Two possibilities. Either contempt for Congress has swelled to the point that voters figure she can’t be worse than the current crop — if we’re willing to stoop to electing Senator Franken, why not Senator Princess? — or George Carlin’s assessment of the public was right all along. Which would be ironic in this case given his politics, as he’d probably have been warmer to the idea of Caroline in the Senate than you or me.

God help us, we actually have a gender gap on this question.

But the poll also indicates there’s a gender gap, with 57 percent of women saying Kennedy is qualified. That number drops to 47 percent among men, with 46 percent of male respondents saying Kennedy is not qualified.

“Men may think of qualifications for public office in terms of work experience, while women may be looking at a candidate’s life experience,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Caroline Kennedy has a personal history that may be compelling to many women, but her resume is not very long, and that may be a mark against her to some men.”

The question isn’t whether life experience matters, it’s why Caroline’s life experience should matter more than any other woman’s (or man’s). Unless the people polled mean to suggest that every Ivy League grad who’s raised a family is qualified for Senate, they’re giving her bonus points based on nothing more than privilege. Look for her team to exploit the identity politics angle going forward, though, with criticism of her lack of experience inevitably demagogued as “sexist” because it faults her for having made her kids a priority over work. It’s already happening: See, e.g., this dopey WaPo op-ed saluting Caroline as Everymom or this U.S. News piece (by a former GOPAC staffer, of all things) insisting that the only qualifications for Senate, really, are to be sentient and civic-minded, in which case knocking Princess amounts to a gender-based double standard. Or something:

Having just been through this over the question of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s candidacy for vice president, we are again faced with the prospect of career partisans attacking a woman who has just entered the arena from outside it—way, way, outside it.

In much the same way that black politicians, at least prior to Obama’s election, were damned with faint praise when cited for their “eloquence,” the overarching focus on “qualifications”—especially as they apply to women seeking elective office—is little more than an attempt to score a few quick, easy points and push them out of the way. It is unseemly, and it is wrong.

If you live in a parallel world where the daughter of a martyred president, niece of two U.S. Senators, and noted chum and endorsee of the current president-elect exists “way, way outside” the political arena, send me directions on how to get there. Ace, meanwhile, picks up the point about Palin and wonders why we’re suddenly being told that life experience matters an awful lot when raising five kids — and, oh yeah, getting elected governor of a state — didn’t seem to count for much on the bottom half of the GOP ticket. He thinks it’s the media’s class prejudice at work, I think it’s more a prejudice against pols who don’t comport themselves as intellectuals (unlike Bush, Caroline automatically qualifies because she’s a liberal, and of course has written books, sort of), but tomato to-mah-to. Either way, expect her to repackage herself as the new icon of working moms, whose appointment will vindicate all the “little people” out there who had to make tough choices between family and career. Exit question for the moms reading: How do you feel about having matched — if not exceeded — Caroline’s accomplishment with far fewer means at your disposal, only to see her rewarded with a Senate seat? Do you feel empowered?