Top political scientist: U.S. voters are 'pretty damn stupid'

Political reporters often rely on University of Wisconsin political scientist Charles Franklin for expertise.  In just the past few months, his insights have appeared in articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Associated Press, Politico, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications.  He's also a co-founder of the influential website Pollster.com, as well as co-director of the Big Ten Battleground Poll.

So Franklin answered with considerable authority when he was asked, at a recent forum on the November 2 election results, why Republicans emerged victorious in so many races.  “I'm not endorsing the American voter,” Franklin said.  “They're pretty damn stupid.”

Franklin was responding to a question from Bill Lueders, news editor of Isthmus, a weekly alternative newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin.  In an account published Thursday (H/T Ann Althouse), Lueders says he asked Franklin why “the public seemed to vote against its own interests and stated desires, for instance by electing candidates who'll drive up the deficit with fiscally reckless giveaways to the rich.”

“Franklin, perhaps a bit too candidly, conceded the point,” Lueders writes.  “'I'm not endorsing the American voter,' he answered. 'They're pretty damn stupid.'”

Lueders writes that he responded, “Thank you, professor.  That's the answer I was looking for.”  The rest of Lueders' account explains that smart voters support things like high-speed rail and higher taxes for the rich, while dumb voters support “an obvious phony like [Republican senator-elect] Ron Johnson over Russ Feingold.”

But Franklin is the real star of the story.  If you read his quotes in mainstream publications, you'll find a series of measured statements on political trends.  Democrats appealing to the youth vote in the run-up to the midterms are “betting long odds, given the very long history of low turnout in midterms among young voters,” Franklin told the Washington Post recently.  Final pre-election polls suggested “a Republican wave of genuinely historical proportions,” he told USA Today.  Feingold's problems had “more to do with the mood of the country than with Feingold himself,” he told the Boston Globe.

It's all pretty unremarkable stuff.  And readers would have no idea what Franklin really thinks about the voters whose opinions he's measuring and commenting on.  But now they do.

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