The assertion in the title seems almost trivial in an impressionistic sense. There really wasn’t a strong distinction on cultural issues between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976. By the 1980s there definitely was a gap between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. And that chasm got wider as the years went on. I thought of this when reading this entry in Wikipedia on Jonathan Krohn, a teenager who wrote a book titled Define Conservatism. The entry in Wikipedia states:
The book outlines four fundamental principles of conservative thought: support for the United States Constitution, opposition to abortion, less government, and more personal responsibility. Krohn went on to apply the principles to current events and define whether specifically cited actions violated those principles…The book was dedicated to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Barry Goldwater, whom Krohn describes as his political heroes, along with South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.
What raised my eyebrows here is that Barry Goldwater did not oppose abortion rights. In fact, his wife, daughter and granddaughter have been involved in Planned Parenthood. If opposition to abortion is a key definition for what conservatism is, the reality is that conservatism didn’t exist before the 1970s, when that issue became polarized along ideological lines.
But that’s impression. What do the data say? For that, I looked at the General Social Survey.
Newt Gingrich is high in the polls right now. I’m moderately skeptical of the persistence of this surge, though I’m biased since I’m rooting for Mitt Romney (and Ron Paul, though he has no chance) in the Republican field. But in any case, I keep seeing Newt’s face in news reports, and something is off. That’s because we haven’t had a fat president in a long time. About 90 years. In fact, as the American population has gotten heavier, the heads of state have gotten thinner (on average). This came to the fore when people were mulling Chris Christie’s potential run.
Of course in politics the sample size is small enough that trends are trends until they’re not. As you can see from presidential portraits we hadn’t had any black presidents until recently. Newt would be the first twice-divorced president. And the second with a Ph.D.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore
A few months ago I pointed out that there’s strong circumstantial evidence that Rick Perry is not very smart. Or, he’s very lazy. While George W. Bush had a reputation as dull, his standardized test scores indicated that he wasn’t without any raw material. This makes sense in light of the fact that his father is reputedly bright, having graduated from Yale with an economics degree in three years. Perry in contrast may be the real deal in terms of a dumb authentic Texas politician.
All that being said, one reader pointed out that Perry did have the intellect to become an officer in the Air Force. Since the military uses standardized tests a fair amount you can put a floor on his intelligence. So I let the matter rest, especially since Perry dropped a great deal in the polls.
But all this came back to mind over the past few days, after Rick Perry’s famous brain freeze during the recent debate. I don’t judge Perry too harshly on this matter in regards to intellect, as I suspect a lot of the problem here is that he hasn’t campaigned very long with the same talking points. Nevertheless, he did forget about the Department of Energy, which should be high on his mental checklist recalling his priorities in this area.
Kevin Drum is in no mood for apologies:
Nate Silver has an important post, Herman Cain and the Hubris of Experts. It’s not really about Herman Cain. Rather, it’s about the reality that pundits tend to underestimate uncertainty and complexity. Saying you don’t know isn’t as satisfying as making a definitive categorical assertion. This manifests particularly in the domains of sports and politics because there are clear and distinct criteria to assess predictive power. Politicians win or lose elections, while teams win or lose games. And yet despite the long history of minimal value-add on the part of pundits they persist in both domains. Why? I think it’s pretty obviously a cognitive bias toward storytelling. Similarly, in the 1930s the Alfred Cowles concluded that financial newsletters didn’t help their readers “beat the market,” but he also assumed these newsletters would persist. There was a psychological need for them.
The key here is to change the attitude of the pundit class. The populace will always have a preference for stories with plausible and clean conclusions over radical uncertainty. Not surprisingly many professional pundits reacted with hostility to Silver’s observation that they’re quite often wrong. I don’t venture into political punditry often, but when the Democrats passed health care reform I predicted that Mitt Romney would have no shot to win the the Republican nomination. The facts in this case seemed so clear. Romney was going to be walloped over and over again over his record on health care reform when he was governor. I was wrong. Romney may not win, but obviously he’s a contender. My logic was simple and crisp, but the logic was wrong. That’s why you let reality play out. If what was “on paper” determined national elections, then we’d be talking about President Hillary Clinton.
