[Posted by Karl]
Consider this the flip side of the question of what the casual voter — as opposed to political junkies — might know about the presidential candidates in 2012. The question was largely prompted by a new Pew poll showing many voters do not know basic facts about the Republican candidates. In the poll, 69% of registered voters knew that Newt Gingrich served as speaker of the House, but only 53% could identify Massachusetts as the state where Mitt Romney served as governor and just 44% of voters could identify Ron Paul as the candidate who opposes US military involvement in Afghanistan.
The numbers are better for Republicans and their leaners: 75% knew the Gingrich question; 59% knew the Romney question; and 51% knew the Paul question. Even so, these are numbers that suggest that the October KFF tracking poll — showing nearly three quarters of the public, including seven in ten likely Republican presidential primary voters, say they don’t know enough about Romneycare to have either a favorable or an unfavorable opinion of it — might still be fairly accurate. More significantly, the Pew poll expressly gives the R/D/I breakdown for these questions, but only gave answers including leaners for GOPers and Dems. A little back-of-the-envelope math confirms the stereotype of truly unaligned voters as the least informed. The youth vote is also among the least informed, which may not be surprising, but notable given that Ron Paul’s campaign touts its support among the young and inependent.
It is also worth noting that Pew did this quiz poll during a period where over half the news was about the presidential election.
These results are not particularly depressing; the politically engaged need to remember that to everyone else, we are at the beginning of the process and that many voters will not engage themselves until their primary or the general election. These factors, and uncertainty about the eventual nominee(s) are why head-to-head polling is basically meaningless at this point in the cycle.
However, the politically engaged should keep the early level of ignorance in mind more than we probably do on a day-to-day basis. Given polls like those from Pew and KFF, how much importance should we put in last month’s ABC/WaPo poll question asking whether Romneycare, Gingrich’s experience and Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy are major reasons to support or oppose them? How much weight should we put on arguments that candidates like Romney and Paul are electable based on early head-to-head polling? How much weight should we put on the claim that Romney’s and Paul’s negatives are priced into their stock because they ran in 2008? Or that Gingrich’s negatives are well-known because of his relatively high name ID? How much weight should we put on concern (or enthusiasm) that the increase in support for Paul since 2008 signals a fracturing of GOP foreign policy consensus?
The answer to all of these questions would appear to be: “Not very much.” At least, people should not place undue weight on such arguments. Yet the establishment media and even political junkies often talk and behave otherwise.