Why Poor People Don’t Pay Attention to Politics

The poor and oppressed tend to pay less attention to politics. But it’s not because they’re dumb — it’s because they know the political system doesn’t work for them.

A sign directs voters outside of a polling station during the special election between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Dan Bishop in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District on September 10, 2019 in Marshville, North Carolina. (Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

A new poll from Morning Consult confirms an ongoing trend: voters who pay a lot of attention to politics are more likely to support Elizabeth Warren, while those who pay less attention are more likely to support Bernie Sanders.

Predictably, polls like this have been fueling a talking point, shared by the reactionary right and liberals alike, that voting for Sanders is an expression of ignorance and unintelligence. A typical take from the right-wing American Thinker:

With Venezuela’s grand failure of socialism, it would probably take a stupid person to ever support the idea of electing a socialist candidate here. Sure enough, something like it is going on.

Anyway, another poll recently came out that asks the same question — but breaks the numbers down demographically, instead of by candidate. From the latest YouGov / Economist survey:

So, what’s going on here? As far as I can tell, there are two plausible interpretations:

  1. Society’s most privileged demographics — white, male, aging, and, above all, rich — have a better understanding of politics than everyone else.
  2. The poor and oppressed don’t spend a lot of time consuming political infotainment — in part because they don’t have a lot of leisure time, in part because the media doesn’t focus on the issues that they care about, and in part because they’ve become politically disengaged from a party primary process that never serves them well. This does not mean that they are less informed about the issues that matter to them, or less intelligent — it just means that they’re investing their time and attention efficiently.

I know which of these conclusions pundits on the Right will endorse. The interesting question is: What do Sanders critics on the liberal left think?