Cutting through the Clutter: How to Inform the Politically Ignorant (i.e., Everyone)

Post developed by Katie Brown and Arthur Lupia.

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In a post last year, Center for Political Studies (CPS) Research Professor and Professor of Political Science Arthur Lupia declared there to be two types of people: those who are ignorant about politics and those who are delusional about how much they know. There is no third group.

If people lack information, it can lead to bad decision-making. As part of an effort to reduce bad decisions, Lupia examines how to inform voters more effectively in his forthcoming book, How to Educate Ignorant People about Politics: A Scientific Perspective.

Lupia focuses on improving the efforts of teachers, scientists, faith leaders, issue advocates, journalists, and political campaigners. How can they best educate others? To further this goal, Lupia focuses on the transmission of information. He clarifies how different kinds of information can improve important kinds of knowledge and competence. A key part of Lupia’s argument is that people are easily distracted and often evaluate information based on how it makes them feel. As a result, the way to improve knowledge and competence is to find factual information that is not only relevant to the decisions that people actually have to make but also consistent with their values and core beliefs. For if a person sees factual information that is inconsistent with their values and beliefs, they tend to ignore it; and if the information is not relevant to their actions, then it cannot improve their competence. In this examination, facts are not enough. The real task is to convey facts to which people want to pay attention.

Despite the pessimistic premise of broad ignorance, Lupia is ultimately optimistic. The central thesis of his book is that offering helpful information is possible. Or as he puts it, “Educators can convey valuable information more effectively and efficiently if they know a few more things about how people think and learn.”

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