The Effects of Competence-based Suffrage Restrictions: Toward a Full Accounting

Authors
David Wiens
University of California, San Diego
Sean Ingham
University of California, San Diego
Abstract
Democratic citizens often lack rudimentary knowledge about their political institutions, elected leaders, and the policies their leaders choose. Epistemic democrats contend democracies produce reasonable decisions despite the ignorance of the typical voter; against them, epistocrats claim that non-democratic regimes in which more knowledgeable citizens are put in charge would produce better decisions. We explain the shortcomings with the arguments on both sides. Epistocrats may be right that all else being equal, a more competent electorate would produce better decisions, and epistemic democrats may be right that all else being equal, a more diverse and inclusive electorate would produce better decisions. But all else is not equal, and neither camp provides arguments for believing that their favorite partial effect of restricting the franchise will prevail over countervailing effects. We explain why the total effect of such restrictions is theoretically indeterminate, and why more empirical evidence is needed.
Keywords epistemic democracy  epistocracy  universal suffrage  competence
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