Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Low Information Voters

Modern language, whatever else it is and however misused, is at least fertile, especially over the past few decades. We all come across numerous modern expressions which fit the linguistic purpose for which they evolved.

One which fits rather well in my view is the mainly US term low information voter or LIV. There is nothing technical about the term – we probably all know what it means without being told and without having to look it up on Wikipedia.

From wikipedia
Low information voters, also known as LIVs or misinformation voters, are people who may vote, but who are generally poorly informed about politics. The phrase is mainly used in the United States, and has become popular since the mid-nineties.

Surely UK politics suffers acutely from the problem this term so neatly encapsulates? Whether the problem is suffered equally by left and right I don’t know.

American pollster and political scientist Samuel Popkin coined the term "low-information" in 1991 when he used the phrase "low-information signaling" in his book The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Low-information signaling referred to cues or heuristics used by voters, in lieu of substantial information, to determine who to vote for. Examples include voters liking Bill Clinton for eating at McDonald's, and perceiving John Kerry as elitist for saying wind-surfing was his favorite sport.

Over in the US, Professor Jacobson thinks the LIV problem is much more a problem for the political right than the political left.

I previously wrote about how BuzzFeed Politics has combined “the culture” and savvy crafting into a highly effective tool for undermining Republicans with subtle and not-so-subtle mockery.  “Look at the goofy cat, look at the goofy celeb, look at the goofy Republican” is more dangerous to us than a 5000-word article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Back to Wikipedia, there are plenty of examples of what political parties are up against. It’s nothing we don’t know, but is worth raising because it’s an intractable issue.

A 1992 study found that in the absence of other information, voters used candidates' physical attractiveness to draw inferences about their personal qualities and political ideology.

A study performed using logistic regression analysis on data from the 1986 through 1994 American National Election Studies found that low-information voters tend to assume female and black candidates are more liberal than male and white candidates of the same party.

A 2003 study that analyzed precinct-level data from city council elections held in Peoria, Illinois between 1983 and 1999 found that the placement of candidates' names on the ballot was a point of influence for low-information voters.

An analysis concerned with the "puzzling finding" that incumbent legislators in mature democracies charged with corruption are not commonly punished in elections found that less-informed voters were significantly more likely to vote for incumbents accused of corruption than were their better-informed counterparts, presumably because they did not know about the allegations.

The LIV problem is not a problem for mainstream politics, in the sense that they probably don’t care if voters are informed or not. They just want influence - by pulling whatever levers there are.

UK politics is corrupt, but whose responsibility is that? Is it the corrupt political classes or the low information voters or both?


Macheath said...

Good post!

There's something deeply depressing about the whole business; it's been around a long time, but we are surely entering a new era, with a population accustomed - and encouraged - to apply the most subjective and superficial criteria when 'voting' on a regular basis for TV talent acts or reality show contestants.

Anonymous said...

TBH I reckon the LIV has the right approach - do you like the look of them. Surely very very few people read a manifesto or research the political party - and little good would it do them anyway! There being no Advertising Standards Agency for political propadanda the poor voter has little or nothing to go on. Like going to a supermarket where none of the lables is reliable.

I rather think Prof Jacobson would do well to test people's perceptions 'does this person look like a crook?'. Some politicos do look like crooks - but still survive, therein lies an interesting study.

A K Haart said...

Mac - thanks. All this will be common knowledge in political circles and they have no intention of raising the bar.

Roger - I think one of the problems is not paying attention to what they do and don't do, what succeeds and what doesn't and whose fault it is.

There are lots of trails to follow but too many don't bother.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

AKH, I trust you will not mind if I do that which I have done previously and link to you without having first asked your permission..... :)

Damn good post - hence the wish to link!

A K Haart said...

Witterings - no problem - there's no need to ask really!