My friend and I had a vivid discussion about politics. We discussed about a system in which people had to go through some sort of intelligence evaluation system. According to their intelligence level they would get a certain amount of votes (higher score means more votes). Most current systems give a moron and a genius both one vote. The issue in that is that the moron votes whoever he likes and doesn't understand the magnitude of what he does. The system of votes according to intelligence would reduce the risk that such a decision has an impact. I am aware that not all people with low intelligence make bad decisions and that not all intelligent people make good decisions, but I think that on average, the more intelligent a person is, the better he understands what consequences his decisions have, and the more likely he is to make good decisions.

One downside I can think of is that the people who make these intelligent tests have to be genuine and make the tests contain many more fields than traditional IQ tests, such as general knowledge and morality (which could be hard to find common ground on).

Another thing many people would probably categorize as downside is, that people can learn these tests. One positive effect of that is that those people who learn for these tests inevitably learn, which could increase the "average intelligence level" of the population. I don't believe that the few "evil" people who study for the tests would tip the scales. Another thing that could make this harder is to make those test have totally random questions, so someone who would intend to "learn it all" would need to learn everything there is to know.

Now that I rambled on to make my point clear, are there any governments who implemented something like that? Have there been discussions on such a system? What could be the downsides of it (other than those already mentioned)?

Here are some related questions that did not answer mine:

  • Voting according to education (my question does not care about education)
  • Using IQ tests (IQ tests are largely based on logic, little on general knowledge and not about social behavior / morality, while the test I'm talking about would incorporate those)

edit: The reason for this system would be similar to why most countries restrict voting to adults.

edit2: I don't know if people don't see that I linked to the IQ question and want to close it as duplicate of that or that I didn't explain the difference well enough, so here a bit more in-depth explanation: IQ tests test mostly for logical thinking, math, pattern finding, conclusion making and so on. The kind of test I am proposing would cover many more topics such as general knowledge (a la "Who is often called 'father of evolution'?"), morality (although, thanks to everybody who has replied, I realize that this point would be very hard to do) and anything else that could possibly included.

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    "Literacy tests" have been used, but usually to make sure that the "wrong" people dit not get to vote. Consider the Jim Crow longs set up in the South of the United States. – sabbahillel Jun 8 '16 at 13:55
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    @sabbahillel: Yes, that was in an answer to the links I included. Though I want to differentiate the kind of test I'm describing from that. – Matthias Schreiber Jun 8 '16 at 14:00
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    It think this user4012's answer to the IQ question is of direct application here, how did it not answer your question? – SJuan76 Jun 8 '16 at 14:08
  • @SJuan76: How did my comment after the link not explain that? – Matthias Schreiber Jun 8 '16 at 14:15
  • Why would you want to bias the system towards intelligence? – Inviolable Jul 13 at 16:42

13 Answers 13

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Let's assume for a moment that there is a way to test for "intelligence" and that the test is genuine. Let's also assume that it can be taken quickly and with ease. And that the test itself can apply a scale to the individual vote. Stupid people get 1 vote, average people get 5 votes, and smart get 10 votes. Let's also assume there is a perfect, and well agreed upon definition of stupid, average, and smart.

Pause to clarify, stupid, smart, and average in the context of this answer are for shorthand only.

You still have a lot of problems to overcome.

  1. There are way more stupid people then there are smart people. It's just that simple. The vote weight would have to be adjusted to a point to make the stupid peoples vote count less.
  2. Average people, by definition are going to outweigh smart and stupid people. The average category is, average. Most people will belong here. So again smart votes are going to have to be weighted even higher.
  3. Smart people don't care. One of the side effects of being a smart person is that, by and large they tend to want to focus on their smartness. That is to say, as a smart person, I want to increase my smartness. I don't want to spend 2 years learning how someone else's stuff functions , just so I can make a super smart vote.
  4. Average people, and stupid people can wield weapons, and make them, and use them. And they will. When they feel that they don't have a voice in government, they will do what all people do in that case.
  5. Smart, stupid, and average, "None of us are as dumb as all of us." Meaning that as a society, or group, or gathering, or whatever, the more people you have the dumber the resulting ideas will be. Don't think for a moment you could lock 100 smart people in a room and not have some horridly stupid ideas about how to get out of the room. No matter the grouping, when people start to collaborate we do some really stupid things.

Mostly though, you have a really big concern.