Of course political journalists that engage in analysis still have a role to play. Don’t newspapers have horoscopes and style sections?
This piece in The New York Times goes through the A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s, of Rick Perry’s transcript. Two questions which come to mind:
1) If we know this about Perry, why shouldn’t we know this about all the candidates? I don’t know what getting a B in business law and a D in principles of economics means, but it’s kind of interesting, with the latter being alarming. My liberal friends are generally in awe of Barack Obama’s intellect, so there shouldn’t be any objection from that quarter.
2) If Perry is so dull & lazy, how was it that they let him fly a plane as a pilot? Perhaps he wasn’t academically motivated? Or perhaps in the 1970s the standards in the military were low enough that a marginal college graduate sufficed.
New York Magazine has a rundown of the attitudes of some of the G.O.P. candidates for the nomination in regards to evolution. Remember, this is an issue which is split down the middle in the American populace, but elites have a strong skew toward accepting evolution. This is probably why despite a majority Creationist primary electorate in 2008 the majority of Republican candidates still agreed with the evolutionary position. In 2012 it looks like the Creationism or semi-Creationist contingent is going to get larger.
In the General Social Survey they asked in the late 2000s whether respondents accepted that “humans developed from animals.” The response was dichotomous. Here are some results for various population groups:
Likely presidential candidate Rick Perry’s college transcript at Texas A & AM has been published. Here are the highlights:
…In his freshman and sophomore year, Perry struggled with core science classes, earning D’s in several organic chemistry classes and C’s in general chemistry and physics.
But after Perry switched his major at the beginning of his fall semester in 1970, his grades didn’t improve. Perry got a C in Reproduction in Farm Animals, a C in genetics, a D in Feeds & Feeding, a C in Sheep & Angora Goat Production and two C’s in animal breeding classes.
Many of Perry’s other classes involved military education. Perry has previously credited his time in the A&M Corps of Cadets with giving him the necessary discipline to complete school.
Perry got two C’s in Development of Air Power and took four levels of World Military Systems, earning two C’s, a B and an A. The A was one of only two Perry earned at college — the other was for a class called Improv. of Learning.
The future governor only took one political science class while he was in school — American National Government, for which he earned a B. Other classes outside of Perry’s major included Shakespeare and Writing for Professional Men, which earned him two D’s.
Perry took two summer sessions before his senior year but still needed two more after the rest of his class graduated to complete a degree. He graduated in August of 1972.
Chris Mooney pointed me to a report on a study which finds that white males are the most sanguine in relation to climate change. Unfortunately there wasn’t a link to the full report that I could see. But no worries, the GSS added a variable, TEMPGEN1, which asks: “In general, do you think that a rise in the world’s temperature caused by climate change is….”
1 – Extremely dangerous for the environment
2 – Very dangerous
3 – Somewhat dangerous
4 – Not very dangerous, or
5 – Not dangerous at all for the environment?
Below is a bar plot which illustrates the result by demographic:
The media has been reporting a lot about Anders Breivik. I’m curious about the tendency of some to label Breivik a “Christian Extremist”. Additionally, there is widespread repetition of the Norwegian official deeming him a “Christian fundamentalist.” I think this is wrong on the specifics, but it also goes toward the general problem of our age where we attempt to fit everything into black-white religious dichotomies. For example, “moderate Muslims” vs. “Islamists.” “Islamic extremists” vs. “Christian extremists.” Because of the salience of notionally religiously motivated Islamic militant movements there has been a shift toward reinterpreting secular nationalist terrorist movements as religious ones. For example, the attempt to frame the Irish Republican Army as Catholic terrorists, or the Tamil Tigers as Hindu terrorists (in reality, both these are nationalist movements, often with a Leftist slant). Or consider the refashioning of Tim McVeigh into a Christian terrorist when he was a lapsed Catholic at best and probably irreligious by the time of his terrorist act. This religionization of all radical movements means that people have a really hard time today digesting the fact that 19th and early 20th century anarchists who committed what seem to be patently suicidal acts were generally atheists, motivated by politics and not religion! Similarly, the shocking raid on Harpers Ferry was executed by a cast of characters of diverse religious views. John Brown was famously Calvinist, but some of his followers, including one of his sons, were free thinkers who did not adhere to religion.
