In a CEPR Discussion Paper, Sascha Becker, Thiemo Fetzer, and Dennis Novy argue that education and income mainly explain voting outcomes. In the abstract of their paper, the authors write:
We find that exposure to the EU in terms of immigration and trade provides relatively little explanatory power for the referendum vote. Instead, … fundamental characteristics of the voting population were key drivers of the Vote Leave share, in particular their education profiles, their historical dependence on manufacturing employment as well as low income and high unemployment. … within cities, we find that areas with deprivation in terms of education, income and employment were more likely to vote Leave.
In a post on DeFacto, Michael Hermann argues that in Switzerland the conflict between voters and “political elites” actually has receded. According to Hermann, popular votes helped clarify where voters disagreed with parliamentarians, and this led policy makers to adjust. The figures illustrate how over time, votes in the two chambers of parliament converged towards outcomes in popular votes. Campaigns supported by the right-wing SVP party may have contributed to these developments.
In the New Yorker, Caleb Crain reviews the case. It’s a difficult case to make if most voters are uninformed.
Jamming the stub of the Greek word for “knowledge” into the Greek word for “rule,” Estlund coined the word “epistocracy,” meaning “government by the knowledgeable.” It’s an idea that “advocates of democracy, and other enemies of despotism, will want to resist,” he wrote, and he counted himself among the resisters. As a purely philosophical matter, however, he saw only three valid objections.
First, one could deny that truth was a suitable standard for measuring political judgment. This sounds extreme, but it’s a fairly common move in political philosophy. After all, in debates over contentious issues, such as when human life begins or whether human activity is warming the planet, appeals to the truth tend to be incendiary. Truth “peremptorily claims to be acknowledged and precludes debate,” Hannah Arendt pointed out in this magazine, in 1967, “and debate constitutes the very essence of political life.” Estlund wasn’t a relativist, however; he agreed that politicians should refrain from appealing to absolute truth, but he didn’t think a political theorist could avoid doing so.
The second argument against epistocracy would be to deny that some citizens know more about good government than others. Estlund simply didn’t find this plausible (maybe a political philosopher is professionally disinclined to). The third and final option: deny that knowing more imparts political authority. As Estlund put it, “You might be right, but who made you boss?”