Here is one argument for ‘yes’:
The costs of being an informed voter are relatively high. You have to follow the news by either reading a paper, reading online, or maybe watching the news…
…But the probability that your vote will change the outcome of an election is, for all practical purposes, zero—even in close elections.
High cost, no benefit — seems pretty rational to be an uninformed voter, right?
Immanuel Kant would disagree. Kant held that when considering some moral decision, you can’t just pretend that you’re one, single, individual, utilitarian-consequentialist making this decision. You’re not supposed to ask, “What will the world look like if I am an informed voter, vs. what would the world look like if I were not, and which world would I prefer?” That’s not rational. Instead, you should ask, “What would the world look like if everyone making this exact same moral decision decided to be an informed voter, vs. what would the world look like if they didn’t, and which world would I prefer?”
By the way, that’s not the same thing as saying you should consider the collective good — you are still ultimately basing your decision on which world you want to live in, based on your preferences. You’re not considering the welfare of others and weighing it against your own. You’re just thinking in a way which, if everyone also thinks that way, you (and everyone else) will live a better life. Ergo, you (we) should all think that way. But it’s not altruism — it’s egoism.
That being said, living in a world full of uninformed voters would does suck. All other things being equal, I would prefer to live in a world where voters are informed. Understanding that ”I” am just one part of “everyone,” and that “everyone” is just an aggregation of individual “I’s,” it would therefore be rational for me to become an informed voter.
Not unambiguously (or infinitely), of course — I should not devote 100% of my time to maximizing the quality of my vote. But I should become an informed voter to the extent that doing so does not exceed the benefits of everyone becoming an informed voter – not the benefits of me becoming an informed voter!
Those are two different things — one is individually rational, the other collectively so. I’m not convinced that the individually rational position of remaining uninformed is any more rational than the collectively rational decision to become informed. Because if everyone hews to that consideration of individual costs vs. collective benefits (the collectively rational, or Kantian decision-making criterion), then becoming an informed voter will not be irrational, because the costs will exceed the benefits.
And, again, this is not an argument for collective decision-making or altruism or selflessness — this is a decision-making heuristic that if everyone uses, they will be individually better off, from their own perspective, according to their own criteria.
It’s the same as the decision about whether to vote — your individual vote makes no difference, but if everyone were to recognize that fact and behave accordingly (i.e. stop voting), then you would not have a functioning democracy. You want people to vote, even if the probability that an individual vote will determine the outcome of the election is 0.001% (and it is almost certainly less than that), because if everyone only decides to vote when their vote “matters” in the sense that it is likely to swing the election, then almost no one will vote, only an infinitesimally small fraction of the population will vote (certainly <10% of the country), and you will live under a government that’s technically democratically elected, but that nonetheless probably does not reflect the preferences of the people it governs.
So, as a rule, you should vote, and by the same logic you should also be informed. Your vote makes an infinitesimally small difference, and by extension the “quality” of your vote doesn’t make any difference either. But if everyone decided on that basis not to be an informed voter, then we’d all be living under a crappy democracy (one that’s unrepresentative or misguided or both).
We live in a country where 40% of the population chooses 100% of the Presidents (a relatively high figure compared to local, state, and congressional elections), and most of the public don’t know what the inflation rate is, who the House speaker is, or how much the federal government spends on defense, education, Medicare or interest payments.
If everyone decides to ignore the individual effect of his/her vote and focuses instead on the fact that their democracy is nothing more than an aggregation of individual voting decisions, then more people will vote, more of those votes will be well-informed, and that will make for a much better place to live.
I can’t see how that’s irrational. I’m with Kant.