Utah and the low-informed voter

The Better UTAH Beat airs Tuesday afternoons on KVNU’s For the People. Podcasts of previous episodes are available here.
When it comes to Utah politics and policies, Utahns can’t always say why they don’t like something, but they certainly know what they don’t like.

Several recent polls have shown the same interesting, although not surprising, data point. Utahns are not very well informed but they have strong opinions nonetheless.

For example, when it comes to the Common Core, very few Utahns seem to know what it actually is, they just know they don’t like it.

Only 21 percent of respondents correctly identified the Common Core, although 41 percent said they were opposed to it.

Another poll asked whether Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart should become the next Utah State School Superintendent.

Fifty-two percent of respondents said NO, despite the fact that 38 percent of them said they had never even heard of the speaker, and another 21 percent said they had heard of her but had no opinion about her.

Medicaid expansion is yet another example. In a poll released last week, 56 percent of those polled hadn’t even heard of Governor Herbert’s alternative to full Medicaid Expansion—the Healthy Utah Plan.

But when asked which plan they preferred, 54% supported the Healthy Utah Plan over Medicaid expansion.

This isn’t just a Utah problem.

A study by the Pew Research Center found only 31 percent could name the vice president of the United States, and 34 percent couldn’t name the governor of their own state.

Most Americans don’t know the three branches of government. And they don’t know the name of the person representing them in Congress.

But what does this all mean? Are the majority of Utahns stupid? Of course not. They simply don’t care about politics. They may find it boring; they may have other things that fill their lives and their discussions.

Politicians and pundits lament the low-informed voter as though informing more voters will suddenly cure all of society’s ills—they even use this when arguing about voter access saying that making it easier to vote will just mean more low-informed voters.

Low informed voters should never be used as an excuse to keep or discourage people from voting. But as voters, we should take a greater role in learning about what and who we are supporting.

In today’s age of technology there is no real reason to be so ill-informed that one can’t make a reasonable determination of what policy to support and what politician to vote for. It’s all there, a few clicks on the keyboard and you’ll find more than you could ever possibly want to know.

We have the right to vote.

But we have a responsibility to vote informed.

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