After five decades of research the answers to two questions that are critical to our understanding of democracy are still incomplete. The first is why some people acquire costly information about politics when we would expect them to be “rationally ignorant.” The second is why people vote when we would expect them to “rationally abstain.” Both were originally identified by Downs (1957) and spring from the fact that individuals are rarely able to affect the outcome of an election.
Informed and participating citizens are the bread and butter of democratic politics, and they are critical for many of our models of politics. People who are reasonably well informed about their own interests are necessary for stable political competition, and nearly all political economy models assumes a link between economic interests and political behavior. Why people tend to be better informed and participate more frequently than simple rational choice models would allow therefore continues to be of great practical and theoretical importance.