Voters are better educated — not good news for democracy

The “use case” of liberal democracy is not that it is better at avoiding mistakes: democracies are no better at avoiding risky financial products, catastrophic wars, or political extremists than illiberal democracies or full authoritarian states. Where democracies do better is error correction. They retreat from the war of choice, strictly regulate the industry (though usually only after they have survived at least one crisis), and vote extremists out of office whenever they get the chance.

But the error-correcting ability of democracies now faces an unlikely threat. Elected politicians are, whether they like it or not, in the business of providing voters with what they want. want for Their children get educationAs a result, across the democratic world, the number of people going to college continues to rise, as does literacy and numeracy.

This interest in higher education has proven surprisingly resistant to price signals. In the US, tuition debt has neither crossed the 1.5 ton mark, nor the fact that, According to a long-running Georgetown study, 4 in 10 students will not earn more because their degrees do anything to deter new applicants. In the UK, the increase in tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 has not interrupted or disrupted the flow of people to university.

Some of it is simple math. when all the evidence shows think most students will Earning more with a degree than without it, most young Americans, rightly or wrongly, think they’d better risk being the 40% with no financial interest in order to have a chance to join the 60% .

when you add up Various non-financial benefits of the degree – Among other things, you’re less likely to be convicted, more likely to live longer, and more likely to have better physical and mental health – for most people, getting a degree is a no-brainer.

This means that without some kind of very strict caps and admissions restrictions, we can expect the number of people going to college to continue to grow.

What does this mean for democracies?

The good news is that getting a degree is more likely You will volunteer in civic institutions and participate in democratic institutions: In the 2019 UK general election, 69% of graduates under 35 votedcompared to only 41% of non-graduates under 35 and 72% of those over 65 without a degree.

The bad news is that while you can bring graduates to the ballot box, you can’t make them think. All of us, no matter how many degrees we have, like to seek information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.and as A new paper by Michael Hannon An unpleasant consequence of a university education is that voters are better at it and worse at changing their minds, a University of Nottingham study found.

When you think about it, it makes sense — in fact, it goes hand in hand with increased civic engagement. Graduates are more likely to be members of political parties. While some of my favorites are members of political parties, party members are irrational a lot of the time.

These people can convince themselves that it’s okay for Joe Biden to talk casually about Russian war crimes, but Donald Trump’s loose lips are a threat to world peace. Or rather, while Boris Johnson has restarted his Downing Street government twice, the third will be the moment when he really takes power.

The thing is, the more voters you have, the more they can convince themselves that they were right all along, and the harder it is for a democracy to right wrong. Democracies depend on having enough voters who are willing and able to say they like the voice of a candidate talking about tax cuts and resettlement jobs, but now they are less enthusiastic about him because he suggests that the election he lost was a conduct fraud. The state’s prosperity would be less dramatic if enough voters could admit that the charismatic people they supported last time didn’t accomplish much in office.

As elected democracies face political pressure to educate more of their populations, the rise of highly educated and motivated voters is unlikely to stop. A useful corrective might be to stop obsessing over the personal motives of swing voters and instead celebrate the most valuable service they provide in a democracy: the willingness to change their minds.

stephen.bush@ft.com



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