Here’s the link to Ilya Somin’s excellent essay, but I’ll parse the important stuff:
1) Public knowledge about the systems of government, the actions and policy of government is terrible, and it doesn’t matter the intelligence level or education level. We’re all pretty stupid when it comes to what’s going on in Washington.
2) This political ignorance is “actually rational for most of the public, including most smart people. If your only reason to follow politics is to be a better voter, that turns out not be much of a reason…because there is very little chance that your vote will actually make a difference to the outcome of an election (about 1 in 60 million in a presidential race, for example.) [Emphasis mine]
3) I always malign the team sports mentality of a lot of people in regard to politics, and Somin mentions that here, as well, in the shape of the “political fan” who cheers a certain candidate or party with incredible, blinding bias that verges on the profoundly idiotic. Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, etc. — we’re so busy rooting for someone whose rhetoric sounds good that we don’t watch what they do…and that is a serious issue.
4) He contends that increasing education in civics — the nuts and bolts of governance — in high school might help, but I disagree, as it is likely to be biased toward the political leanings of the teacher. (I had a history teacher, Ms. Martin, who was superb at giving both sides, and refused to self-identify. When I teach, I always present my bias up front, and often blast my own arguments to bits, if the students don’t. Being able to self-assess is an important skill.)
Have a read; it’s excellent.