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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

More on the Uninformed Bloc

by Scott Winship
The comments to my post on the uninformed bloc were so interesting that I decided to dig into the data myself and address a couple of the questions and points raised by commenters. This is sort of the model I’ve always wanted for The Daily Strategist – an interactive one between you all and me. In the analyses below, I defined the uninformed bloc as those adults who “only now and then” or “hardly at all” follow government or public affairs (about one-third of the population). I used the American National Election Study (just like Bennett).
1. How likely are members of the uninformed bloc to vote? Appletini raised the point that if the uninformed don’t vote, then a lot of the fears I expressed go away, and Mark Paul and Mike N. also wondered what their voting rate was. The ANES shows that 61 percent of the uninformed said they vote, and another 17 percent said they were registered. These numbers are too high because of the well-known tendency of some respondents to say they voted in order not to look bad to the interviewer. But it seems highly likely that a majority voted in 2004. Still, among other adults, 84 percent said they voted and fully 95 percent said they were registered. So the voting rates of the uninformed bloc are much lower than for other adults.
Another way of expressing these patterns is to note that the uninformed bloc represents about one in four voters and 56 percent of nonvoters. Based on the apathy of the uninformed bloc, it does seem like mobilizing nonvoters is likely to be quite difficult, as “A political scientist” suggests.
2. Who did the uninformed vote for? Chris Glaze provides some cross-tabular evidence from the ANES and shows that the uninformed voted for Kerry. I found that when the uninformed are defined based on whether or not they know the Republicans are more conservative than Democrats (as Chris did), two thirds voted for Kerry. Presumably some of these people are disaffected Democrats who held their nose and voted for Kerry. When I defined the uninformed based on how closely they followed government, they split their vote evenly between Kerry and Bush (as did other adults). That means that the uninformed bloc is not the same as the “authoritarian bloc”, as John Clavis speculates, or the bloc of voters that still supports Bush, as DrBB half-seriously suggests as a possibility. It also implies that Rovian campaign tactics may not be as successful at winning these voters as one might have thought, or at least is no more effective than among informed voters.
The uninformed bloc made up one in four Bush voters as well as one in four Kerry voters.
3. How consistent are the uninformed over time? Given that the uninformed were less consistent in their positions across issues than other people, I wondered whether they were also less consistent over time. The ANES asked a few questions both before and after the election, so we can get some purchase on the answer. Thirteen percent of the uninformed said they were liberal in one survey but conservative in the other. But that was no different from the percentage of other adults. Nor were the uninformed more likely than other voters to rate Bush or Kerry warmly in one survey but coldly in the other. Finally, only eight percent of the uninformed said that they preferred diplomacy to military threats in one survey but contradicted themselves in the other, compared with 18 percent of other adults. Apparently, the views of the uninformed are just as consistent over time as the views of the informed.
Obviously this isn’t the last word on these questions. I’m planning to try a couple of other definitions and to tackle the views of the uninformed later this week. But in closing, I also wanted to warn that while it is easy to ridicule or denigrate what I have called the uninformed bloc, doing so is certainly counter-productive to building a Democratic majority. Most of us online are lucky enough to have the time and/or money to be somewhat obsessively political. Lots of us are childless, in school, or retired. Not everyone can spend enough time to inform themselves on political questions even if they want to. Just seemed worth mentioning….

5 comments on “More on the Uninformed Bloc

  1. John J.B. Miller on

    It is my opinion that in Ohio in the 2004 election the issue that brought voters out was to vote against “gay marriage”. While they were in the voting booth, they also voted for George Bush. Had the “gay marriage” issue not been on the ballot, these people would not have voted at all, and Kerry would have won.

  2. bill bishop on

    I know just enough to get me in trouble, but…The evidence is that those who KNOW more are also more likely to be LEAST likely to listen to differing opinions. The greater the knowledge, the more likely a person is to be rigidly partisan. They are also the people who are most likely to be led by elites.
    Or, as Lazarsfeld wrote some years ago: ““Lack of interest by some people is not without its benefits, too. True, the highly interested voters vote more, and know more about the campaign, and read and listen more, and participate more; however, they are also less open to persuasion and less likely to change. Extreme interest goes with extreme partisanhip and might culminate in rigid fanaticism that could destroy democratic processes if generalized throughout the community.”

  3. pjcamp on

    It doesn’t seem plausible to me that the uninformed vote at a rate at or above that of the politically engaged. If turnout in an average election is less than 50%, it seems likely that the bulk of those not voting are those who don’t care rather than those who do.

  4. Chris Glaze on

    Totally agreed on your points, Scott. It’s important to understand *why* various respondents (mis)perceive things the way they do.
    There seem to be interesting things going on in this “bloc” that suggest its by no means monolithic.
    For example, Southern, African American, poor/uneducated respondents were as likely as the general sample to see no difference b/w parties(5 vs 7%). However, they were 4 times as likely to think Dems are more conservative (67 vs 18%, chi-square, p less than .0001). (I defined poor uneducated as either income under $20,000 or no college.) If you switch any one of those demographic factors, latter % drops considerably.
    Also those over 75 may have been more likely to be correct on Rehnquist (42% vs 33, but statistically insigificant), but were nearly twice as likely to think Dems are more con than general (38 vs 18, p less than .001). Age 75 looked like a natural break in the latter.
    I didn’t double check this analysis but may be worthwhile seeing if it holds.
    Perhaps the history books have clues on why these differences would exist.

  5. John D. on

    I believe that your most recent post on the “Uninformed Bloc” and the comments on the post before it missed a point that I believe is very important and that is that political awareness among young people has declined since the 1970’s. As a college Democrat, I feel that this is something that should be approached more by our party. The issues of raising the minimum wage, improving college education, and making it easier for students to attend college are issues that are very relevant to young voters and the party seems to ignore this group most when discussing these issues.
    I believe that the political apathy of this group is largely due to the lack of outreach to young voters. There is little effort on behalf of the party’s leadership to engage college age voters. Of course, there are College Democrats and Young Democrats, but these clubs are mostly organized by students themselves.
    The young voter group is the future of our party. Students in college now will be the Congressmen and Senators of the not-so-distant future. Would it hurt to reach out to them, to educate young voters on Democratic ideals and values? Perhaps if we educate the uninformed young voters about the Democratic Party’s platform and values now, they will hold those views as they age and continue to vote.
    The goal of our party is to build a strong and lasting Democratic majority. For this to happen, we must bring “new blood” into the party and retain them. Targeting young voters is the best way to do this.


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