Saturday, November 06, 2004

origins of a controversial post

Some people are annoyed with me for a post from yesterday. They take the post as me personally devising and endorsing the theory that Bush voters are dumber than Kerry voters. In some cases, this is despite their saying to me earlier in the week "How could people be so dumb?" in response to Bush's victory, and myself disagreeing that electoral dumb-ness really played that large of a role in the electoral outcome.

Anyway, with a day's distance, I can see where the post can be pretty justifiably read in a way that makes me look like a jerk.* I am sitting here now with the desire to provide some explanation of why I posted yesterday's numbers, but I have to admit I don't really know what I was thinking. You could call my doing so dumb in its own right, and I wouldn't argue. I mean, I would not, myself, try to seriously defend the position that Bush voters are dumber on average than Kerry voters. That whole idea would seem ridiculously elitist, and I do believe that Elitism is Bad. Indeed, in contrast to some people who are annoyed with me about the post, I even think Elitism is Bad as a general moral principle, as opposed to just thinking Elitism is Bad because the non-elites resent it and so it costs Democrats votes.

Although, at the same time, I would be being dishonest if I didn't say that I felt like the Bush campaign appealed to more base parts of the human intellect and spirit than did the Kerry campaign. I mean, ads with wolves, for crying out loud. The Bush campaign also appealed more explicitly to anti-thinkingism, although at least it wasn't like 2000 where they had supporters do the completely-beyond-freaky "No Fuzzy Math! No Fuzzy Math!" chant in response to any obvious reckoning that Bush's fiscal proposals were not going to add up (which, as history then showed, they didn't). The "No Fuzzy Math!" chant marked a moment of individual dispiritedness with electoral politics that might not have been matched by anything in this election.

Anyway, here is the explanation for the post that feels most honest: One thing about having a blog is that sometimes when you have procrastinated-from-work by looking up / figuring out something that you shouldn't have bothered to take the time to look up, you feel somewhat--even if illusorily--vindicated if at least you post the results of the inquiry to your weblog. The reason I looked up these numbers is that I had twice been sent snarky e-mails from others with the wrong set of test-score-by-state numbers that I mentioned in my earlier post. Those numbers seemed so obviously wrong and biased that it annoyed me, and set me off on an online quest to find a source that would seem like it had more defensible numbers. I found the numbers, and then, having nothing else to do with them, thought I would at least post them to my blog. But, then, I didn't want to write some long disquisition about them, since I had already wasted enough time, and plus I was conflicted about them myself. So I thought I would just put them up there without comment. But, in retrospect, I should have at least dashed off a few sentences about elitism, about my conflicted character in posting them, about my varying opinions about test scores anyway, about my anger at the anti-thinkingism of the Bush campaign, etc..

The first e-mail I received with the seemingly-obviously-incorrect-test-score-by-state numbers, incidentally, had the subject line "Fun!" and said "[prominent academic] forwarded this to me. Check it out. Don't forward to any Republicans." The link itself was contained in an e-mail from [prominent academic], who wrote "Check this out -- terribly elitist but rings true to me..."

Anyway, I could write several screensful about elitism and liberalism here. I might do so later, but right now I cannot let this Saturday get away from me.

* Or, alternatively, to beat the less charitable to the less charitable punch, one could change "makes me look like a jerk" to "reveals that I am a jerk." I report, you decide.


sep said...

not that my opinion counts for anything, but, i have more kind feelings towards you now than i have ever had previously.

an honest blogger who's not afraid to reveal the inner workings of the process - warms my heart!

down with elitism! up with truthfulness and tolerance!


dorotha said...

thanks for explaining, jeremy. sorry i was mean before.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Well I do believe that Bush voters are just a little dumber than Kerry voters, not much but just a tad - we are maybe looking at about a .98 ratio and that is I feel pretty darn accurate - I did some figuring on this the past few days - you don't really have grounds to lash Prof. Freese

Anonymous said...

why the deletion of the ecological fallacy post? hardly seems controversial to make the point that state-level data on both IQ scores and voting patterns can't be used to draw any definitive conclusions about behavior and/or causal links at the individual level. this would seem to bolster your argument that "you're just showing the correlation."

jeremy said...

Fair enough. Apologies. I was in a Slash-and-Burn State of Mind.

Anonymous said...

understood. and, i support your decision to detract the post that generated the controversy. the comment about african-americans was out of bounds and i probably would have had the same reaction as you -- i.e., let's just eliminate the source of these misguided comments.

claire said...

Despite your promise to blog less about politics, I'm eagerly awaiting the screensfuls about elitism and liberalism.

Chris Lawrence said...

Well, as the poster of the "out of bounds" comment, I was just pointing out the thing that jumped out at me looking at the data, which was that the "low IQ" states seemed to correspond with the old Confederacy. Sorry if anyone was offended--sometimes I think with my social scientist hat rather than my "don't offend anyone" hat.

Incidentally, I did stick the numbers in R and ran a few models; a logit model did show a significant relationship between IQ and state Bush voting (which didn't go away if % African American was put in the model as a control), and (if you throw out DC from the model, because it's an outlier) an OLS model also shows a significant relationship (even if % Af Am is in the model as a control)... but the adjusted R^2 is terrible (0.05). So take that as you will.

dick said...

Two points struck me from you posting. One is that you comment on the wolves. What about our great and good loser and his hunting. The man could not even bother to carry the bird he shot. Talk about elitism. Wonder if he had the serfs out beating the birds for him.

The other point is I would love to see a comparison of the SAT or ACT scores and the voting. I know that SD and the other upper Midwest states are far higher than the New England states as is Tennessee. Wonder what the correlation would be on that one.

jeremy said...

I'm not really sure what your point is, Dick. Your claim about national test scores, however, isn't really correct, especially currently.