I came across the word, “The wonk gap” used as the headline of the article written by Paul Krugman in New York Times’ September 8 issue. The word reappears in the following sentence:

Senator Rand Paul --insisted, “the size of growth of government is enormous under President Obama” - which was completely untrue but was presumably what his sources had told him, knowing that it was what he wanted to hear. For that, surely, is what the wonk gap is all about. - Source

None of CED, OED, and Merriam-Webster carries “wonk gap,” nor does GoogleNgram.

However, there are dozens of descriptions incorporating “wonk gap” on Google Serach.

For an example, the article written by Steve Benen in MSnbc Maddow blog ( June 3, 2013) comes under the headline, “Avik Roy and the wonk gap,” and goes on:

“Jon Krugman, and others have detailed reports explaining why Avik Roy's analysis simply doesn't make sense, and I hope folks will follow the links to understand the underlying policy dispute. It's not just of a gray area; Roy is simply wrong. But it's the point about "why we can't have an honest debate" that resonates with me. Indeed, it reinforces the "wonk gap" thesis I've been kicking around for a while. - Source

OED defines ‘wonk’ as;

(North American informal/derogatory)

  1. a studious or hard-working person: any kid with an interest in science was a wonk
  2. a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy:he is a policy wonk in tune with a younger generation of voters.

But it doesn’t give me a clear idea of ‘wonk gap’.

What does “wonk gap” mean in essence, in a couple of words?

Do most Americans understand and use this phrase, or it’s just a politics, or press jargon, of which currency is limited to a select group of people?

  • 1
    You have to read the second referenced article, but it brings to mind the bomber gap and the missile gap and the doomsday gap and all those other scarily bellicose gaps — and if a wonk isn’t scarily bellicose, I don’t know what is. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 3:08
  • 2
    Political parties love to claim that they have the most intelligent people on their side. So it's saying that the other side has a gap or shortage of wonks -- policy experts.
    – dcaswell
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 3:18
  • In net, it means the gap of knowledge / experty level between two political wonk groups? Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 6:20
  • Correction: experty⇒expertise. Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 8:19

1 Answer 1


A wonk is a person who is incredibly well informed on a subject, an expert who can instantly tell what is true or false about an area of public policy. A wonk can immediately understand the consequences of any new proposed law or regulation that would affect his realm of expertise, and can instantly detect any B.S. from a neophyte politician who doesn't know what they're doing but wants to pass a bad law anyway.

Mr. Krugman is saying that republican legislators don't have anyone on their staffs anymore who know even the basics about any area of expertise anymore. They don't have any relevant facts about current events that contradict their dogmatic beliefs, because they are trapped in an information bubble & surrounded by "Yes"-men.

A wonk would skewer any politician like this who tried to debate them in their area of expertise.

The democrats staffs' overflow with wonks. This disparity of experts all on one side and none on the other is what Krugman means by "wonk gap".

  • Why is the word "gap" used ? Should it not be more like "wonk lack" ?
    – Pam
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 10:35
  • 1
    the comparison is between the number of wonks on one side and the number on the other, so 'gap' is appropriate here
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 10:48
  • 7
    A native American communicator would instantly understand this, if they follow politics at all and already understand what a "wonk" is. During the cold war, we constantly heard about the "missile gap" between the US and the USSR, as way to implore us to waste more money on buying even more nuclear missiles, even though we already had enough to blow the entire world up dozens of times over. So the pattern of "______ gap" when talking about anything implies the imperative idea " . . . and so we need to catch up with THEM, we need more of ______"
    – Ace Frahm
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 6:38
  • 1
    I think that last comment is useful enough to make it a part of the answer.
    – Alex P
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 16:45
  • 2
    @AceFrahm: Let alone 'the mineshaft gap' :-)
    – yatima2975
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 11:32

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