The Challenge of Democracy

Or, at least, a key challenge.

Via the Monkey CageNo, we’re not arguing from the same facts. How can democracies make good decisions if citizens are misinformed?

Widely shared misinformation hampers democracy because it makes it difficult for groups of people to take effective and appropriate action on shared civic problems.


I recommend the whole thing (the book under discussion sounds quite interesting).

FILED UNDER: Democracy, Political Theory, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MBunge says:

    No system of government works under the burden of widely shared information. Even tyrants need to know the truth.


  2. Franklin says:

    @MBunge: I think you meant ‘mis’information, but point understood.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    Seriously? These guys think they’re the first ever to study the fact that grifters gotta grift? Have none of them read 1984?

  4. gVOR08 says:

    The authors are largely correct, but I think they have much of it backward. Using AGW as an example, they themselves say, “…These misinformed individuals hold views that accord with the party’s platform…”. Is the problem really that individuals are misinformed? Or is it that the Party has positions that are at odds with reality. (I do give the authors credit for proceeding from an assumption that there is objective reality.) Is the problem that there are retired housewives in Tulsa that believe nonsense (hint – there always will be) or that James Inhofe is willing to sell the country down the river for money? And that James Inhofe’s buddies are so willing to spend money pushing the nonsense? This stuff didn’t fall out of the sky on Republicans.

    We can address this by wishing FOX news wouldn’t lie so much and that people wouldn’t be so gullible. Or we can address it through campaign finance restrictions (sorry Doug) to reduce politicians incentives to sell us out. One of those is actionable, the other isn’t.

  5. stonetools says:


    Agreed. These professors seem to think that the fact that there is so much misinformation out there about global warming is some sort of accident that opportunistic Republicans seized on. Nope, that was planned and funded by the fossil fuel industry.
    Likewise the professors don’t seem to realize that there is an entire right wing media ecosystem dedicated to providing misinformation to conservatives and totally opposed to their worthy goal of providing only correct information to voters.
    Well, academics are academics, I guess. Good article to read though.

  6. Andy says:

    I thought the article was pretty bad. The authors don’t distinguish between facts and knowledge and being “informed” which just demonstrates they are part of the problem they want to solve.

    In short, there is a huge difference between facts, analysis based on facts, probabilities based on facts (and/or analysis), and opinions based on any of the above. It’s not clear the authors understand the differences.

    Additionally, the effect of tribal affiliation on knowledge and beliefs is well understood by cognitive psychology, so the point they make is not exactly new and their proposed solutions have been tried many times and studied thoroughly.

    Then there is the obvious point that people get their knowledge and beliefs from intermediaries. When it comes to their example, climate change, people’s knowledge doesn’t come directly from the IPCC but from intermediaries and most of those intermediaries haven’t read the IPCC reports either. (As a poll, I wonder how many here have read the WG1 Summary for Policymakers?) Very, very few people actually read the IPCC reports – what most people believe about climate changes comes from what others have told them and given the complexity of the topic, what most people believe is wrong.

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Democrats may want to mouth all of the politically correct memes about global warming but how many Democrats are will to support policy that would actually have measurable effects on the long term weather trends.

    As long as the Democrats are supporting a massive increase in the number of immigrants (both legal and illegal) when those immigrants will have a much larger environmental foot print while living in the U.S., then it is hard to believe that Democrats really care about the environment. It is also hard to take the affluent coastal elites seriously about the environment when they spend so much time travelling between multiple homes and international travel.

    If Democrats actually believed what they are saying about global climate change, then they would be leading from the front instead of demanding that others make the change.

  8. walt moffett says:

    This is one of the “undocumented features” in democracy and the cure, say court decisions limiting free expression or a public/private arbiter of Truth,, might be worse than the disease. However I should read their book before concluding that is among their proposals.

  9. DrDaveT says:


    all of the politically correct memes facts about global warming


    What, exactly, do you believe that Democrats could do about global warming without (at a minimum) bipartisan support? Which part of the word global did you not understand?

  10. superdestroyer says:


    Democrats could demonstrate some personal leadership and work very hard to lower their environmental footprint such as no travel, smaller homes, living in one place, no vacations, etc.

    However, while watching Bernie Sanders flying about the country to campaign instead of coming out with a virtual, low environmental impact campaign, it seems that all Democrats want is for others (read the middle class) to give up their standard of living.