The government is supposed to be representative of its people. If the people are a bunch of idiots then the government should reflect that. It's not supposed to be a government of the smartest and brightest people. It's supposed to be a government of the people. That's how stability is maintained. It doesn't matter that a law, technically, is harmful or dumb, if enough people want that law, then they will have it; by pen or by sword.

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    Thanks for everybody who answered so far, I think there are really good points made. This answer is closest to what I expected though, clear, elaborate and it didn't hang itself on any lack of definition of a word on my part. – Matthias Schreiber Jun 9 '16 at 12:53
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    Points (4) and (5) are the most critical here, I think. Over a long history of bloody revolutions, human societies have slowly developed systems that channel human power struggles into forms that are less likely to result in horrific acts of violence. Enfranchisement (or at least a sufficiently convincing simulacrum of it) is a key part of moderating the violent urges of the mob mentality. The role of government is not to make intelligent decisions; the role of government is to diffuse the animal instincts in all of us that would otherwise leave suffering and misery in their wake. – Dan Bryant Jun 9 '16 at 14:57
  • I joined politics just to +1 this, thank you! – Goran Obradovic Nov 15 '16 at 13:10
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    #4 is the only important reason. If we had robocops the system could actually work. – JonathanReez Jul 11 at 6:51
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    IQ is distributed on a bell curve. There are exactly the same number of smart people and stupid people. You are coflating people who are average who just think they are smart – K Dog Jul 12 at 11:20

If you Google it as I just did, what you're referring to is a Geniocracy.

I'm going to tell you the problems I can think of off the top of my head.

  1. Everyone has equal ability to use a pitchfork. If you stop any group from voting, they will use other means to get what they want, and that does not bode well for societal stability.
  2. How do you measure intelligence? Different people have different abilities, and the ability to govern is not dependant on one consistent thing. What's to say whether the ability to manipulate people is more important than the ability to manage state affairs?
  3. On an individual level, it's not fair. Western civilisation is based on the idea that everyone is created equal and it's our actions that matter- but even then, we can say what we want. You're suggesting discrimination based on something we have absolutely no control over, creating a caste system where the intelligent look down on others. Drawing a distinction in such a fundamental way would create a system where those that only just fail that test would be turned down for jobs that those that only just succeed would qualify for. It would be a permanent black mark.
  4. The most intelligent people might not want to govern. How many scientists go into governance? Not many, because they're busy doing science. Perhaps they have more important things to do!

It would fail, if nothing else, as soon as the people in charge happened by a twist of genetics to have children that fell below that mark.

Also, given that at least 50% of people would be against it (assuming the divide is even), it wouldn't get through the current system.

  • +1 Thank you for the link. I agree to 1. and 2.. With number 3 I have issues. We are not born equal, you can't make somebody without limbs a police man (until we have mech suits that is). I also didn't suggest a caste system and you cannot fail in the tests. The test would serve as some sort of modifier, not as "You may vote and you don't". Also the test results don't need to become public. 4. I did not talk about electing them, but how votes are distributed. – Matthias Schreiber Jun 8 '16 at 14:28
  • @MatthiasSchreiber- On that last point, there's not much distinction. People will vote for other people like themselves. Your other points are valid, sort of, but how we intend such a system to go and how it actually goes can be very different things. If you discriminate in any way like that it will inevitably become more than you hope. – PointlessSpike Jun 8 '16 at 14:35
  • #5: Actual intelligence alone is not a viable indicator of whether someone will govern or vote responsibly. – Shadur Jun 9 '16 at 10:06
  • @Shadur- That's covered in point #2. – PointlessSpike Jun 9 '16 at 10:07
  • To point 2, what if the test measured a person's susceptibility to manipulation? That's a realtively simple thing to test for (give them some statements with leading questions, framing bias, logical fallacies etc. and then ask a few questions about the truth behind them). Then you get more votes being given to the people who are more able to accurately assess what the politicians are actually saying or promising to do. Just hope that it doesn't turn into some sort of "survival of the most duplicitous" where only the most talented and convincing liars are elected (well, more so than currently). – anaximander Jun 9 '16 at 12:52

To answer your inquiry for examples: no, there haven't been any notable instances of voting power based on intelligence alone. However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were a number of "plural" and "class" voting systems which gave more electoral power to the wealthy and well-educated.

