How can Democracies Make Good Decisions if Citizens are Misinformed?



No, we’re not arguing from the same facts. How can democracies make good decisions if citizens are misinformed?
The Washington Post


According to the authors, political misinformation in the United States 'is rampant'. This is significant because in order for democracy to be effective, citizens must be well-informed and able to make knowledgeable decisions about government policy. As they explain: 'Widely shared misinformation hampers democracy because it makes it difficult for groups of people to take effective and appropriate action on shared civic problems.'

The authors cite climate change as an example of political misinformation. Poll data from Yale University shows that one-fifth of Americans think global warming isn't real. Another three-tenths believe global warming is occurring due to natural, rather than man-made, changes. This is despite the fact that climate scientists agree that human-induced climate change is an established fact.

Misinformation such as incorrect beliefs about climate change have important implications for policy-making. According to the authors, citizens hold policy views that accord with with their misinformed views. Further, misinformation may even work to the advantage of some politicians, giving decision-makers an incentive 'to tolerate or even encourage false “knowledge".'

The authors suggest a range of strategies to combat misinformation among citizens, including: 'education through carefully selected policy options, fact checkers, expert advocacy, legal decisions, and policy mandates.'


Thumbnail image: Mount Rushmore. By Liz Lawley/Flickr

Jennifer Hochschild

Harvard University

Katherine Levine Einstein

Boston University

Published Date
July 21, 2015