How many senators is each state allowed to have?
- What Assembly district do you live in, and who is the member of the Assembly who represents you?
- What state Senate district do you live in, and who is the senator who represents you?
However critical Churchill may have been of the electorate, he believed in the value of free elections.
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried,” he has been quoted as saying. Lehrer tells us that it actually may be a good thing that voters are ignorant. Like fish and birds, they tend to form consensuses which allow society to operate. Sort of like when you see a flock of birds take off all at once, or a school of fish move through the water together.
Collective ignorance is an essential feature of democratic governments, to prevent persuasive demagogues from having too much influence, he says.
Of course, there are exceptions — but they aren’t democracies. Look at North Korea, look at the Soviet Union, look at Nazi Germany.
Speaking of the Soviet Union, who is that nation’s current president? (Hint: This is a trick question.)