One of the things I’m interested in is the perception by some that self-identified conservatives can mobilize better as a collective unit on the American political scene. To test that proposition I often poke around the General Social Survey. For example, it seems to be a common assumption among many liberals that women tend to be more supportive of abortion rights than men. This isn’t born out by the GSS data. There’s no sex difference. Until you correct for ideology. It turns out that among liberals women are more supportive of abortion rights…while among conservatives men are more supportive of abortion rights! If people socialize only with their own ideological subset then the perception of the relationship between sex and ideological opinions will differ a great deal.
Below I decided to attempt to ascertain differences between liberals and conservatives on “hot button” issues as a function of intelligence. I used WORDSUM to probe this. I classed those who scored 0-5 as dull, those who scored 6-8 as not dull, and those who scored 9 and 10 as smart. I also limited the sample to the year 2000 and later, and only non-Hispanic whites.
I’ll give you the results without comment.
I few years ago I complained that no one was using the General Social Survey web interface for blogging, a practice which probably can be traced back to the Inductivist (yes, social scientists use the GSS constantly, but they use it to publish papers, not blog posts). Kevin Drum noted my lament in late 2008 and promised that he’d revisit the GSS in the future. He hasn’t. That’s fine, there are 1 million things I mean to do which I don’t manage to get to. But still, it’s kind of depressing to me the amount of opinion people can express which they don’t bother to follow up on by using a web interface to a rich data source which requires no more than 1997 era browser skills.
There’s a lot you can do with the GSS interface, but I thought it might be useful to do something very simple so that people can see how easy it really is. Since most of the people I follow on twitter lean Left I see a lot of political chatter which is concerning to that segment of the population. For example there is a lot of talk about conservative white males and their lack of concern for global warming.
Can we explore this with any greater precision with the GSS? Yes we can.
Yesterday I made an admission of my lack of trust after the 2008 financial crisis. I should have been more precise and clarified that my collapse in trust has been particularly aimed at elites and “experts.” In any case, I realized that the General Social Survey has 2010 results available. This means that I could check any changes in public trust and confidence from 2008 to 2010! Below in the set of charts there is one that assesses trust in banks and financial institutions. The direction of change validates my specific implication. But it seems that my intuition was wrong in that American society had slouched toward more general distrust. This makes me less pessimistic about the direction of our culture and the future rationally (I can’t say that my visceral emotional cynicism has been abolished).
As you can see there wasn’t much change between 2008 and 2010. For the broad question of “can you trust people” I also decided to break it down by political ideology, education, and intelligence in two year rages, 1972-1991 and 1992-2010. There are noticeable differences in intelligence and education (less intelligent and less educated people are more distrustful), but not in terms of ideology.
After the bar plots there are another range of line graphs by year showing confidence in a range of institutions (including finance) from 1972 to 2010. It is interesting how much you can see short term volatility due to world events, which quickly recedes back toward the trend line.
Long time reader Ian comments:
A comparison with “the American public” isn’t really appropriate – to even be in the pool where you’re thinking about an academic career, you need to have a college degree. And that population if memory serves, is far more liberal than the population at large. More realistic would be a comparison with the population of people who have graduate degree….
Roughly about ~20% of Americans self-identify as “liberal,” and ~40% as conservative. The General Social Survey has a variable POLVIEWS, which asks individuals to assign themselves to a position on a political spectrum, from “extremely liberal” to “extremely conservative,” like so:
1 = Extremely liberal
2 = Liberal
3 = Slightly liberal
4 = Moderate
5 = Slightly conservative
6 = Conservative
7 = Extremely conservative
So in other words, the higher the integer, the more conservative the individual. The GSS has a variable, EDUCATION, which records the highest level attained. It falls into three classes, high school, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees (I assume those who did not complete high school are omitted because they didn’t attain an education?). Additionally, it has a 10 word vocabulary test, WORDSUM, which has a 0.71 correlation with general intelligence. I combined those on the interval 0-4 (they got 0 to 4 answers correct on the test), and labeled them “dull.” 5-8 I labelled “average. And finally, 9 and 10 I labeled smart (about 20% are dull, 65% average, and 15% smart, in the total data set). Constraining the sample to the year 2000 and later, I produced the following charts:
I’ve mentioned this before, but I thought it would be useful to repeat again. Many of my social science related posts use Berkeley’s web interface with the General Social Survey. Regularly people ask me in the comments details as to the variables, or a more explicit elaboration of the methods. First, this is a weblog, not a venue for me to publish scholarly papers. Most of the GSS related posts are meant to be “quick & dirty,” and stimulate further exploration by readers. Unfortunately follow ups rarely happen. One can speculate why, but that’s how it is. Nevertheless, I thought I would repeat really quickly how to use the GSS in a basic fashion.
First, here’s the URL:
This is the database from 1972 to 2008. You’ll meet a screen like this: