VOX CEPR Policy Portal
Filip Matějka, Guido Tabellini 10 January 2020
Digital technologies provide a vast and accessible supply of information for voters. And yet, research suggests that the American electorate is no better informed than it was in the late 1980s. This column argues that the digital revolution has changed the distribution of news and data, increasing informational asymmetries across issues, amplifying the influence of extremist voters, and diverting attention away from important but non-controversial policies.
The digital revolution has disintermediated the provision of information. One voter can choose to read about education reform while another reads about gun control. What we know is determined less by what information the media provides, and more by what and where we search of our own initiative, or by information provided by peers (Prior 2007, Sunstein 2017). Readers can easily collect detailed information on a narrow issue while remaining uninformed about everything else. Because information remains costly to absorb and process, individuals can be selective in the information they acquire. By contrast, when network television and newspapers were the main sources of political information, it was more difficult to be well informed about narrow and specific issues; at the same time, individuals could not avoid being exposed to general news, even while searching for precise information or seeking entertainment. As a result, political information was more uniform across individuals and issues.