The not-very-bright American voter

The Post today has a nice little article that prominently features political science research debating just how smart (or stupid) the typical American voter is.  Personally, I tend to lean towards the latter camp.  Anyway, the highlight:

So a bunch of academics decides to revisit one of the defining books of
modern American politics, a 1960 tome on the electorate. They spend
years comparing interviews with voting-age Americans from 2000 and 2004
to what Americans said during elections in the 1950s. The academics'
question: How much has the American voter changed over the past 50

Their conclusion — that the voter is pretty much the same dismally
ill-informed creature he was back then — continues a decades-long
debate about whether Americans are as clueless as they sound.

Of course, not all political scientists agree on the cluelessness of the American voter…

Americans “don't sound the way the high priests of culture want them to
sound,” says Samuel L. Popkin, author of “The Reasoning Voter,” who
tends to give voters more credit rather than less. “They use their own
language. They process a lot more than they can recall in interviews.
They have a lot better sense of who's on their side and who isn't than
they're often given credit for.”

Among the authors of the new research, is one of my Ohio State mentors:

“If they know they're Republican and have been happy that way, they'll
stay Republican,” says another of the book's four authors, Herb
Weisberg, who chairs the political science department at Ohio State University.
Even for those voters who do rethink their allegiance to a given party
— because, say, the party in power has fouled things up — “if times
get better, they'll get back to where they were,” Weisberg says.

The article actually does a nice job summarizing a significant political science debate.  If you'd like a better understanding of just what Political Scientists are killing trees for to fill up journals on a subject that is actually pretty interesting, give it a read

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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