Thursday, October 11, 2018

Polarization? We don't got no stinkin' polarization!

I have long argued that there is little or no political polarization in America at large, that it is a phenomenon restricted to those at the fringes and to political junkies. 5-10-15% of the population at most. By very large majorities most Americans don''t listen to NPR, read the New York Times, or care about most the things the MSM/Academia/Government care about.

See Appearance of knowledge should not be mistaken for actual knowledge, Constructive competition, There is good reason to believe that the institutions of government are now hostage to special interests., The rest of the country doesn't care about this permanent war of ideas and worries more about holes in the road,
Exhibit 27 in the case against Establishment vs. American People, Contempt, What citizens are most interested in, the media are not. What the media are most interested in, citizens are not..

There is now an even more systematic look at some of these issues which strongly bolsters my argument. Hidden Tribes: A Study of America's Polarized Landscapes by Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Míriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon.

Read the whole thing.
Political polls and years of knife-edge elections have convinced many that our country has become a 50:50 society, divided into two opposing political tribes and trapped in a spiral of conflict and division.

Our research uncovered a different story, one that probes underneath the issues that polarize Americans, and finds seven groups that are defined by their core beliefs, rather than by their political opinions, race, class or gender.

In talking to everyday Americans, we have found a large segment of the population whose voices are rarely heard above the shouts of the partisan tribes. These are people who believe that Americans have more in common than that which divides them. While they differ on important issues, they feel exhausted by the division in the United States.

They believe that compromise is necessary in politics, as in other parts of life, and want to see the country come together and solve its problems.
Lots of good information you can get your teeth into. The Atlantic has a good summary in Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture by Yascha Mounk. Oh, there's a lot more in there than opinions about political correctness. Basically, as the Gallup poll about important problems routinely and consistently reports, the things that the MSM/Academia/Government are interested in barely register as of interest to most Americans, and most things Americans are interested in, MSM/Academia/Government treats with disdain or disinterest.
If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.
Let's put some numbers to these categories:
Progressive Activists - 8% of the population.
Traditional Liberals - 11% of the population.
Passive Liberals - 15% of the population.
The Politically Disengaged - 26% of the population.
Moderates - 15% of the population.
Traditional Conservatives - 19% of the population.
Devoted Conservatives - 6% of the population.

Click to enlarge.

We could all debate about their definitions but the definitional issues are mostly at the margin.

But even in this report, and Mounk follow's the researcher's lead, there is some sleight of hand going on.

What the report says, contra what the MSM reports, is that there are 33% more Progressive Activists than there are Devoted Conservatives (8% versus 6%). And of course even within these slivers at the extreme, the actual extremists are a small subset of either category.

The MSM wants there to be an ever present threat of militia, racists, white supremacists, Nazis and KKK members despite never being able to get more than a dozen or so into a picture whenever there is some big "white supremacist" parade somewhere. We bankrupted the KKK and have imprisoned most the Aryan Brotherhood and their ilk. There just aren't that many extremists on the right these days in contrast to BLM, Antifa,, and the antiglobalists who we can't seem to avoid seeing in full riot mode, committing mayhem and assault with great regularity.

And here is the data suggesting that indeed, the far left are a much larger issue than the far right. In order to try and rescue the MSM narrative, the researchers commit a breech of scientific decorum. Traditional Liberals and Traditional Conservatives are their two mirror categories. But to try and beef up the threat from the right, the researchers elect to include Traditional Conservatives with Devoted Conservatives to reach 25% but downplay the dangerous left by only including the Progressive Activists.

Why this strategic conflation of Traditional Right with Devoted Right? They have a rationale even if it is not a good one. The researchers lumped Traditional Liberals, Passive Liberals, The Politically Disengaged, and Moderates into a category they call the Exhausted Middle. Why not include Traditional Conservatives as they did with their mirror Traditional Liberals?
Importantly, the Traditional Conservatives do not belong to the Exhausted Majority, while the Traditional Liberals do. The key difference lies in their mood towards the country’s politics. While the Exhausted Majority express disillusionment, frustration, and anger at the current state of US politics, Traditional Conservatives are far more likely to express confidence, excitement and optimism. As such, the Traditional Conservatives hold a meaningfully different emotional disposition towards the country that aligns them more with the Devoted Conservatives.
I think this materially misframes much of the rest of their analysis.

For 25-30 years, political power has been shifting towards the right in terms of number of Senators, Representatives, White House Administrations, Governorships, State Legislatures, etc. No wonder the Traditional Conservatives are more enthusiastic than their Traditional Liberal counterparts. But that does not make them like Devoted Conservatives any more than Traditional Liberals might be said to be like Progressive Activists. You look at the rest of their analysis and what is striking is how close the national mean is to the numbers for Traditional Conservatives.

