The Wisdom of the People, or Lack Thereof.

From the Pew Research Center, "Public Knows Basic Facts About Politics, But Struggles with Specifics":


If there's a pundit trick that annoys me the most, it's the tendency to attribute particular ideological views to the public at large. In reality, the public doesn't actually know very much and isn't particularly ideological; most people aren't terribly interested in public affairs or the minutiae of politics and come to their views by way of partisan affiliation and broad heuristics about the world. You can see this in Pew's survey; most people can't identify the incoming speaker of the House, and while the public is still very angry about the bailouts, few know that the TARP loans have been mostly repaid.

For pundits, the lesson is simple: When you're trying to explain political behavior, you're better off focusing on macro-conditions and partisanship, rather than "moods" or ideology. The simple fact is that those two forces explain 90 percent of why and how people vote. As for politicians? The best anyone can do is to meet the needs of your constituents, work on economic growth, and maintain good relationships with party leaders and activists. In the end, it's probably not a good idea to try to divine the "wisdom of the people" from an election outcome, because by and large, the people don't have much wisdom.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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