I am not a huge fan of the United States’ two-party electoral system. Having only two viable parties polarizes the country and creates awkward spoiler scenarios. I am convinced, though, that the worst part of our two-party system is the options that are available. I’m tired of having to pick between the Democratic Party and the Party of Ignorance.
I should be clear that I don’t believe that every Republican is ignorant. Some are just wealthy and selfish. Some are bigoted. I’ll even grudgingly admit that some carefully consider the issues and still come to a conservative conclusion. Most, however, are ignorant. The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) did a recent study comparing perceptions of those who support Sen. John Kerry for president to those who support President George W. Bush. The results are shocking. 75 percent of Bush supporters believe that Iraq was either directly involved in 9/11 or gave al-Qaeda substantial support. Only 30 percent of Kerry supporters bought into this misconception. Seventy-two percent of Bush supporters believe that, prior to the invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or WMD programs. Only 26 percent of Kerry supporters believed this falsehood. When asked questions about their candidate’s position on eight issues, Bush supporters guessed correctly 38.5 percent of the time. Kerry supporters were right 70.8 percent of the time. Democrats as a whole appear to be twice as informed as Republicans.
This has some interesting implications. Would Bush even stand a chance for re-election if all voters could match their perceptions of him to his positions? I doubt it. Two-thirds of his supporters are backing him because they are misinformed. Certainly some of them would change their minds if they were better educated on the issues.
This begs the question: Why are voters so poorly informed? I doubt that apathy is to blame; there were more registered voters and more viewers of the presidential debates this year than in 2000. It seems that parts of the media, particularly those watched by Republicans, are failing to educate their viewers. Some of them, like FOX, seem to be more interested in advancing the agenda of their owners than education. It’s a compelling argument for media reform. If ownership limits were restored to the values of yesteryear, it would be much harder for rich malefactors to buy votes with biased shows.
There is another explanation for why Republicans are so poorly informed. I believe that their party actively promotes ignorance. In the PIPA study, the only topic on which Kerry and Bush supporters agreed was that the Bush administration is still saying that Iraq either had WMD or WMD programs before the war. Eighty-two percent of all respondents agreed on this.
There can be no mistake that Republicans have been trying to mislead the public about Kerry. They mercilessly distorted his positions across the board. As an example, Republicans claimed that Kerry would only go to war with UN approval, directly contradicting his statement that he “will never hesitate to use force when it is required.”
The election shenanigans are only the most recent deceptions in the Bush administration’s long history of misleading the public. Before passing his first set of tax cuts, for instance, he claimed that, “The vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum.” In fact, 68 percent of the benefits (a vast majority) went to the top 20 percent of earners (the top end of the spectrum). His administration also told residents of New York that the airborne debris from the collapse of the twin towers did not pose health risks, even though the EPA knew that it did. There was enough Republican spin on Iraq that several books have been devoted to the topic. I doubt that any American party has ever relied more heavily on ignorance to get elected than Republicans do now.
It’s scary that their tactics have worked so well. This election could easily go to a bunch of confused voters and a few dedicated conservatives. For the sake of the country, and for $30, I bet on Kerry. I hope this isn’t the case.
Loren Williams is a Daily Nexus columnist.