The Irrational Voter

Much has been made of late of the irrational voter, a voter who demands of politicians government economic measures that actually are not in his/her long-term best interest.   For example, a large number of voters want the government to shut down NAFTA, thinking this is in their economic best interest when in fact the evidence is pretty strong that for most of them, it is not.   

What is a gung-ho but thoughtful politician to do?  Do you listen to your experts, who council free trade, or do you pander to the masses?  Do you stick by our trading allies, or do you begin your kindler-gentler foreign policy by unilaterally abrogating treaties with our neighbors. 

Well, if you are the modern presidential candidate, you tell the masses what they want to hear, and then tell our allies you are just kidding.

Update: Cato brings us a great example from North Dakota


  1. bill-tb:

    Most people think the world began when they were born. They have no clue about what "global economy" means. Money moves with the speed of light, empty factories take forever to rot. Right now, producers are chasing low labor costs around the world. That will end, people will tire of talking to people who neither live in the country the customer is, nor understand what the customer is saying. Companies will respond. Cycles continue.

    Oil is fungible, the market part most elected Democrats don't seem to get, so are all other commodities.

    Running a 1980s campaign where you can doubletalk like this, not going to work in the Internet age. May as well give it up now, else you are going to look really dumb.

  2. Ed:

    That link goes to Google Reader, and nothing comes up.

  3. John Dewey:

    I've read a lot about voters being irrational. But most voters seem to be ignorant rather than irrational. If economists and, especially, business leaders had done a better job of educating the public about the benefits of free trade, Americans would vote rationally. But they did exactly the opposite. Just 20 years ago WalMart's founder was indoctrinating minds with his "Buy American" campaign. Lee Iacocca and Bob Hope were pushing that "patriotic" message as well. Of course, patriotism is easier to teach than comparative advantage.

  4. Frederick Davies:

    "The Myth of the Rational Voter" by Bryan Caplan explains why voters behave irrationaly, and why it is not just a question of ignorance. Besides, some firms, specially large ones spending money in lobbying, have an interest in keeping that irrationality going to make sure their investment is rewarded with influence.

  5. apotheon:

    It might be worth mentioning that, as a "free trade" measure, NAFTA is a friggin' mess. One might rationally (and reasonably) oppose it on the grounds that it impedes real progress toward free trade. On the other hand, most of the common complaints against NAFTA actually target the good aspects of the agreement, which really is pretty irrational.

  6. apotheon:

    Oh, yeah, one more thing -- one of your links leads to your own RSS feed subscriptions, apparently, which means that it doesn't give us access to the article in question.