At The Intersection Chris Mooney points to new research which reiterates that 1) political ideology exhibits some heritability, 2) and, there are associations between political ideology and specific genes. I’ll set #2 aside for now, because this is a classic “more research needed” area at this point. But as I mentioned in the comments the heritability of political ideology is well known and robust. From what I can gather most people assume it’s mediated through personality traits. In the comments Chris asks:
That sounds sensible. What i find amazing is that if the heritability of politics is so robust–and I agree, it would happen via personality–why is this so widely ignored?
There are I think several issues at work. First, many people are not comfortable within imagining that beliefs which they attribute to their conscious rational choice are not only subject to social inculcation, but that may also have an element of genetic disposition. Second, most people have a poor grasp of what heritability implies. Take a look at some of Chris’ commenters. The response is generally in the “not even wrong” class. Finally, what’s the actionable component to this? In other words, what are people going to do with this sort of information?
In recent years, many scholars have explored the degree of polarization between red and blue states (red states are those carried by Republicans at the presidential level; blue states are those carried by Democrats). Some claim that red- and blue-state citizens are deeply polarized, while others disagree, arguing that there are only limited differences between the two groups. All previous work on this topic, however, simply uses difference-of-means tests to determine when these two groups are polarized. We show that this test alone cannot determine whether states are actually polarized. We remedy this shortcoming by introducing a new measure based on the degree of issue-position overlap between red- and blue-state citizens. Our findings demonstrate that there is only limited polarization—and a good deal of common ground—between red states and blue states. We discuss the implications of our work both for the study of polarization itself and for the broader study of American politics.
Generating a statistical construct of the distribution of liberalism and conservatism on social and economic issues the authors produced a set of plots which illustrate the differences between “red” (conservative) states and “blue” (liberal) states. In the figures below the blue line represents “blue states/regions” while the red dashed lines represents “red states/regions.”
A new study (which I can not find online yet) in The Journal of Politics has some interesting descriptive information on correlations between mates when it comes to politics:
On a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched, physical traits (body shape, weight and height) only score between 0.1 and 0.2 among spouse pairs. Personality traits, such as extroversion or impulsivity, are also weak and fall within the 0 to 0.2 range. By comparison, the score for political ideology is more than 0.6, higher than any of the other measured traits except frequency of church attendance, which was just over 0.7.
The gap between physical traits and politics and religion was surprising to me, though I am not surprised by the power of politics and religion in sorting pairs. An important point of the paper apparently is that this correlation does not emerge through convergence over the term of a relationship. Rather, partners are strongly similar at the beginning of relationships. And the similarity isn’t simply due to the fact that they emerge out of a similar milieu where particular political and religious views are dominant:
Time has a worthwhile piece up, How to Save a Trillion Dollars. One thing the author brings up in relation to our exorbitant military spending is that in certain sectors the lead of the American armed forces technologically is such that we do not to need to significantly upgrade our matériel for a generation to maintain at least a marginal level of superiority. The F-35 is clearly superior to the F-16, but is it worth it to increase the gap between our air superiority and our nearest competitors at $125 million per unit cost? Not only that, but the American military clearly “sets the curve,” so that the more we invest in our own technological superiority, the more our rivals will have to invest so as to “catch up” and keep the gap relatively constant. The reality is that basically developed nations just need to be advanced enough that they can pummel the leaders of select lesser nations, such as Libya or Ivory Coast, and, have a military beefed up enough to be respectable in the eyes of their peers. An “arms race” between developed nations is not necessary for either of these.
