Suggestion No. 4 is particularly well taken. If you know little or nothing about the issues at stake in an election or referendum, you can often serve the public interest best by abstaining. It isn’t necessarily wrong to be ignorant about politics. But it is wrong to inflict that ignorance on your fellow citizens. As John Stuart Mill put it, voting is not just an exercise of personal choice, but rather “the exercise of power over others.” The people elected by ignorant voters will rule over the entire society, not just those who cast ballots for them.
While the study quoted in the Scientific American article suggests that physical attractiveness only influences perceptions of female candidates, other research indicates that it affects voters’ views of male politicians, as well. Beauty likely has an undue influence on the fate of political beasts of both sexes.
In some cases, you might be able to offset the effects of political ignorance by relying on “information shortcuts” – small bits of knowledge that serve as proxies for larger bodies of information you may not know. However, such shortcuts themselves usually require a good deal of knowledge to use effectively, and are often actually misleading.
Even relatively conscientious voters will often find it difficult to effectively combat their biases, or to learn enough to understand more than a small fraction of the issues addressed by the large and complicated modern state. Also, because of the very low chance that any one vote will make a decisive difference in an election, it is often rational for individual voters to be ignorant, even though there is a terrible systemic effect if large numbers of voters behave that way. For those reasons, among others, I am not optimistic that we will overcome the problem of political ignorance any time soon. In the long run, the most effective potential solution is to reduce the size and complexity of government, and and make more of our decisions in settings where we have better incentives to seek out information and use it wisely. Nonetheless, the situation might improve at least somewhat if more voters follow Scientific American’s excellent advice.