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August 23, 2006

Reaching Low-Information Voters

-- by Dave Johnson

The other day I wrote that many people probably don't understand that "GOP" means Republicans. And I often say that those of us who read blogs should keep reminding ourselves that we are hyper-informed, and most people are not. And, of course, we're reminded of this every time we hear that a huge percent of the public thinks WMD were found in Iraq, or that the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis...

Along these lines I recently came across an interesting article, "The Uninformed Bloc, at Democratic Strategist,

So, to put it in provocative terms, how ignorant is the electorate? Bennett found that nearly one-third of adults were unaware that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party. And lest the reader think that this is an expression of cynicism rather than a lack of knowledge, Bennett found that whether or not respondents knew there were major differences between the two parties was associated with the amount of knowledge they had of major politicians and the parties but not with their levels of governmental trust.

Only one in ten adults knew who Denny Hastert is. Out of eight similar questions about politicians and the two parties, the average adult got just 4.5 right. One-third of adults said they follow politics “hardly at all” or “only now and then”.
It's so important to understand that we are not the audience we need to reach. We think that others know what we know. And we get so far ahead of regular people in our online discussions that people tuning in for the first time can barely understand what we're talkig about -- or can't understand at all. Once, when pondering this I wrote,
We think facts are important. But in fact most of the public knows very little about politics and the news and the issues and understands even less. Many of the people who bother to vote at all base their decisions on things that would make informed people like us just pass out if we heard them.

The key to winning elections is learning how various groups of voters make their decisions, and being there with the information they need in the form they need it and in the channels where they receive it.

Chris Bowers at MyDD discovered that when a certain percentage of people can identify one party as controlling Congress, that party loses seats in the next Congressional election. It doesn't even matter if they identify the correct party.

On this subject I wrote previously,

Regular people are in a different world than the one we are in, get their information in different ways, and retain information for different reasons. The better we understand and utilize this, the better off we will be at getting regular people to see things our way.

So before we work to pump "facts" out there, we need to cover the basics. Let's start by making sure that the public identifies their troubles with Republicans.

Posted by Dave Johnson at August 23, 2006 7:40 PM

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Comments

Chris Bowers at MyDD discovered that when a certain percentage of people can identify one party as controlling Congress, that party loses seats in the next Congressional election. It doesn't even matter if they identify the correct party.

I wonder what percentage of American voters know what the word "incumbent" means. Really.

Posted by: richard [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 9:12 PM

"I wonder what percentage of American voters know what the word "incumbent" means."

Bingo! This is EXACTLY what I'm trying to say!

Posted by: Dave Johnson [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 23, 2006 9:22 PM

Hey Dave-- Great post.

I surfed in from the Huffington Post.

I am a grad student researching (among other things) sustainable business advocacy-- part of which involves understanding how to effectively communicate environmental sustainability messages to various groups, particularly those who would likely also be part of the so-called "uninformed bloc."

Some of the most extraordinary information available on this topic comes, actually, from developmental psychology, which attempts to systemetize and create maps of the ways our values and information processing capabilities can grow more nuanced and complex across a lifespan.

It's more complex than just "informed" vs. "uninformed"-- the actual capacity to have complex models of the world that can actually incorporate and make use of information is also key, and this seems to be a developmental attribute.

There is a nascent field dedicated to studying and understanding how to communicate effectively across various developmental stages.

I'd be happy to point you to some papers and books that would provide an interesting avenue to explore these questions from a broader context--

For books, a good place to start might be Robert Kegan's "In Over Our Heads."

Feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss this at all further-- email me at edwardwest (at) gmail (dot) com

Posted by: Edward West [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 24, 2006 1:09 AM

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