And by pulling this stunt to appease ideological sensitivities some other interesting insights are lost.

We do have an impression of increasing extremism. Where is that coming from? Let's assume that the exhausted middle includes Passive Liberals, the Politically Disengaged and Moderates (56% of the population) and do not create the impression of extremism. Let's look at the four categories on the extreme of the distribution Progressive Activists (8%), Traditional Liberals (11%), Traditional Conservatives (19%) and Devoted Conservatives (6%) who are more likely to set the overall tenor of political discourse. The left has 19% of the population and the right has 25% of the population. However, extremists make up 42% of the left (8/19) while they make up only 24% of the right (6/25). No wonder we see a lot more of Antifa than we do white supremacists.

This sleight of hand looks even more egregious when you compare the different categories on issues such as immigration, sexual harassment, islamophobia, white supremacy.

Click to enlarge.

On all four issues Progressive Activists are much more committed to their positions (99%, 99%, 97%, 91%) than are Devoted Conservatives (82,% 88%, 88%, 90%). In addition, Traditional Liberals are much farther from the national medium than Traditional Conservatives. On these four issues, the national position is 50:50 across the four issues. However, the commitment of Traditional Liberals are, averaged across the four issues, 38.25% compared to Traditional Conservatives who are much closer the national medium with 29%.

Lumping Traditional Conservatives in with Devoted Conservatives looks very sly.

If you take the more rigorous approach, the Exhausted Middle (properly including Traditional Conservatives) is 86% of the population. They are the ones happily living their lives, relatively immune and disdainful of the hot-house issues so near and dear to the Washington D.C. establishment and their MSM/Academia/Government courtesans.

Lots of interesting numbers to consider here. I'll end with a selection of points that Mounk makes from his reading of the report:
Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24. On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.


Whites are ever so slightly less likely than average to believe that political correctness is a problem in the country: 79 percent of them share this sentiment. Instead, it is Asians (82 percent), Hispanics (87percent), and American Indians (88 percent) who are most likely to oppose political correctness.


Three quarters of African Americans oppose political correctness. This means that they are only four percentage points less likely than whites, and only five percentage points less likely than the average, to believe that political correctness is a problem.


Compared with the rest of the (nationally representative) polling sample, progressive activists are much more likely to be rich, highly educated—and white. They are nearly twice as likely as the average to make more than $100,000 a year. They are nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree. And while 12 percent of the overall sample in the study is African American, only 3 percent of progressive activists are. With the exception of the small tribe of devoted conservatives, progressive activists are the most racially homogeneous group in the country.


The gap between the progressive perception and the reality of public views on this issue could do damage to the institutions that the woke elite collectively run. A publication whose editors think they represent the views of a majority of Americans when they actually speak to a small minority of the country may eventually see its influence wane and its readership decline. And a political candidate who believes she is speaking for half of the population when she is actually voicing the opinions of one-fifth is likely to lose the next election.

In a democracy, it is difficult to win fellow citizens over to your own side, or to build public support to remedy injustices that remain all too real, when you fundamentally misunderstand how they see the world.
That second to last quote is very striking. Only 8% of the population are Progressive Activists, but of Progressive Activists, only 3% are African American - very striking given how focused Progressive Activists are on race. Progressive Activists are very eager to solve problems for other people. Progressive Activitists are rich, white, educationally credentialed and extremely divergent from all other Americans in their view of what is important and what ought to be done.

Mounk makes an interesting additional point which bolsters the arguments I have been making:
In the days before “Hidden Tribes” was published, I ran a little experiment on Twitter, asking my followers to guess what percentage of Americans believe that political correctness is a problem in this country. The results were striking: Nearly all of my followers underestimated the extent to which most Americans reject political correctness. Only 6 percent gave the right answer. (When I asked them how people of color regard political correctness, their guesses were, unsurprisingly, even more wildly off.)

Obviously, my followers on Twitter are not a representative sample of America. But as their largely supportive feelings about political correctness indicate, they are probably a decent approximation for a particular intellectual milieu to which I also belong: politically engaged, highly educated, left-leaning Americans—the kinds of people, in other words, who are in charge of universities, edit the nation’s most important newspapers and magazines, and advise Democratic political candidates on their campaigns.

So the fact that we are so widely off the mark in our perception of how most people feel about political correctness should probably also make us rethink some of our other basic assumptions about the country.
Hidden Tribes: A Study of America's Polarized Landscapes by Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Míriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon is well worth mulling over while recognizing that it is written from a frame that instinctively orients towards the traditional MSM/Academia/Government worldview which tends toward that of the Progressive Activist. Fortunately, and kudos to the researchers for including them, the numbers are all there in order to get to the underlying reality despite some of the contortions undertaken in the write-up of the report.

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