For a comic illustration of this insight, see this fascinating story about registration for the American Independent Party (AIP) in California. From the LA Times:
With nearly half a million registered members, the American Independent Party is bigger than all of California's other minor parties combined. The ultraconservative party's platform opposes abortion rights and same sex marriage, and calls for building a fence along the entire United States border...What went wrong? Voters treated their party registration forms about as seriously as any other survey:
But a Times investigation has found that a majority of its members have registered with the party in error. Nearly three in four people did not realize they had joined the party...
Voters from all walks of life were confused by the use of the word "independent" in the party's name, according to The Times analysis.Since each voter is just a grain of sand on the beach of politics, they can overlook their error indefinitely.
Residents of rural and urban communities, students and business owners and top Hollywood celebrities with known Democratic leanings -- including Sugar Ray Leonard, Demi Moore and Emma Stone -- were among those who believed they were declaring that they preferred no party affiliation when they checked the box for the American Independent Party.
Of the 500 AIP voters surveyed by a bipartisan team of pollsters, fewer than 4% could correctly identify their own registration as a member of the American Independent Party.
How is this different from product confusion on, say, Amazon? Two big ways. First, customers have an incentive to check their work, because ordering the wrong product is selfishly costly. Second, customers can easily check their work, because they directly experience their purchase once it arrives in the mail. When voters face the choice to go AIP, in contrast, they have no selfish incentive to review their order. And since each voter is just a grain of sand on the beach of politics, they can overlook their error indefinitely - or at least until the LA Times comes calling.
P.S. The AIP registration expose also neatly illustrates the principle that rare survey answers tend to be even rarer than they look. If a survey found 2% of Americans favored abolishing the minimum wage, for example, we should suspect that many of those who said "abolish" misunderstood the question or misspoke.