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Survey: What should ordinary voters know?
Voters’ ignorance about the issues and about their government impedes democratic functioning. Politicians manipulate them too easily; polarization reigns; and there is a lack of popular will to solve important problems.
Please submit your view on the following question:
Given my own knowledge, and my observations of today’s public dialogue…
what is the one topic area that I wish all voters knew a lot more about?
Select a topic area (optional), and write a very brief explanation, describing what knowledge is needed and why. (There is further guidance down below.) This discussion is moderated by Know The System, whose mission is to revive democracy through citizen education.
Tips and Example Responses
In thinking about your response, here are a few considerations:
- What kind of voter knowledge would help elevate public dialogue?
- What knowledge would help get better results in Congress?
- What kinds of knowledge would make voters feel most empowered?
Things to try to avoid:
- Subject-matter that is too technical or would require weeks of study to understand
- A narrow, pet issue (please try to think a bit more generally)
- Election strategy (leave that to the political strategists)
- Partisan propaganda (though, a key political or economic principle is fair game)
- Information about specific leaders
- Topics for this month (please take a longer-term perspective!)
Voters need some basics in the subject of rhetoric and persuasion: understanding what a fallacious argument is, understanding symbolism v. substance, issue framing, knowing the difference between fact and opinion.
(Government and society)
They need to understand what the parties really are, and that parties have only one wish: to get money and power. The parties are not much concerned about making society better (though they say that they are). When you understand all this, then you aren’t as easily fooled by them.
People need to understand where our moral capital comes from, and to respect it. Yes, it’s based in religion and patriotism. Secular people don’t need to agree, but they need to appreciate what churches and synagogues etc provide, and why we shouldn’t want the government to try to do things that it’s very bad at.
People need to understand the Constitution. If you don’t understand that, it’s difficult to understand how to solve other societal issues and problems.
No one is thinking about solutions to our problems of inequality, of stagnant wages, and where good jobs are going to come from. Congress is loath to work on it (their excuse: markets will decide), so the public will need to demand that they do. So we have to start talking about industrial policy, and so we need to give citizens a shared basic vocabulary about it.
They need to know what the issues with the health care system are. Not a technical or academic understanding, but rather, just what are the problems. Like fiscal/federal debt, like demographics, what uninsured means, what are the main costs, what do other countries do. It’s a huge long-term issue that touches everything else. Popular knowledge will generate the desperately-needed popular will to reform and evolve the system.
I think citizens have to remember that government has a critical role. People know that “all government is evil” is just a conservative applause line; but, assuming that government does have a future role, what should its role be? What are the options? If conservative voters had more consciousness about that, we’d all get past that Manichean public vitriol.
People just need to understand what’s actually wrong with politics today. It’s not the fault of elected leaders. It’s not Trump. Rather, the problem comes from tribalism, a natural urge that we’ve all got to manage. The problem also comes from the internet and social media; we can’t put time into reverse, so how can we tame it? We’ve got to control ourselves, we’ve got to control our environments. Having this kind of knowledge will clear up our thinking and help us to address our societal problems.
Immigration policy. Because it’s one of the biggest national splits now, and it’s constantly in the news, and hardly anyone even knows what our current policy is.
Almost all policy questions have an economic basis, but the public doesn’t understand economics. Because it’s too freakin’ complicated! So we need to come up with easy, compelling ways to explain a simplified version of it. Particularly macroeconomics and industrial organization. If voters know enough to be dangerous, politicians will be compelled to develop solid, understandable policy proposals, and to talk about them.
Voters need to understand just how broken our system really is (e.g. the “imperial presidency,” elections, budget process, short-termism, etc, etc.) Reforms will be impossible until voters know enough to support reforms.
I think ordinary voters believe in climate change, but can’t determine how serious it is. The activists are painting nightmare scenarios, the conservatives downplay it. Voters ought to be able to visualize the geologic timeline, and to understand what effect our global reforms might (or would not) have.
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