Jun 28, 2011

Do voters need to be educated for democracy to work?

Ugo and his coauthor claim in a new Vox column that:
In order to evaluate the actions of politicians, voters need to be able to process the available information and understand the impact of the actions of elected officials on their welfare... Democracy leads to the election of better politicians only if the level of education is above a certain threshold".
They go on to show that the correlation between democracy and the quality of government is statistically significant only in countries with high levels of education (see grinter below).

But do educated voters really vote more intelligently? The latest Economics Focus argues that education can reinforce authority and the power of ruling elites, rather than leading to better governments. It bases its arguments on a new paper by Ted Miguel and coauthors:
The authors compared a group of Kenyan girls in 69 primary schools whose students were randomly selected to receive a scholarship with similar students in schools which received no such financial aid... Overall, it significantly increased the amount of education obtained... [But] those with more education did not become more favourably inclined towards democracy. In fact, education deepened their sense of identification with their ethnic group and increased their tolerance for political violence. There was little evidence that having more education made them more engaged in civic life or political organisations.
The closing paragraph says it all.
Education may make people more interested in improving their own lives but they may not necessarily see democracy as the way to do it... In India, for example, poorer and less educated people vote in larger numbers than their more educated compatriots. Indeed, the latter often express disdain for, and impatience with, the messiness of democracy. Many yearn instead for the kind of government that would execute the corrupt and build highways, railway lines and bridges at the dizzying pace of authoritarian China.
So I wouldn't blame the troubles of democracies on the lack of education of their population. The problems are more likely to be due to the lack of civic engagement by educated people.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Then theres the argument that so many ignorant people are too easily fooled into believing the lies of the dumocratic party.