In future posts, I will be expanding on several themes of the new edition, particularly those that go beyond the material in the original 2013 version. In this post, I want to briefly outline the reasons why I decided to do a new edition of the book. Most works by academics never get a second edition at all, much less one published just three years after the first edition came out.
The main reason why I wanted to do a new edition at this time is to address several important issues that were not covered in the first one. A particularly important one is the argument that foot voting is dangerous because it will exacerbate the supposed trend towards ideological segregation famously dubbed “the Big Sort” in the book of the same title by Bill Bishop. Another is the claim (increasingly popular in academic circles) that we can overcome political ignorance by using jury-like bodies selected through “sortition” to make political decisions. The new edition also addresses the relationship between political ignorance and the disproportionate political power of the wealthy – an increasing focus of controversy in both public and academic debate.
The second edition includes updated data on political ignorance from recent election cycles. Sadly, the picture is every bit as grim as in the past. While the second edition was largely completed before the 2016 election and the rise of Donald Trump, I do briefly discuss the important role that exploitation of ignorance has played in his success so far. More generally, this year’s election has highlighted the dangers of voter ignorance even more than most others.
As I emphasize in the book, Trump and the 2016 election are just extreme examples of a far more common phenomenon. More conventional politicians in both parties also routinely exploit voter ignorance. This tendency is well illustrated by another episode discussed in the book: the Obama administration’s manipulation of public ignorance to help pass the Affordable Care Act – what Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber referred to as taking advantage of “the stupidity of the American voter.” Gruber was wrong to conflate ignorance and stupidity (which are actually very different phenomena). But he was accurate in his basic understanding of what happened.
The first edition of Democracy and Political Ignorance attracted a great deal more interest and attention than I anticipated, both in the United States and abroad. The book has even been translated into Italian and Japanese. Political ignorance is a serious problem in democracies around the world, not just in this country. The first edition has also been adopted for use in courses in several different fields at a number of universities in the US and elsewhere. The interest generated by the original book was another factor that persuaded me to do a second edition
I have learned a lot from the reactions of readers, students, and commentators to the first edition, and tried to address the more important concerns they raised, in the new version. I hope that the second edition ofDemocracy and Political Ignorance will help stimulate further discussion of the important questions the book addresses.