Palin Wins With Authenticity
It is too early to determine whether Palin is a serious contender or just an odd historical footnote. But her rise to prominence and many Republicans' adulation and awe for her can be explained by a trend in our own data.
Over the past decades, there has been a shift in the U.S. from a belief in "authority and objectivity" to a belief in "authenticity and transparency." In broadcast journalism, for example, citizens once looked to the news anchors to tell them, in the words of Walter Cronkite, that "that's the way it is." Many citizens no longer trust authority, and many don't believe in the goals of objectivity, disinterestedness, or getting it right. They prefer personalities who appear authentic and transparent based on the way they present themselves, people who lay out their prejudices on the table for all to see (e.g. Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and others.)
Sarah Palin perfectly embodies and satisfies this hunger. No matter that she does not know the facts, no matter that she isn't qualified to govern -- she looks the part and she calls it as she sees it. On this analysis, as the question points out, it is Barack Obama who is the anomaly: in some ways, though not others, he is a throwback to earlier times.
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