More On Values/Data Bamboozlement And More
by Paul Rosenberg, Thu Jan 26, 2006 at 03:48:04 PM EST
Last week, I wrote a comment, "Naive Reporting" criticizing Garance Franke-Ruta's article, "Remapping the Culture Debate', and her breathless enthusing over questionable data from Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger--culled from a fine-grained marketing survey--which is touted as giving better insight into how Democrats can win, while undermining supposedly cruder ways of thinking.
Responding to a general message they convey--about social solidarity and economic equality, , I quickly found some contrary data. And I followed up with a diary, "Voter-Mining vs. Framing--Subtext and Substance", where a laid out a broader critique of how such data--even when good--could be dangerously misused. Now, Ruy Teixeira has a piece that Chris referred to, which, among other things, takes a closer look at other data more closely tied to specific claims about gender roles, and finds more contradictory data out there.
With the Dems forever seeking to run away from their base and their traditional commitments to social, racial and economic justice, this topic cries out for further analysis.Teixeira's diary is a good starting point for continuing this exploration.
First, to fill in the backstory a bit. My earlier comment responded primarily to this passage:
Looking at the data from 1992 to 2004, Shellenberger and Nordhaus found a country whose citizens are increasingly authoritarian while at the same time feeling evermore adrift, isolated, and nihilistic. They found a society at once more libertine and more puritanical than in the past, a society where solidarity among citizens was deteriorating, and, most worrisomely to them, a progressive clock that seemed to be unwinding backward on broad questions of social equity.I cited the GSS variable EQWLTH--SHOULD GOVT REDUCE INCOME DIFFERENCES, which showed a modest increase in support for the proposition that government should do more.
Teixeira responded to the very next passage in GFR's article:
Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that "the father of the family must be the master in his own house" increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that "men are naturally superior to women" increased from 30 percent to 40 percent.He cited the American National Election Studies variable VCF0834--Equal Role for Women--which is measured on a 7-point scale , noting :
In 1992, 51 percent selected 1, the strongest support for women's equal role; in 2004, 57 percent selected 1. So support for women's equal role appears to be strengthening in the NES. Indeed, in the 2004 survey, a total of 78 percent of respondents picked 1, 2 or 3 on the 7 point scale, indicating they felt closer to the equal role statement that to the women's place in the home statement.But at the same time we're supposed to believe that 40 percent now believe men are superior to women and that 52 percent believe the father should be the master of the house-increases of ten points in each case over the same period covered by the NES data?Teixeira isn't arguing that the Nordhaus/Shellenberger data is useless. But he is arguing against placing too much weight on a single data set that doesn't jibe with other data. He says:
This illustrates the perils of relying on one survey for one's data about Americans' values-or anything else for that matter. Especially when that one survey is a consumer market research survey designed not for political research, but for very different purposes.He then talks about why their approach is so appealing. He touches on something else that's worth focusing on a bit more:
they cluster- and factor-analyze their data to death, showing in various "maps" how all these values relate to underlying value dimensions (survival vs. fulfillment; authority vs. individuality) both overall and for a multiplicity of different values-defined "constituencies of opportunity" for progressives. The result is many complex grids-some of them for groups whose sample size cannot be more than 25 or so in their data-with dozens of multicolored values sprinkled in different patterns on each grid.Well, if you can't find something you agree with or find significant with this much to choose from, you're just not looking hard enough! And my sense is people do just that, hence the recent popularity of their analysisThere's another problem here: cluster- and factor-analysis are as much an art as a science, owing to the process of "normalization," in which underlying factors are identified. Sometimes you get results that are fairly indisputable. There are one or two principle factors and everything else is fairly insignificant. But when you are dealing with this many different factors--well, the likelihood is extremely high that the art/science ratio is quite high. This means that you have both the presenters and the consumers" creatively" reading the data--data that's already shown to be inconsistent with other well-established social science data.
