Recently, one of my buddies on Facebook posted this status:
Whenever I see a post about “killing all the stupid people”, my first thought is, “we are all somebody’s ‘stupid people’.”
I got what he was getting at. Don’t be so smug, smarty-pants. After all, it’s natural for most people to consider themselves above average intelligence, and we know that’s mathematically impossible. (It is, right?)
I browsed through the comments, my bud is pretty popular, and his threads usually get a lot of attention.
One of his commenters took exception to the implied suggestion that stupidity is relative, and that he could be considered stupid by anyone. He was a bit adamant and air-sucking-out-of-the-room humorless about it. Fine.
Then he started soapboxing about voting. One of the problems with the country, he explained, was that stupid people get to vote. His suggestion: anyone under an IQ of 101 be banned from voting. He was convinced that the voting ranks of the political party he didn’t belong to would be reduced by 95%.
Now, I’m not that smart, so maybe this guy was just joking. But he really kind of went on about it. If he was joking, bravo, sir. Bravo. You didn’t break character, at all.
But, for the sake of argument (possibly this will pass as an intellectual exercise, although the commenter in question might argue any intellectual merits from me) I’d like to muse out loud about his suggestion. For the rest of this article, I’ll refer to the IQ-threshold-for-voting suggester as ‘Brainiac.’ Because I don’t want to keep calling him “the commenter.”
No insult is intended. And how could Brainiac be considered insulting? It along with Lex Luthor are Superman’s smartest foes. Who could probably vote in this regime. If they were real. And if Brainiac the android wasn’t an alien robot and currently illegible. But back to my opinion on Facebook commenter Brainiac’s suggestion:
Denying stupid people the vote, in my opinion, is a stupid idea. I have a few reasons for saying this.
1) Lets hand-wave away for the moment just what it means to try and define someone as stupid. Let’s take Brainiac’s criteria of IQ 101+ as the definition of Not Stupid. I have some problems with that, since 100 is considered the norm. 95% of the population is considered to exist within two standard deviations (1 standard deviation is 15 points) or 70 to 130. It seems to me that denying voting rights at a point above the norm is unfair.
So lets drop the requirement down from 101 to 100, to make me feel better. And now I do. But the IQ score itself isn’t some concrete magical number of absolute truth. It’s derived from a series of standardized tests; a person’s IQ might change from one battery of tests to another. It might go up on a good day, might go down on a bad day (and depending on how lucky they are in guessing… who knows…)
So to base a fundamental right of citizenship on any given IQ score would make me nervous for the guy who happens to be close to the threshold, but just under.
Statistically, thanks to margins of error, a person’s “actual” score would be in a range from three points below to three points above the derived IQ score. That’s fine for someone with an IQ of 104, they’ve made the cut, but a guy with a score of 98 is going to feel cheated (even if (again, by magic) his IQ was really 96 and he had just scored high that day. The dummy.)
But lets just pretend that IQ tests are pretty accurate, and can consistently generate a score within a very narrow margin of error, and we’ll be nice and let anyone with of score of 99 vote, and we’ll also be nice and let anyone with a score of 100 vote (since they might really be a 99.)
It’s still a dumb idea.
2) I feel I understand the spirit behind Brainiac’s original premise. To paraphrase it into something that is more in line with what I think “it would be cool if everyone voting were well informed and were exercising critical thinking.” Now, my spin is to wish that voters were more informed and not voting out of emotion or blind loyalty to party or whatever. Brainiac’s inferred analog would be to only allow a well-informed and critical-thinking citizenship vote. I’d like everyone to be educated, and he’d rather we just disenfranchise until we get a voting population that meets his criteria.
But IQ does not necessarily measure how well-informed someone is on current issues or their facility for critical thinking. Those features of intelligence do contribute, but there’s a ton of factors that go into IQ testing. Well, ton might be an exaggeration, but the Wikipedia article on IQ lists 10 different factors that might be used for deriving an IQ score: fluid intelligence, crystallized intelligence, short term memory, long term storage, quantitative reasoning, visual processing, auditory processing, processing speed, etc. Often, multiple scores are generated for these broad fields and a single score is just an approximation. An approximation! Sadly, voting isn’t an approximation. Either you are eligible or not.
Even if we can rate critical thinking and issue/topic expertise, does that make someone a good voter? Probably… but now the skeptic in me would like to be reassured with some studies. Because that’s part of critical thinking.
