EXPLAINING ARNOLD….Kieran Healy, responding to Brad DeLong, responding to Dan Weintraub, tells us about some academic research that might explain why Arnold Schwarzenegger is so popular.

Then he changes his mind and decides that the research results actually don’t apply here, but what the hey ? it’s pretty interesting research anyway, so why waste all that good blogging? He then ? on his own, without benefit of research ? gets what I think is the right answer:

The mere fact of not knowing anything about Arnie makes him a more attractive candidate. Uncertainty about Schwarzenegger not only makes him look good, but it encourages people to discount what they already know about the other candidates. Better the devil you don?t know than the devil you do.

I’ve seen this so many times that I have no problem at all believing that this is what’s going on. Time and again, when I’ve been in meetings where we’re evaluating candidates we know (good candidates, mind you), the conversation keeps coming around to the person’s faults, which loom far larger than their virtues and usually far larger than they should. And even if those faults aren’t really all that devastating, the more you talk about them, and the more you think about them, the worse they seem.

But a person you don’t know is a whole different story. For a while, at least, you can optimistically convince yourself that the person has no faults at all. It’s like magic.

Arnold’s problem, of course, is that there are still six weeks to go, and we’re bound to learn more about him during that time no matter how hard he tries to remain a cipher. Then again, I suppose he’s lucky it’s only six weeks….

UPDATE: Mark Kleiman has more on Schwarzenegger vs. Bustamante.