These systems included, most explicitly, in the following forms:

  • Belgium 1893-1919 - "Wealthy" citizens could cast two votes and those who had received a "higher education" had three votes. The collective body of those with two or three votes were able to out-vote the majority who had one vote (if they were split their votes cleanly).
  • Prussia 1849-1918 - The few wealthiest citizens collectively paying the top 1/3 of total taxes elected 1/3 of the electors (representatives); the middle-class citizens paying the next 1/3 of total taxes elected another 1/3 of electors, and the remaining multitudes of the enfranchised male citizenry paying the last 1/3 of taxes (or none at all) elected the final 1/3 of electors. In the end, the few wealthy elites had a vastly disproportionate impact on the Prussian Landtag and local legislatures.
  • Romania 1866-1917 - "Colleges" based on income were used to split up the election of sections of the legislature such that the wealthiest 1.5% elected 41% of the Lower House of Parliament, the next-wealthiest 3.5% elected 38% of the same house, and the rest of the enfranchised population elected the remaining 21%.

Similar systems could be found in Austria, Russia, Sweden, and Finland in the same time period. British landowners with property in multiple constituencies could vote in each of those which they qualified, however, this wasn't so much an explicit rule as it was a loophole in enfranchisement.

If you'd like to learn more, research plural voting. Most of the aforementioned information came from Political Repression in Nineteenth Century Europe by Robert Goldstein.

The problem with any system based on meritocracy or geniocracy, see PointlessSpike's answer, is the definition of merits or intelligence. It's that simple. Because there is no universal definition of either, these concepts are practically impossible.

If you control the definition, you control everything. And we've seen that many times in history. Women, blacks, children, mentally ill, servants, jews, the poor and people in prison have at some point been considered intellectually incapable to vote or govern. In some places, this is still the case.

There are many examples of areas where meritocracy has been snuck into constitutional frameworks, but it is most often within the judicial branch of government. Ie people have to have a law degree to become judges.

To mitigate this, judges are separated from jurors in the USA and the UK. In Scandinavia the contrary is the case, and the law judges have an active role, and tend to steer the “civilian” judges' result. The scandinavian constitutions are also the root of the concept of an *ombudsmand, who is also appointed because of their merits.

My answer contained more links to Wikipedia definitions etc., but they weren't allowed by StackExchange's weird “you need at least x points to”-system.

Yes, it has happened before. In fact, the United States use to do it.

Certain states use to make you pass a Literacy Test in order to vote.


I know that you said that you said in the comments "I want to differentiate the kind of test I'm describing from that.", but the truth is that the only difference between what you described and the literacy tests is the designers of the system have to "be genuine", which is infeasible to detect or enforce.

Today, we're pretty sure that the purpose of those tests were to exclude minorities from voting, but when they were contemporary, the argument for such tests must have been that the were intended to prevent unintelligent people from voting.

Furthermore, the people who orchestrated such tests likely believed themselves that the purpose of the tests was to filter out unintelligent people rather than to exclude minorities.

  • Was this literacy test the same or similar that applied to black people when they want to register as US citizen in the 1940-1960s? – nelruk Jun 8 '16 at 23:23
  • No, it was worse in several ways as I recall -- to the point where a lot of white citizens would probably have failed it in theory, but in practice only black people were singled out to prove they were deserving of the franchise. – Shadur Jun 9 '16 at 10:10

This system would fail and is a bad idea. There is no accurate way to determine an individual's intelligence simply because everyone is intelligent in different areas. Farmers are much more intelligent at farming than I am, but that does not make me unintelligent. Mathematicians are much more intelligent at mathematics than I am, but that does not make me unintelligent.

There is no evidence to support that higher intelligent people make better decisions on average. A good example is ISIS. ISIS is full of very, very intelligent members, but they make awful decisions. And there are thousands of them!

All things considered, people cannot tell other people what they can and cannot do. We are all individuals and have the right to do what we want. Every decision made by an individual has consequences.

Knowledge does not substitute wisdom.

  • +1 I agree that there would be no accurate way and that, for example, a farmer would probably make better decisions on laws regarding to farming than a historian or math professor. Do you have evidence that ISIS is full of very intelligent members? I'm not very much into that topic so I can't say much about it. Maybe your third part wasn't meant like that, but it sounds very biased. We get told what to do all the time (parents to their children, doctors to their patients in mental hospitals, laws of society and physics...). I would give you another +1 for the last sentence though :) – Matthias Schreiber Jun 9 '16 at 7:31
  • @MatthiasSchreiber - I do not have evidence of ISIS being full of intelligent members. I guess that statement comes down to one's definition of "intelligence". I would argue that it takes rather smart people/leaders to be able to control a group into doing awful things. Good examples are Stalin and Hitler, which are two people recognized as being "intelligent". I do not mean to be biased in the third paragraph. I would not consider the laws of physics as something that tells people what to do. Sure, parents and doctors tell us what to do, but it is our choice to follow through with the action. – Peschke Jun 9 '16 at 15:16
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    The existence and measurability of general intelligence is arguably the most replicated empirical finding in all of psychology. "There's no accurate way to determine intelligence" is a silly myth that people love repeating. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics) – djechlin Jun 10 '16 at 5:09
  • It is also a myth that psychology is an exact science – GameDeveloper Jun 10 '16 at 8:32

