Cover of Democracy and Political Ignorance by Ilya Somin
Democracy and Political Ignorance
Why Smaller Government Is Smarter
Ilya Somin


280 pages.
from $27.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804786089
Paper ISBN: 9780804786614
Digital ISBN: 9780804789318

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

One of the biggest problems with modern democracy is that most of the public is usually ignorant of politics and government. Often, many people understand that their votes are unlikely to change the outcome of an election and don't see the point in learning much about politics. This may be rational, but it creates a nation of people with little political knowledge and little ability to objectively evaluate what they do know.

In Democracy and Political Ignorance, Ilya Somin mines the depths of ignorance in America and reveals the extent to which it is a major problem for democracy. Somin weighs various options for solving this problem, arguing that political ignorance is best mitigated and its effects lessened by decentralizing and limiting government. Somin provocatively argues that people make better decisions when they choose what to purchase in the market or which state or local government to live under, than when they vote at the ballot box, because they have stronger incentives to acquire relevant information and to use it wisely.

About the author

Ilya Somin is a Professor at the George Mason University School of Law. Somin's work has appeared in numerous academic journals, including the Yale Law Journal and Stanford Law Review. He has also published widely in popular press outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal Somin has twice testified before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, including at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He writes regularly for the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

"The book serves as a highly-readable and accessible introduction to public choice theories of voter behavior and democratic political institutions. Deploying ignorance as an argument against the democratic organization for political and social institutions has a long history, many attempts of which are not nearly as thorough, engaging, and fair-minded as Somin's book."

—Nicholas Zavediuk, Journal of Public Deliberation

"Voter ignorance can be rational: The likelihood of one vote mattering is infinitesimal, so why make the effort to stay informed? But as Ilya Somin demonstrates in this mind-opening book, voter ignorance has bad consequences that strengthen the case for limited government, including judicial review to put a leash on wayward majorities."

—George F. Will, Journalist and Pulitzer Prize Winner

"Is political ignorance as bad as it seems? Ilya Somin powerfully argues that we seriously underestimate the severity of the problem. Political knowledge is woefully deficient, and democracy works poorly given the quality of the voting public. Democracy and Political Ignorance is the most cogent, thoughtful, and up-to-date book on political ignorance on the market."

—Bryan Caplan, George Mason University, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter

"Ilya Somin has an excellent new book on the problem of political ignorance in democracy . . . Highly recommended."

—Jason Brennan, Georgetown University, author of The Ethics of Voting

"An excellent recent book."

—John McGinnis, Northwestern University School of Law, author of Accelerating Democracy

"Penetrating analysis of the problem with majoritarianism."

—Randy Barnett, Georgetown University Law Center, author of Restoring the Lost Constitution

"[Readers] will find the book valuable in a number of respects. For one, the book provides a powerful summary of the evidence on political ignorance, and convincingly describes the impact that ignorance has on policy. Further, the book offers a thorough response to many theories of voter participation, particularly those that purport to be compatible with both political ignorance and democratic efficiency. Finally, the book offers a broad framework for thinking about how to address the problems ignorance presents, from direct policy options to broader governance structures."

—Stephen C. Miller, Public Choice

"In Ilya Somin's excellent new book Democracy and Political Ignorance, the public is ignorant; their ignorance is a problem for American democracy, and it 'poses a very serious challenge to democratic theory' . . . The strength of Somin's book is in the quality of the writing and the up-to-date evidence he provides the reader with on the scope and scale of voter ignorance. It is one of the more recent books illustrating how little Americans know about politics and why it matters, and such contributions are vital."

—Scott A. Beaulier, The Independent Review

"Somin presents a fascinating discussion of the most significant flaw in democratic theory—the ignorance of voters about political issues and processes. With painstaking detail, Somin lays out the evidence of the lack of sophistication of the views held by voters and their inability to identify key players in the political process and the most basic details about policy questions of the day . . . [T]his work is a worthwhile read for all, regardless of political leanings, and should be a call to arms about the need to start in the lowest grades to instill a sense of salience regarding politics before voters come of age . . . Recommended."

—J. Twombly, CHOICE

"A great book . . . According to Bryan Caplan this is 'the most cogent, thoughtful, and up-to-date book on political ignorance on the market.' I totally agree."

—Aristides Hatzis, University of Athens, editor of Economic Analysis of Law: A European Perspective

"Political scientists have long worried about voter ignorance, but the law has been slow to catch up. Ilya Somin is part of an important group of legal thinkers grappling with this issue and its legal implications. With exceptional clarity, Somin offers a variety of solutions to the problem of voter ignorance, including a spirited and systematic defense of the value of voting with one's feet."

—Heather Gerken, Yale Law School

"Can we reasonably believe that American citizens are actually interested enough in politics to learn what they need in order to cast knowledgeable votes? Somin illuminates both the extent of political ignorance and why maintaining such ignorance is rational for voters who recognize the near-futility of their efforts at political engagement. Even the most skeptical readers of his suggested solutions will benefit from wrestling with Somin's vigorously argued analysis."

—Sanford Levinson, The University of Texas Law School

"Ilya [Somin's] book is well worth reading for anyone interested in the problem of how a democracy can cope with an electorate that isn't particularly interested in politics. It's lucid, original, and in many ways compelling."

—Sean Trende, Senior Elections Analyst, RealClearPolitics

"Democracy and Political Ignorance is a fascinating and provocative work of scholarship . . . [It] provides a well reasoned, carefully qualified case for smaller government . . . Somin's preferences are clearly on the libertarian, decentralized side of the spectrum. Yet one need not subscribe to all—or indeed any—of his normative conclusions to appreciate his smart, thoughtful consideration of the issues."

—Christopher Schmidt, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology

"This rigorously researched and closely argued book makes a compelling case that 'the government that governs least' is 'the form of democracy least vulnerable to political ignorance.'"

—John David Dyche,

"Informed and informative, thoughtful and thought-provoking, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter is a timely treatise as we enter a new age of Robber Baron Capitalism with its financially-based political corruption and an ever expanding federal intrusion into the non-federal affairs of private citizens under the cloak of serving social and national defense needs. Enhanced with an appendix, notes, and an index, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter is a highly recommended addition to community and academic library Political Science reference collections."

Midwest Book Review