Vote for apathy? The uninformed are the key ingredient for a working democracy, study finds

A well-informed, interested public is often hailed as the ‘ideal’ of democracy.

But a new Princeton study suggests that the opposite could be the case – and that people who have no interest at all could be vital to the working of a democratic society.

The uninformed are essential to democracy because their apathy helps to dilute the effect of powerful minority interests – for instance, highly educated elites – who would otherwise dominate public life.

The researchers used animal research, mathematical models and computer simulations. They report that in animal groups, uninformed individuals — those with no strong feelings on a situation’s outcome — tend to side, simply, which whichever group is the largest.

The idea that an outspoken minority can ‘manipulate’ voters may be mistaken, say the searchers.

The less interest someone has, the more they are likely to side with the majority, the researchers found – leading them to speculate that in human societies, the uninterested could be a vital ‘counterbalance’ against powerful groups.

The researchers worked with fish with a strong ‘schooling’ instinct – and saw how large groups reacted when some fish were trained to swim towards different-coloured targets.

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