How to accommodate an uninformed electorate

HOW TO ACCOMMODATE AN UNINFORMED ELECTORATE…. If you’re reading this blog, you’re almost certainly well versed on the basics. You’re well aware of the fact, for example, that Republicans have opposed health care reform en masse and that overcoming constant filibusters poses an almost insurmountable challenge.

But you’re far more informed than the typical person. And there are consequences associated with an uninformed electorate.

The public has consistently expressed strong interest in the health care debate, but relatively few Americans can correctly answer two key questions related to the Senate’s consideration of health care legislation.

In the latest installment of the Pew Research Center’s News IQ Quiz, just 32% know that the Senate passed its version of the legislation without a single Republican vote. And, in what proved to be the most difficult question on the quiz, only about a quarter (26%) knows that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster in the Senate and force a vote on a bill.

This obviously poses a serious political problem. Americans don’t really know what’s in the Democratic health care reform proposal, but just as important, the vast majority of Americans don’t know what it takes to overcome a filibuster.

It creates a situation in which the public sees a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress, and doesn’t understand why more isn’t getting done.

Democratic strategists and officials occasionally think Republicans will be punished for their unprecedented, reflexive obstructionism. But it’s worth remembering that most of the public doesn’t really follow this stuff. They don’t know about the constant filibusters — they may not know what a filibuster even is — and generally don’t care about procedural matters.

In other words, Republicans have embraced one simple tactic — the single most important weapon in the GOP arsenal — and used it to prevent the governing party from functioning. And Americans aren’t really aware of that.

Ezra noted the repercussions.

It’s a depressing poll, and for the White House, it should be a troubling one. Their argument essentially relies on a fairly deep level of procedural knowledge and interest. Enough, at least, to understand that the amount of governing the majority can do is dependent on how much governing the minority lets them do. It’s not an easy argument to make, and it’s even harder if the White House does not plan to make an issue out of its premises.

At the very least, that poll suggests that there will be little political sympathy for an unsuccessful Democratic majority. Republicans may be responsible if health-care reform fails, but Democrats will bear the blame.

It’s a clever trick, isn’t it? Voters give Democrats power, Republicans prevent Democrats from using the power, and the public, unaware of the details, gets annoyed and asks, “Why can’t Dems get anything done? Aren’t they in the majority?”

Greg Sargent added this morning, “Some will respond that it’s only mathematically impossible [for the majority to govern] if Dems accept the filibuster as an inevitable fact of life, rather than something that might be campaigned against and changed.”