Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters

Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters

Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters

Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths about American Voters


Late deciders go for the challenger; turnout helps the Democrats; the gender gap results from a surge in Democratic preference among women--these and many other myths are standard fare among average citizens, political pundits, and even some academics. But are these conventional wisdoms--familiar to anyone who watches Sunday morning talk shows--really valid?

Unconventional Wisdom offers a novel yet highly accessible synthesis of what we know about American voters and elections. It not only provides an integrated overview of the central themes in American politics--parties, polarization, turnout, partisan bias, campaign effects, swing voters, the gender gap, and the youth vote--it upends many of our fundamental preconceptions. Most importantly, it shows that the American electorate is much more stable than we have been led to believe, and that the voting patterns we see today have deep roots in our history. Throughout, the book provides comprehensive information on voting patterns; illuminates (and corrects) popular myths about voters and elections; and details the empirical foundations of conventional wisdoms that many understand poorly or not at all.

Written by three experts on American politics, Unconventional Wisdom serves as both a standard reference and a concise overview of the subject. Both informative and witty, the book is likely to become a standard work in the field, essential reading for anyone interested in American politics.


This project grew from a casual conversation among friends in the spring of 2005. Each of us is a political junkie of one ideological stripe or the other, and as we chuckled over some new “conventional wisdom” about the 2004 elections, we began to wonder if there was not some promise in marshaling our collective knowledge (and data) to inject some political science into the conversation. It was not hard to come up with myths and conventional wisdoms in need of clarification; there are lots of them. In fact, the most difficult aspect of the project was narrowing our list and effectively representing what our discipline knows about the subject. In confronting the first hurdle we decided to focus our energies on the most consequential myths and conventional wisdoms, which, not coincidentally, also tend to bother us the most. The second challenge forced us to canvass a broad cross section of political science research—both recent and classic—and to analyze a wide range of data. Over the course of working on this book we were occasionally surprised by where our research took us. Some of the popular conventions are indeed flimsy or patently false. In other cases, things that we had believed to be wrong turned out to have more than a grain of truth.

So while we confirmed that some of what passes for fact in popular political commentary is wrong, we nonetheless gained an appreciation for the news media—especially for those reporters and commentators who have decades of experience in the trenches and a deep commitment . . .

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