What you're proposing is similar to the government proposed by Plato's Republic (specifically in the book VI) where a philosopher must be the one who is running the city with the cooperation of the citizen; now, in our very definition, who will choose this ruler? Well, there's your question and you're proposing people with certain skills and the enough intelligence to make a rational vote, which doesn't exist at all. We're all emotional voters in the end, as my point of view.

Now, will the system ruled by geniuses (Plato's philosophers) or what is the result of certain papers?

Since I don't have any academic knowledge about this, I know in the popular culture specfically episode 225, Season 10 of the Simpsons (named They saved Lisa's brain), Springfield were ruled by Springfield's MENSA chapter, a group of highly intelligent people. Among them are Principal Skinner, Lisa Simpson, Dr. Hibbert, Comic Book Guy, Professor Frink and Lindsey Neagle. During their mandate, they had several problems as a group because they always looking for errors in the laws, fighting for prove who has the more high IQ to be passed, putting everything to debate and never advance in anything. Stephen Hakwing compared their utopia's government with Fruitopia.

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    Plato's proposals were not simply limited to "make smart people the rulers"; and that I think stating it like that is inaccurate, it was also attempting to breed virtue and intelligence for a leadership caste whom would be living as communists; whose basic needs are taken care of but are forbidden from private ownership, ruling a society effectively of capitalists. – inappropriateCode Jun 9 '16 at 12:23
  • That's why I use the word similar and not using other words. – nelruk Jun 10 '16 at 20:24

You ask if any government has done this before. The answer may somewhat be yes, due to the old University constituencies in the United Kingdom. The UK Parliament used to have elected members who represented a few prestigious Universities. Graduates of these universities had two votes; one for the constituency where they lived and one for their University constituency.

It could be argued that this gave the intelligent (or at least the well educated) more votes than others.

A similar system was in place for the wealthy property owners, who could vote in the constituency where they lived and also where they owned property; although this doesn't really count as being based on intelligence.

Both of these were repealed in 1948 by the Representation Of The People Act.

If I recall correctly, one study concluded that America is meritocratic; in that the most intelligent people get the best jobs... but the catch was that the most intelligent people tend to cluster from the richest families. Even though from what I've heard, intelligence is much less hereditable than other factors like height (but rich children enjoy great nurturing). And furthermore that the wealthier people get, the more arrogant and entitled they become. Paul Piff called it the "asshole effect". Indeed children who are very smart and cruise through academia tend to make bad workers, because they misattribute failure (they couldn't possibly be wrong; has to be someone else, which would make them awful leaders). At least this has become Google's view and influenced their hiring policy, so now they don't seek to hire the best grads from the best schools any more and prefer self taught experts (according to Laszlo Bock).

So given those factors, if we applied this policy it would probably, and ironically just make the leadership class even more stupid than they are now. Imagine an entire congress of Donald Trumps. They would be very clever people, but most of them would also be from very wealthy backgrounds, and so corrupted by their intelligence and money, and quite possibly damaged upbringing ("Wounded Leaders" by Nick Duffell). Because the sort of intelligence you are testing for many not be the intelligence you seek. Perhaps a better strategy would be to try and filter bad candidates out. They might have great intelligence, but they would have the wrong character for leadership.

