Alot of so-called hypocrisy and irrationality is just due to the problems of making decisions while in possession of incomplete information

This post at the Alas Blog brings up the following graph from the Washington post

And then the author of the post says:

“Although the partisans on both sides look like dolts here, obviously on this issue Democratic hypocrites outnumber Republican hypocrites. (This may be a case where Republican skepticism of the Federal government’s ability to do anything has served them well.)”

I disagree with this statement. I don’t think that this shows hypocrisy at all. I think that discrepancies like this are natural whenever you ask people to make a decision about something on which they’re not fully informed (and why would an ordinary person ever be fully informed about the policy levers that the government can use to affect gas prices).

In the absence of detailed information, a question like this boils down to trust. Do we think that the government would do something if they could? If we trust the government to do something about this problem, then the fact that they have done nothing must mean that they are unable to do anything.

It makes sense that Democrats would not trust Republicans to do anything about gas prices. Thus, even though they had done nothing, there remained the possibility that there was something that the Republicans might be able to do which they simply chose not to do. On the other hand, Democrats are more likely to trust Obama to do something about gas prices. The fact that he’s done nothing, is, to them, confirmation that there is nothing that can be done.

To me, this does not seem like hypocrisy or irrationality to me. Rather, it seems like perfectly sound thinking.

I think that people who are very interested in something are often very prone to overestimating how much the random person on the street actually thinks about that thing. In the case of politics, I think this is a particularly egregious problem. To political commentators (even amateur ones), politics is everything. But to the ordinary person, it’s pretty much nothing. Any political question is likely to be given less than ten minutes of thought during a given year.

And that’s the way it should be. For an ordinary person, there are only two politically relevant questions that need to be asked. 1) Am I going to vote Democrat or Republican? and 2) Am I going to engage in radical political action?

The answer to question one can be disposed of by most people in less than thirty seconds of thought. The second question is one that most people answer in the negative. Any political thinking that does not affect the answer to either question 1 or question 2 is a waste of time. This ‘gas price’ question is the definition of an irrelevant question and it deserves the lack of research that these respondents displayed when they responded to it.

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