One new expression I have seen in recent months – ahead of and after last November’s US elections – is “low information voters”. It got my interest because it seems to be used, in the main, by right-of-centre commentators regarding what they assume are people who vote not by carefully weighing the policies and presumed philosophies of candidates such as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, but on trivia, such as whether a candidate looks or sounds “nice” or “nasty” or suchlike. Such voters, the argument goes, hardly watch any current affairs TV or read the serious parts of the media; they prefer game shows, talent shows, chat shows, and other dreck. And the assumption is that voters have chosen Barack Obama for largely trivial reasons. (This sort of way of explaining the issue is, needless to say, fraught with the risk that the person who makes it can end up sounding like a racist.)
One way of interpreting this is to suggest that such voters are more rational than the wielders of the term “low information voters” give them credit for. The voters may have figured out that policy will not change much regardless of whom they vote for, and so rather than spending their non-work hours fretting about fiscal cliffs, impending societal collapse and the affordability of the Welfare State, they watch junk, worry about trivia and don’t bother much with things such as defence policy or debt-to-GDP ratios.
The problem, though, is that even the “junk” can be saturated with statist undertones. Take the “celebrity culture” – all too often, a celeb who is held up as a figure of pity or ridicule might play the “victim” card and the narratives that infuse their lives often convey a sense of life in which people are not really responsible adults, or for that matter, youngsters who want to become adults. And so the daily diet of stuff conveyed to “low information voters” adds to the sort of culture in which support for Welfare States takes hold. (This is the sense in which obesity can be seen as a sort of Welfare State consequence, not an argument you tend to hear from the nanny-Left.)
One way to combat this is to stamp your feet and complain. That seems to have limited success. Another is to try and figure out how the sort of culture that might appeal to “low information voters” can be changed in ways that encourages a rather better set of outcomes. Take the huge popularity in the ‘States of people such as Oprah Winfrey. Say what you like about her shows, but anyone wanting to connect with the public should study her success. And that surely ought to include libertarians. Hence the importance, also, of making great movies and TV shows that are fun, diverting and also positive. Yes, we can bleat about the influence of “liberal Hollywood” and its non-US equivalents, but in this day and age, with a more fractured media and entertainment world, does it really make sense to despair?
Which is why, by the way, I think America suffered a grievous loss when Andrew Breitbart died last year. Because he understood this sort of issue instinctively. But America is a Protean place – and there plenty more like him, I am sure.
So on that positive note, a belated Happy New Year.