Burton on the psychology of voting

Posted on September 22, 2008


Ken suggested that I look at Robert Burton’s book On Being Certain, and it definitely sounds like something that I should get my hands on. Before I could even think about looking for it, though, I noticed that Burton has an article in salon.com about the psychology of voting patterns. Given that I find fascinating people’s willingness to vote for any Republican candidate after the current administration managed to wreck the country’s economy, civil rights and world standing this article is most interesting to read. In talking about an academic paper on the feelings of competence felt by incompetent people, Burton states what is perhaps the main point of his article:

The article’s conclusion should be posted as a caveat under every political speech of those seeking office. And it should serve as the epitaph for the Bush administration: “People who lack the knowledge or wisdom to perform well are often unaware of this fact. That is, the same incompetence that leads them to make wrong choices also deprives them of the savvy necessary to recognize competence, be it their own or anyone else’s.”

The weakness of any such purely psychological answer is that it does not explain why the US is doing so much worse than most of the other western democracies. The answer, therefore, has to be to some degree social.