George F. Will: Starting all over again

Published: November 11, 2012
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It is frequently said and probably true that many people are more informed when picking a refrigerator than when picking a president. This may, however, be rational ignorance because the probability of any individual's vote mattering to an election's outcome is negligible compared to the effort required to acquire information and vote. (Elections are run by governments, so it is unwise to expect them to be run well, but really: Are hours-long waits at polling places inevitable?) Fortunately, the electoral vote system, by requiring 51 presidential elections, multiplies the chances of competitive contests and of votes with magnified importance.

As the stakes of politics increase with government's size, so does voter engagement. And 2012 redundantly proved what 2010 demonstrated. The 2010 elections, the first after the Supreme Court's excellent Citizens United decision liberalized the rules about funding political advocacy, were especially competitive. Social science confirms what common sense suggests: More spending on political advocacy means more voter information and interest. The approximately $2 billion spent in support of this year's presidential candidates — only about two-thirds as much as Procter & Gamble spent on U.S. advertising last year — surely contributed to the high turnout in targeted states.

Media and other “nonpartisan” — please, no chortling — dismay about “too much money in politics” waned as seven of the 10 highest-spending political entities supported Democrats and outspent the three supporting Republicans, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The advocacy infrastructure that is being developed by both sides in the post-Citizens United world will, over time, favor the most plausible side, which conservatives know is theirs.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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