After seeing this post up on how high information levels and education may lead to political polarization, I wanted to revisit the GSS data on political moderation and independence in light of educational attainment and intelligence. For the later I used the proxy of a score on a vocabulary test which has a 0.70 correlation with general intelligence. My question was this: what are the different effects of intelligence and education on ideology and partisanship?
To answer this question I looked at two response variables, POLVIEWS and PARTYID, which measure ideology from very liberal to very conservative and partisanship from strong Democrat to strong Republican. I amalgamated “leaners” so that in the middle I had moderates and independents left. For the vocab test I used WORDSUM. The scores have a value from 0 to 10, out of 10. I combined the 0-4 interval because the sample size there was small. Finally, I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites after the year 2000 to eliminate some background confounds (e.g., minorities tend to be way more Democratic, all things equal).
I generated some area graphs. First, I looked at proportions of each ideology or party in a particular category. For example, the percentage liberal, moderate, and conservative who get a vocab score of 5, or have high school education. Then, I controlled for education and looked at vocab score. Specifically, I limited the sample to those who had only a high school diploma, and then those who had a university degree and higher. These two classes had large sample sizes. Then I looked at how ideology and party varied by vocab score.
With all the geopolitical tumult and news I was a bit curious to see what The World Values Survey could tell us about public opinion in Egypt and Tunisia. Unfortunately, Tunisia hasn’t been in any of their surveys, though Egypt has. So I thought it might be interesting to compare the USA, Sweden, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq, for wave 5, which occurred in the mid-2000s. The main thing I took away from the exercise is to reflect that Americans are a more equivocal people than I had expected. Many of the questions have a 1 to 10 scale, and I’m providing the most extreme answers. So the low fractions for Americans for some questions point to a relative moderation on some topics…which is kind of weird when you are asking whether “People choosing their leaders is an essential characteristic of democracy.” Since that’s the definition of democracy broadly construed anything below a 10 out of 10 seems strange to me.
Ms. Palin, in fact, draws almost as much search traffic worldwide as the man she would face if she wins the Republican nomination: Barack Obama. And her name is searched for about 30 percent more often than the President’s among Google users in the United States.
Some members of Ms. Palin’s family also draw as much attention has the other Presidential contenders. Todd Palin, her husband, gets about as much search traffic as Mr. Pawlenty. Bristol Palin, her daughter (and a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars”), gets several times more than any of them (as does her former boyfriend, Levi Johnston).
I thought of this News IQ Quiz from Pew. I got 12 out of 12, which apparently places me in the top 1% of quiz takers? The only question I hesitated on was #11 for what it’s worth. Check out how different demographics do in the aggregate and by question:
In the the 19th century the Democratic party, rooted in large part among Southern planters who were dependent on exports of commodities and imports of finished goods, was the party of free trade. The northern Whigs, and later the Republicans, were the party of tariffs. They were the faction which drew support from the industry of the North which benefited from protection against European competitors. The Republican support for tariffs and Democratic opposition persisted into the early 20th century. Only after World War II did this long standing division between the two parties diminish, so that by 1993 a much larger proportion of Republicans than Democrats supported the ratification of NAFTA.
Because of NAFTA’s prominence in my mind, as well as the tinge of economic nationalism on the labor Left and the maturing anti-globalization sentiment on the cultural Left, I had assumed that the Republicans tilted toward free trade more than Democrats. Not so. Pew came out with a survey a few days ago, and the results indicate that my preconception was wrong.
It looks like I was about right in regards to the House, and perhaps even mildly too pessimistic about Republican prospects. In relation to the Senate I was off. It is likely that there’ll be 53 Democrats (the late returns from the two states where Dems are leading come from liberal precincts) and de facto Democrats (Joe Lieberman + Bernie Sanders) and 47 Republicans and de facto Republicans (Lisa Murkowski will probably win her write-in bid, though it will be a while). Seeing that only about ~1/3 of the 100 Senate seats are up for a vote in a given election that’s a pretty big error, as I was off by 3 Senate seats. But then again, I was basically guessing, and not even making a particularly informed one at that. Just got lucky on the House prediction.