Nonetheless, Teixeira finds value in the article, particularly in passage he says "bears little, if any, relation that I can see to their analysis." I condense the passage thus:
The growing conflation of the economic and the cultural in the minds of voters has been a cause of great perplexity for thinkers who have long seen the two realms as distinct, and the cultural realm as the secondary concern of unserious men who don't know where their self-interest lies....Yet the broader social reality suggests that the focus of these middle-income voters on cultural traditionalism is not entirely separate from their economic aspirations. Social solidarity and even simple familial stability have become part of the package of private privileges available to the well-to-do. Behavioral surveys consistently show that, regardless of their political leanings, the better-off and better-educated live more traditional personal lives: They are more likely to marry, far less likely to divorce, less likely to have children outside of marriage, and more likely to remarry when they do divorce than their less accomplished peers. In addition, their kids are more likely to be academically successful and go to college, repeating the cycle.The new Puritanism and cultural conservatism Frank described can also been seen as symptoms of how, in today's society, traditional values have become aspirational. Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to....American voters have taken shelter under the various wings of conservative traditionalism because there has been no one on the Democratic side in recent years to defend traditional, sensible middle-class values against the onslaught of the new nihilistic, macho, libertarian lawlessness unleashed by an economy that pits every man against his fellows. Yet in private conversations, progressives recognize that there is a need to do something about broad social changes that they, too, find objectionable.Now, it seems to me that there's a fair amount of truth in this. But it's not really such a new or profound insight. Indeed, it only starts us in the direction one would want to go--which is back toward re-emphasizing the traditional Democratic Party concerns. What needs to be added here are a few missing insights that could help suggest something about how this task can be done--and what other obstacles we face.
Here I have 4 main thoughts:
(1) This takes us back to my hobby-horse of levels of cognition. Culture and economics have always been confused like this to some extent. It's nothing new, really. The same could have been said about their relationships a century ago, when the Settlement House Movement was in its heyday. Since then, however, the New Deal made it perfectly clear that it's economic stability that drives social stability, not the other way around. Give a young would-be hoodlum a steady job that leads to a family wage, and suddenly he's good marriage material, and his whole life changes.
Such options are much more limited now than they were 30-40 years ago, and all the bitching about gay marriage is a red-herring that has nothing to do with the causal forces at work. But those engulfed in sequential thinking are incapable of making or reckognizing sound causal arguments. This doesn't mean they can't be reached, but they have to be reached in ways that appeal to them symbolically and narratively (narrative is a sequence of events, which can be followed even by those who don't fully grasp the logic--or notice gaps in logic).
(2) Narrative is as much the missing link as "values." Indeed, narrative is precisely how you can most effectively express values while laying a foundation for policy. How pioneers combined individualist and collective virtues, for example, is best expressed by telling stories about them, which then lays a foundation for policies that are collective in structure, and state-dependence, yet serve to promote individual initiative and responsibility. (A similar message comes through in the movie It's A Wonderful Life, crystalized in the scene where our hero explains why he can't give money back immediately, because the money is at work helping others realize their dreams.) Good narratives, in turn, help people learn how to think causally. They help people grow as thinkers as well as doers.
(3) Good narratives are unifying. Consrvatives seek to unify on the basis of identity. They do this by creating an us/them, self/other dynamic. This is why they constantly need someone to demonize. The marketing approach that seeks to ignore this--and hopes to reach people just based on a few targetted issues or lifestyle concerns or whatever--is an ostritch-like attempt to avoid the unavoidable.
The only possible effective response is a unifying narrative that is not based on conservative identity, or on a mirror image of conservative identity. It must be an inclusive identity, one that has room for all. This does not mean we have to drop our strong opposition to conservative politics. But it does mean that our narratives and the identity they celebrate is defined in terms of how we struggle with ourselves, to be ourselves more fully. (It's A Wonderful Life, again.)
(4) Heroic strength is vital. Conservatives are weaklings and bullies. It's no accident that their "war President" was a deserter. It's the epitome of their own false bravado. But the only way to beat them is to call their bluff. Stand up to them, and don't back down. Just to be clear: Heroic strength does not require anything macho or martial. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice has heroic strength, for example. She has the courage of her convictions--even more, she has the courage to challenge her convictions--her pride.
Likewise, Cindy Sheehan has heroic strength. George W. Bush does not. He thinks it's a sign of weakness to question or challenge his convictions--when it's actually just a sign of how weak his convictions are. We need to model and demonstrate heroic strength over and over and over again, for that is the principle way in which people will come to understand the difference between real heroic strength and the ludicrous caricature of it, which is all that conservatives have to offer.
I'm sure there's a lot more that could be said.
But that's why God invented comments.