Ten Miles Square


March 15, 2012 8:51 AM Why Campaigns Have So Few “Game-Changers”

By John Sides

My latest post at Model Politics looks at public knowledge of three recent political events: Santorum’s statement about birth control, Obama’s call to Sandra Fluke, and Santorum’s comment about Obama’s snobbery.  The survey data show an unsurprising, but often forgotten, fact: a substantial fraction of Americans aren’t so riveted by this campaign that they know much about these events.  Here’s one graph, based on the survey item about who called Fluke—Limbaugh, Romney, or Obama:

My conclusion:

To point out that many Americans do not know the answers to such questions is in no way to impugn their intelligence or citizenship.  People are busy and have many interests.  They do not always have the time, inclination, or need to follow politics very closely.  These survey results actually do more to question the assumptions of commentators, who are often anxious to inflate every argument during the campaign to a “game changer”—even if many Americans aren’t really watching the game.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

John Sides is an associate professor of political science at George Washington University.


  • Mitch on March 15, 2012 2:38 PM:

    "To point out that many Americans do not know the answers to such questions is in no way to impugn their intelligence or citizenship."

    And why not? Why should I not question the intelligence or citizenship of those who stubbornly refuse to pay attention to politics?

    No doubt most of them are thoroughly informed about their favorite TV shows or sports teams. No doubt that many of them do hold strong views about political issues - views that are often based on trashy soundbites instead of solid information.

    Like Ben Franklin said, we have a Republic, if we can keep it. To have a functioning Republic requires a knowledgeable and informed citizenry.

    If conservatives can question my patriotism for having different views than they do, then I can surely question the patriotism of those who don't pay attention to politics at all.

    The true evil here is not just that so many people are ignorant of even basic truths (such as the history of progressive taxation in the United States); no, the worst part is that a large portion of my fellow humans embrace their ignorance and wear it like a badge of honor.

    “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
    ¯ Harlan Ellison