It’s a little hard to take this 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll seriously, given that “Grumpy Old People” was one of the multiple choice options and some folks surely checked that box just to make a political statement. Nevertheless, it’s interesting.
Just forty-five percent of Americans correctly identified “GOP” as an acronym for “Grand Old Party,” while 35 percent said it stands for “Government of the People.” Seven percent said it equates to “Grumpy Old People,” three percent chose “God’s Own Party” and another nine percent admitted to not having a clue.
Most tellingly, just 51 percent of self-identified Republicans knew the meaning of the moniker. Vanity Fair mocks this and Think Progress trumpets it, presumably as evidence that Republicans aren’t as “plugged in” as they ought to be. Honestly, that was my first reaction, too. But, on second thought, I can’t say I’m all that disappointed to learn a sizable percentage of both GOPers themselves and the American people at large think the Republican Party so promotes limited government as to assume the party’s abbreviation stands for “Government of the People.” Come to think of it, I’d be pretty happy if “GOP” did stand for that. (And given that the phrase “government of the people” came from a speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln — whom, you’ll recall, the president wrongly said was the founder of the Republican Party — it wasn’t an unreasonable guess.)
The poll was notable for another reason, too: It highlighted that partisanship extends well beyond policy preferences. Vanity Fair summarizes:
[T]his month several issues appeared to break along party lines even more than is typical.
For instance: Ford and Disney easily led the pack of American brands we were all proudest of—Ford on the strength of Republican opinion, Disney on Democratic. Asked which was the most important presidential character trait, Democrats valued intelligence above all else while Republicans chose character.
That’s no surprise, really: I’ve seen TV show breakdowns between Democrats and Republicans, sports breakdowns between Ds and Rs, and I’d imagine someone somewhere has demonstrated the clothing breakdown between the two parties. You watch Mad Men with giddy devotion, follow the NBA with acute interest and, oh, I don’t know, eschew fur coats for lettuce leaves? I’d guess you’re a D. You switch to ABC the second “Dancing with the Stars” starts Monday night, spend Saturdays watching college football (and Sundays watching golf) and, hmm, just guessing here, own a couple pairs of cowboy boots? I’d say you’re an R. Are these stereotypes? You bet, but they also reveal that the partisan divide has its roots in culture (doesn’t everything?). They’re also a pleasant reminder to me to tune into a new TV show every once in a while, try a new sport or shop in a different store just to freshen my perspective every so often. Mostly, TV, sports and clothes aren’t questions of right v. wrong or effective v. ineffective (although they can be), so why not find common ground in those areas?
But, when it comes to the question of the most important presidential characteristic, I’m solidly in the character camp — and hope I always will be. To put it simplistically, “Smart is different than good.” For that matter, so is nice (h/t Stephen Sondheim). Character alone ensures intelligence, charisma or any other positive trait will be used in the service of the truth and the good.