Why people must be politically informed?

For Democracy to function efficiently a certain degree of political knowledge is a must. Having very poor background myself I did a little research to see if this is a must. Two very important works of political science had the answer I was looking for. Dalton and Carpini confer the various aspects of this claim undermining each other’s views. Yet they seem to agree at least on the fact that individual opinions should be consistent from the perspective of having ideologically reliable basis. The parallel between their viewpoints end right there and the vividly contrasting arguments lead the way.

The level of sophistication being based on the individual’s background knowledge and, what’s more crucial, on social contexts is not mandatory for ensuring effective democracy. That’s how Dalton puts it later explaining that imperfections are part of human activity and the political decisions one makes can certainly fail to trigger the desired outcome because of being based on false and/or misleading information. “Democracy succeeds not because it doesn’t make mistakes, but because it is a dynamic system that has the ability to correct mistakes,” (Dalton, 2014, Citizen Politics, p. 32) continues Dalton to support his argument. This claim falls short when considered from Carpini’s perspective, however. The significance of the informed citizenry is vital for the latter in a number of ways, one being the likelihood of participation and consistency of opinions among informed citizen’s especially “in the face of new relevant compelling information” (Carpini, 1999, In search of the Informed Citizen, p. 18).

Carpini covers every aspect of the issue discussing alternatives to informed citizens and theories where the lack of information can be concealed as long as the already acquired piece of information is relevant, no matter what shortcuts the individual took to obtain it. This statement does get close to what Dalton might say yet doesn’t touch it, instead goes on stating that such simplified procedures actually result in decision errors. Before one could go back with Dalton and assert that mistakes are reversible in democracy, Carpini argues that experts are of an essence for the contemporary democracy and the more there are of those qualified individuals “average” citizen can turn to for advice, the stronger the democracy. In other words, he claims that sufficient level of knowledge of politics will greatly contribute to the effectiveness of democracy pinpointing the fact that those are the economic models not civic ones where arguments support the views that it is irrational for the citizens to be politically informed is irrational (p. 31). The elimination of errors from the practice of democracy via relying on educated well-informed and politically active portion of public is what one interprets from Carpini’s assertions.

No matter how well supported the perspectives of the both authors were, there were few instances requiring further consideration. Dalton succeeded in critiquing the fact that requiring all citizens to be politically informed is beyond reach in practice, yet left the reader hanging while he went on praising the political apathy and how it actually helps the democracy to survive. In what kind of democratic society do apathy towards politics and non-participation mean effective enforcement of democratic principles? Carpini’s argument, on the other hand, though the most rational and comprehensively considered, leaves one thinking how applicable it is to today’s political reality. How to motivate citizens to acquire information and become politically active? It is a one thing to say what is the right way to follow and it is a different thing to make it happen.


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