‘Low Information Voters’: Euphemism and Truth

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Every day in my day job I run into a lot of ‘low information voters’, people who ‘aren’t political’ who ask me my opinion of this candidate or that one, or this policy or that one. Many of those people work backbreaking jobs, or juggle the monumental tasks of surviving while impoverished, or deal with the day in and day out grind of disability.

Just because they ask my opinion doesn’t mean that they have any intention of agreeing with me, as most of them are fully aware that I’m ‘left of Lennon’, a left lefty leftist. Nonetheless, I treat their requests with respect and give the best answer I can with the information I have, using language that I didn’t learn in grad school.

Those folks are what too many liberals are referring to these days with contempt as ‘low information voters’. They mean this as a sly way of saying ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’. Neither, actually, is true.

‘Low Information Voters’ should probably be referred to as ‘Mis-information Voters’. They are typically very engaged in the political process, (though typically very recently) and turn to sources they trust for information to guide their decisions. Unfortunately, they are being guided by a system of misinformation that is designed to convince people to vote against their interests and in the interests of those who want to be in power.

People without information seek it. People who are given misinformation reject information because it doesn’t jibe with what information they have been given. And having misinformation doesn’t make one necessarily ignorant or stupid. A true ‘low-information voter’ would be seeking new information, not clinging to mis-information in the face of overwhelming evidence.

And when you call that person who is repeating the misinformation ‘stupid’ or ‘ignorant’, you lose an important opportunity to gently challenge the misinformation and provide better information, and, hopefully teach the person how to spot misinformation.

And you, who came to this post feeling smug that you do, in fact, have all your information correct, and so you assume I’m talking only to you, and not about you, think again.  All of us can fall victim to misinformation. Misinformation isn’t solely a province of the rightward side of the political spectrum. How many of you fell, even for a moment, for the idea that the attack on the twin towers was an inside job?

Corporate media is designed to make money, not to inform, and if it makes more money to stir up controversy where facts are uncontroversial, they’ll do so. And unless you’re someone who has a far better than average grounding in logic and in investigation, you’ll get caught in the lies too. So use corporate media with caution, and supplement with public sources and sources from international media.

America is a republic because Americans are busy. Democracies require far more of a citizen than republics. In a republic, you vote for someone you trust to make the right decision for you, and then you sit back and watch, voting for a course correction if the person takes (in your opinion) a wrong turn. Once upon a time, it was the media’s job to challenge the inevitable and understandable false promises that politicians make in order to be elected or re-elected. Now too much money in the machine is devoted to the media that reports on politics for it to be a reliable source any longer.

If you must take on this mis-named ‘low information voter’ and challenge what he thinks he knows, lose the name calling and the sarcasm. Save that for snark parties on Facebook. Instead, give him good information and ways to verify it, as well as any information needed to help that person analyze the truth of the matter independently.

Teach him how to spot valid and reliable sources and studies. Help him spot the wiggle words that are the mark of bullshit, and the personal attacks and other logical fallacies designed to distract from facts that are not in the misinformation campaign’s interests.

Also, pay close attention to your own resistance. If the person you are talking to turns out to have good primary sources from multiple points of view, good analysis, and a plan that outlines each step and how each fits into the whole, it might be you that’s the low information voter this time.

Republics require educated citizens. Do your patriotic duty and educate one another, and yourselves, and we can solve the ‘low information voter’ problem once and for all.

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