It really irritates me when pundits trivialize politics and insult the voters. I’m sure Chait means well and, yes, I know that most voters don’t know anything about the federal budget, probably half of them can’t find Miami on a map, etc. But there’s no evidence that people vote based on candidates’ looks. Certainly not in presidential elections where the stakes are high and their party identification is clear.
If you want to rail at the mistakes voters make and the problems with our political system . . . fine, go for it! There’s a lot to complain about. But please don’t slam the voters for something they don’t do.
I'm with Jon on this. Our votes are not entirely rational and politics, especially the presidential variety, is not totally meritocratic. And that doesn't mean the system isn't valid. It just means we are human beings. Chait defends himself:
[Gelman] concedes that [Haley] Barbour could be hurt "on ideology." But is Barbour more conservative substantively than most of his opponents? Not at all. Barbour is right in the Republican mainstream. His weakness is precisely the non-ideological aspects of his political persona. And then Gelman begins by saying such factors "wouldn't make much of a difference," but winds up noting offhand that we could be talking about a percentage point or two. That's a lot! Parties and candidates will kill themselves to move the needle a percentage point or two in a presidential race. And again, the fundamentals determine the bigger picture, but within that big picture political tactics and candidate quality still matters around the margins.