Associate Professor Danny Oppenheimer joined the UCLA Anderson faculty just recently, after making a name for himself as a faculty member at Princeton, winning several teaching awards as well as In 2006, the “’Ig Nobel Prize’ (in 2006) for research that makes you laugh, and then makes you think.”
Oppenheimer’s research focuses on human decision making, with a particular emphasis on understanding what information people attend to when making decisions. He is the co-author of the book, "Democracy Despite Itself: Why a system that shouldn't work at all works so well" along with Mike Edwards.
Oppenheimer and Edwards have also been blogging with The Huffington Post. The pair have authored four posts, perhaps the most notable (13,000 “likes” on Facebook) being “Eliminate the Electoral College” – a somewhat controversial position in this election year. In the post, Oppenheimer writes:
The UCLA Anderson blog caught up with Oppenheimer to ask him how his research led him towards his opinions on democracy and the democratic process.
“The primary impact of the Electoral College is to give the citizens of some states more influence over the presidential election than citizens of other states. If you live in a Battleground State you are showered with attention. Your issues gain traction at the national level. You have political power. But if you happen to live in a Red State or a Blue State -- as do roughly 79% of Americans according to Nate Silver's electoral map -- then you are pretty much out of luck. Your vote doesn't matter. And when we say "your vote doesn't matter," we can actually quantify this. According to the Princeton Election Consortium a vote in Nevada this year (a small battleground state) is over one million times more likely to have an impact on this election than a vote in New Jersey (a large Blue state).
This is horribly unjust. It makes a mockery of the principal of "one man, one vote"; it doesn't matter if we all get one vote when some votes are worth more than others.
The Electoral College undermines our belief that the electoral process is fair. Every time that a candidate wins the popular vote but fails to win the presidency (which has happened three times so far in American history), it has caused the people to question whether the system is broken and the wrong person became president. Combined with the widespread understanding that most votes in most states simply have virtually no chance of affecting the outcome of the presidential election, the effect is to erode our collective belief that our most important political office is actually chosen democratically.
He says that the amount of information that voters are inundated with regarding various candidates is “well beyond what is reasonable,” explaining that most people can only process up to about seven different pieces of information at a time. This information overload actually translates to most people being “woefully uninformed” about candidates and the issues.
Oppenheimer believes deeply in the benefits of democracies, noting that the world’s democratic nations do a better job on many key areas of civilized society including health care and education. But Oppenheimer also believes that democracies have better “outputs” when they have better “inputs” – as in a more informed and relevant electorate.
He advises anyone making a big decision, including who to vote for, find the five most important things to them when deciding. “Otherwise,” says Oppenheimer, “we confuse ourselves. When we have choice overload, we are less likely to make a choice. We ultimately get paralyzed.”
You can see all of Danny Oppenheimer’s Huffington Post work here.
You can purchase his book, "Democracy Despite Itself: Why a system that shouldn't work at all works so well" here.