Monday, December 12, 2011

We need a leader, not a reader

A few weeks ago, Herman Cain got some attention when he said that "we need a leader, not a reader."  He's left the presidential race, but he was connecting to an image which I talked about in my November 24 post:   Democrats are intellectuals and Republicans go with their gut instincts.  People from both parties seem willing to embrace this image, although they put a different spin on it.  Of course, there are some Republicans who present themselves as readers (or even acknowledge having been a college professor), but it's a pretty clear tendency.  My question is how far back it goes.  You could trace it back to the 1950s (the "egghead" Adlai Stevenson)  or farther (FDR's "brains trust").  But my guess is that it started with Ronald Reagan's presidency--not Reagan himself, but the way that people reacted to him. 

A 1978 Los Angeles Times survey provides a good opportunity to look at this issue.  The survey asked people which qualities were most important "when you think about who should be president."  One of the qualities on the list was "intelligent."  The percentages choosing each option (they add to more than 100% because people could choose up to two):

Experience                25%           23%            26%
Honesty                   55%           53%            54%
Leadership                26%           31%            40%
Strong convictions         8%           10%            10%
Cares about people        28%           26%            18%
Attractive personality     2%            1%             1%
Intelligent               30%           33%            32%

Republicans were had more preference for "leadership" and Democrats for "cares about people," but there was no difference in preferences for intelligence--actually, Democrats were least likely to say that it was important, but the differences weren't statistically significant.  A comparison by self-rated ideology produced the same pattern.

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