Majority Opinion. The public is ill-informed, illogical and ideologically inconsistent, and probably some other "i" word I'm missing. Given the needs of an informed electorate in thriving democracy, "the voter falls short," according to one classic study. The pile of research supporting this position is overwhelming.
Minority Opinion. The findings above, according to the dissent, has more to do with a failure of the scholars than with the people they study. "The voters are not fools," V.O. Key famously said. Ask questions that matter to people rather than to political scientists, they argue, and you get very different results.
Which is right? It's hard to argue with a 7-2 vote, but the failure of the public can be explained. Not explained away, mind you, but explained.
- People have better things to do with their time than keep up with all this stuff.
- When they do pay attention, they organize the world in ways that, while they may drive social scientists nuts, make perfectly good sense to them.
- It's irrational to keep up with politics when you don't care, when you have little say in the final decision.
- Public affairs and politics, given the media coverage, has become more theatre than meaningful substance. Why bother?
- Scholars ask the wrong questions, in the wrong ways.
If forced I would side with the majority, but I am sympathetic to the minority view. Knowing which party controls the House of Representatives tells us something about how much a person keeps up with current events, but it tells us damn little about how they make sense of their political world.