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    "Better strategy would be...." Who would choose the filter? Seems like you'd end up with the same situation as filtering out anyone who isn't smart. Personally, I'd be satisfied with simply requiring a voter to know one "relevant" fact about a person they are voting for as the filter. Most people vote for a person because of the party they belong to or based on lies that are provably false. The mere concept that requires a person to think about their vote for more than 10 seconds would improve voting results dramatically all on its own. – Dunk Jun 9 '16 at 20:41
  • I love how most voters would probably be excluded in this case, owing to a deluge of crap answers. Like a bad stackexchange. It's not a bad idea, but I think some people, by character (either corrupt or Trumpesque), are simply unfit for leadership; in the same way someone who is morbidly obese would be unfit for running a marathon, and this can be identified by screening candidates. If we are allowed to reject candidates from military service owing to shortcomings of body or mind, then people applying for an even more serious role should come under greater scrutiny. – inappropriateCode Jun 10 '16 at 9:18
  • Character doesn't matter when it comes to electing candidates, at least in the USA, probably world-wide also. It is proven time and again by looking at election results. Most people vote for "what are they going to give me" or "that person is anti-whatever so I can't vote for them (regardless of the truth in that statement)". There is almost no consideration given to "Is the person going to do what they say they are going to do". Also, determining what is considered "unfit" for character runs into the same problem as the IQ filter. Who decides what is "unfit"? – Dunk Jun 10 '16 at 16:32
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    If you think character matters then I have one word to say that can't be disputed that totally negates the entire idea that it matters. "Hillary". – Dunk Jun 10 '16 at 17:48
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    @inappropriateCode - If your claim is even remotely true, which I don't believe, then it requires people ignoring Hillary's demonstrated incompetence, lack of good judgement, shady if not downright corrupt practices, demonstrated lack of leadership qualities, lack of any notable accomplishments, demonstrated elitism, inability to take responsibility for her actions, tendency to blame everyone else for her failures and simple lack of truthfulness time and time again. Not that Trump is any better. It is just that we don't have as much evidence against his shortcomings as we do Hillary's. – Dunk Jun 13 '16 at 20:32

"I am aware that not all people with low intelligence make bad decisions and that not all intelligent people make good decisions, but I think that on average, the more intelligent a person is, the better he understands what consequences his decisions have, and the more likely he is to make good decisions."

It is tempting to believe this, but there is no empirical data of which I am aware that suggests this is true. It is often surmised by those who believe themselves to be smarter than the average person.

Have you ever gone to a Mensa meeting? There is arguably a representation of the 'intellectual elite' and I couldn't imagine some of them being in charge of their own clothing selections. I was a member for a short while in my youth, but it wasn't my kind of crowd.

Even in your own example, you suggest one of the general intelligence questions be:

"Who is often called 'father of evolution'?"

How could this possibly matter to someone who was supposed to be making decisions about the future of a nation? First, you are intimating that evolution is fact (AFAIK, it is still an unproven theory,) otherwise this would truly be just a trivia question.

I believe that you have discounted human nature completely from your calculations. The old adage: "Power corrupts; Absolute power corrupts absolutely" is not in your logic. You seem to assume people of above average intelligence are going to be even somewhat altruistic. What is to keep the intellectual elite from 'voting' that folks with below average intelligence aren't really 'people' anymore? That they couldn't be trusted to determine what is best for them and therefore should be wards of the State? Rounded-up and herded into 'protection camps' where they can be monitored to not hurt themselves.

A lot of serial killers have been of above average intelligence. (Ted Kaczynski, Edmund Kemper, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, Joel Rifkin, Jeffrey Dahmer, Juan Corona, Kristen Gilbert, et al. See link)

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    While I think you have a point saying that intelligence isn't related to good decisions making, you then leave from there to make a rant on, essentially, the American Political system. I don't say you are necessarily wrong, but Stack Exchange Q&A isn't the place for that. The Politics Chat might be, and that might bring people down there. – bilbo_pingouin Jun 9 '16 at 5:50
  • @bilbo_pingouin Sorry mate, you are spot-on! Sorry & thanks. – MrWonderful Jun 9 '16 at 6:50
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    "First, you are intimating that evolution is fact (AFAIK, it is still an unproven theory,)" Your answer is that-a-way ---> Biology – iamnotmaynard Jul 16 at 21:48

I have actually thought of the same idea myself actually however with further thought this brings up all sorts of issues many which is mentioned by other posters.

The first issue that I see with this, is that there will always be individuals that are smarter, or perhaps more knowledgeable would be a better term to use compared to others. And knowledgeability is one of the biggest issues in voting because many do not do thorough research of the candidates they vote for because honestly most don't have hours to spend to look up all of the ideas, beliefs, and agendas that each and every politician has (or what they claim to). I try my best to research candidates but when you go to the ballot box there is so many names you never hear of and its honestly impossible to do background research on each and every one of them.

Also if you step back and look at the bigger picture you can notice that politicians specifically cater to these low information voters for their exploitation. Its not the voters fault 100%, they're are also being played by the politicians. Really elections are basically a game to see who can get the most votes using any tactics possible, not about expressing what you believe in and gaining supporters (what it should ideally be like).

