Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fight Apathy Or Don't

We tend to consider political apathy a bad thing: lack of information leads to irrational beliefs and voting decisions, low levels of participation decreases trust in government.  Apathy reduces the manpower and psychic energy devoted towards important political issues.

So does apathy have any possible redeeming qualities?  Political scientists Richard Niemi and Herbert Weisberg raise a few interesting points:

"For one thing, not voting might be a 'correct vote' for some citizens who are cross-pressured. If a person cares only about two issues and passionately takes the Republican position on one (say, affirmative action) and equally strongly takes the Democratic position on the other (say abortion), would it not be 'rational' for that person to abstain? ... indifference and noninvolvement contribute to the smooth operation of a democracy. [Bernard] Berelson made the point nearly fifty years ago when he noted that we have a variety of conflicting expectations. For example, we expect individuals to care deeply about elections, but afterwards we expect reconciliation. With that in mind, he asks rhetorically, 'how could a mass democracy work if all the people were deeply involved in politics?' "

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