29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights...Only 58 percent could identify who the Taliban are.
Just take a look at the topics covered in the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain: the financial sector/crisis, tax policy, government appropriations, energy/oil, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and terrorism. How many Americans could follow all of those topics with any depth of understanding? How many could name the presidents of all 4 countries mentioned, explain what an earmark is, how US tax policy favors or disadvantages US corporations, prospects for alternative energy, the risks and benefits of offshore oil drilling or hold forth on the appropriate response to a financial crisis? Does anyone think it's even 20 percent?
And this is only, very broadly, what was covered at the debate. To be truly informed about issues pertinent to the federal government one should also have a working knowledge of trade policy, immigration, Medicare, farm policy, social security, health care, and a myriad of other topics. (Another problem with big government: the bigger it is, the more topics a voter's finite attention span must be divided between, ensuring they know less and less about more and more)
Or maybe it's just the way the candidate looks. There is little doubt that being attractive is a major leg up, especially in the TV age. Many of us are no doubt familiar with the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in which television viewers declared JFK the winner while radio listeners gave the edge to Nixon. It's also definitely good to be tall, with 7 of our 10 presidents since 1960 measuring at least 6 feet. The other three weren't exactly midgets either, with Nixon and George W. Bush clocking in at 5' 10.5" and Carter at 5' 9.5" (in comparison the average American male was 5' 9" in 2005).
Is it difficult to conceive that a non-trivial number of voters may have preferred Obama over Clinton in the Democratic primary for superficial reasons such as his relative youth, good looks, race or speaking ability? It certainly wasn't due to a more impressive resume or profound policy differences.