And to kind of more specifically answer your question I really don't see how a quantitative test can be administered that can properly assess an individuals knowledge of the candidates. I guess to a point however it can be done to see if the individual knows even basic facts about a candidate, like asking what is Donald Trump's stance on illegal immigrants, and if the person answers make them all citizens, than clearly they don't know a thing about the people they vote for.

However creating a criteria for voting eligibility can be a slippery slope, because who sets the criteria? And how far can this "test" be abused? If the government sets the criteria that can slowly make it stricter and tougher to pass these tests making it impossible for the average citizen to vote without heavily preparing for this "test".

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    This answer seems fairly chatty, and it doesn't expand much beyond the answers that have came before it. – Sam I am Jun 13 '16 at 4:00

This is not fair because there are several types of intelligence, so wich one to rate? the one wich would favour mostly your candidate?

Also one important point is that politicians no longer have incentives in keeping all rights equals for everyone, if suddendly smart people can give more votes, politicians are tempted to increase rights and incentives only for smart people.

The voting system was done because of logistic reasons mostly, it wanted to give control to people, however people can't make laws because people also have to do other stuff (farming, run hospitals etc.), it is not feasible allowing several million persons to concurrently make laws, so they vote once someone to do that for a while.

Voting system is flawed and is based on assumption that all candidates are not related to each other (so actually I am assuming the vote gives really some power to people, this makes the voting system flawed anyway, and in some countries regardless of who you vote that do not make any difference anyway).

Voting system was for the Pre-Internet era, nowadays we have the technology for giving people more power (allowing voting no more specific stuff without having to run a referendum etc, we just need to vote online.. assuming internet is free and privacy is never violated lol), however the political class is highly against hyperdemocracy, for the simple reason that in most countries the political class gets advantages to being a politic.

Also giving too much power to the people may be wrong, because people opinion may be biased by media. Easily. There is no way out, given the rules, every single human beign will try to dig its own way through the rules to get most advantage it can get.

Usually interest of big groups are more incisive into politics (think to big corporations) and big corporations do not need votes to interfere with politics.

EDIT: To answer comments, I would answer you with a quote from Interstellar

but just one score (QI) to measure my future?

We are assuming we can someone score the intelligence of a person and that will be decisive for the destiny of a country.

If we want smart people to vote maybe we should cut on silly TV shows and improve education system? Also note that voting is highly emotional it is rarely related to intelligence.

  • Apart from the fact that it would most likely not be me who initiates such a system, the original idea of this was to include all "sorts of intelligence" So that no single one would be preferred (such as logic in IQ test or the ability to memorize things and forget them after you wrote a test like in most broken education systems). – Matthias Schreiber Jun 9 '16 at 18:48
  • You should use general intelligence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics) – djechlin Jun 10 '16 at 5:11
  • Most of this answer does not actually answer the question, and the parts that do answer the question have already been covered in other answers. – Sam I am Jun 10 '16 at 14:27
  • @SamIam that is no longer true after my edit, hope you could turn the -1 in +1 :) – GameDeveloper Jun 11 '16 at 8:14

There are several concepts of intelligence. What you seem to be talking about is crystallized intelligence, which involves incorporating some domain knowledge... which is why answers/comments talking about "literacy test" aren't off-base. The basic problem with this is: what knowledge is relevant? Cue controversy about the citizenship tests, e.g. in Australia.

Who is Australia's greatest cricketer? Is it Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Hubert Opperman or Walter Lindrum? The question, said to have been personally written by cricket fanatic and former prime minister John Howard, is part of the homework recommended for those taking the country's controversial citizenship test. Not surprisingly, many migrants haven't a clue who any of the three are and find other questions equally daunting. Yesterday, amid complaints that there is too much irrelevant sporting trivia, emphasis on historical dates and racist overtones in the test, introduced before the conservative leader was trounced in the polls, the new Labor-led government announced a review.

At least in the US, the newer test moved away from that (around 2008):

"What we're against is rote memorization of trivial and arbitrary facts that have no impact in a citizen's life or do not cover fundamental concepts of American democracy," Alfonso Aguilar, chief of USCIS's citizenship office, said last year. [...]

The new civics list, a pool of 100 possible questions for a test of up to 10, omits the old "How many stars are there on our flag?" and "Name the amendments that guarantee or address voting rights." Taking their place are questions like: "There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them," and "What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens?"

But such tests can easily be abused. Imagine at test like the Australian one that for every election... because intelligence (and especially knowledge) certainly change[s] over time... so one can argue a [re]test is needed at least periodically.

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