But, lets say that we can identify what makes a good voter, if what we want are voters who are going to vote for a best outcome. Is that what we want? I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
3) Such a system would be impractical, and would be subject to legitimate criticism as unfair to the poor. For such a system to work, people who wanted to exercise the right to vote would have to get tested. This would cost money. It just would. There would have to be verification regimes in place to ensure that cheating does not happen. Accreditation for IQ testing facilities would be required. This will cost money.
If a potential voter was responsible for paying for testing, people scoring under the threshold would either accept disenfranchisement or be forced to spend money retaking tests until they either get lucky or have a good day.
If the cost of testing was supported by taxes, then there would be an incentive for people to take the tests repeatedly in the hopes of getting the threshold, unless measures were put in place to limit attempts, which again seems unfair.
Current issues involving voter registration or a voter identification card will seem quaint compared to the debates involving testing criteria for IQ threshold voting rights.
And for what benefit? Because I’m suggesting this as the reality:
4) Stupid people already aren’t voting. Okay, this is entirely my bias, but I believe that it’s stupid not to vote. Here in the US, around 50% of the population who meet voting eligibility (citizen, 18 years old, etc.) have not registered to vote. About half of those who meet the criteria and are registered to vote, don’t. Okay, I’m quoting this like I know what I am talking about, but this is anecdotal from years past. I seem to hear this every election, so I am ponying it out there, which is lazy of me, I admit. But I think it’s safe to say that we still have a large unregistered group of potential voters, and/or a large population of registered voters who don’t vote. And they are stupid.
Again, it’s my bias. They might be really smart, critically thinking, well informed individuals with awesome sexy IQs. But if they are not exercising their right to vote, they’re dummies.
So if I am right, it’s a waste of money to test people. Because the real dummies aren’t coming out to vote anyway. Boom.
I want them to vote. And this might be shocking, but even though I would prefer the voting population to be well informed and critical thinkers, I’m okay if they are not. I primarily want them to vote. Even if their votes are contrary to mine. (I’m not implying that my voting habits reflect super-intelligence and only the uninformed are voting contrary to me, I’m also happy to have smart people vote against issues that I am voting for, and vice-versa.) Because:
5) Voting is about more than winning.
Elections are held for the voting population to let their mandate and will be known. It’s not like the Superbowl.
Winning certainly is important, but how many people who also voted for the losing side is extremely important. Voting is secret (even though everyone and their brother wants to report their secret balloting to any pollster nearby.) To understand how Americans feel about issues, it’s important to have them vote, and have the votes counted. Then we know. Or we should know.
If we exclude people from voting, our lawmakers and politicians don’t really know what to do. I’m not saying that they should blindly do what the populace says, I’m saying that they should be informed. Our votes, pro and con, provide guidance.
Policy makers, the media, and educators also need to know. Everyone should know.
But, do we really want to know what the stupid people think?
Let me take a moment and say that I’m being rather flip about calling people stupid. I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but I just don’t want to try to craft a more neutral phrase, and I’m running with the language of the original post of Facebook. And if I offend anyone with my apology and desire not to offend, whatever.
Well, do we want to know? I kind of do. But maybe it’s not that big a deal if we exclude the stupid people or not.
Brainiac’s suggestion of limiting voting to IQ 101 (I dropped it down a point to 100, remember, because I’m cool) would probably disenfranchise a large population of people who are not stupid, who can make decisions and can be trusted with expressing their views. It would be unfair to deny them the vote. Possibly dangerous if this population is large enough.
But, what if the margin is pretty small? Well, then it might not make any real difference (and be a waste of money, right?)
Although, a small margin nowadays with the country’s voting pattern being so polarized might make a huge difference. Removing this small population of stupid people (who, again, might be perfectly reasonable people as voters) might shift power to one party, or rather to one dominant ideology. But I’d rather that battle of issues be won by education and a focus on encouraging people to think, rather than arbitrarily deny them the vote.
Okay, I’m done.
If anyone is curious why I’m spending time on this topic, since everything else on my blog has been long bloated movie reviews, I just felt moved to express my opinion on a ridiculous suggestion on Facebook.
Yes, I could have engaged the originator of the idea directly (and maybe I did? Who knows? (I didn’t)) but I felt it sufficient to think about his suggestion and express in my more or less friendly environment what I think. I’m pretty non-confrontational, so it’s just how I wanted to roll on this.
As always, best regards to you and yours, and thank you for reading this.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2013 Some Rights Reserved