Sunday, July 22, 2007

Culture War? So, Pick One !!!

Morris Fiorina's book, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America, explodes the red state/blue state paradigm we constantly hear from the political class and the silly, unthinking media. When a presidential election occurs, do some states' electoral votes go to the candidate of one party and others to the nominee of the other party? Yes, and in that narrow view, one can paint a map with reds and blues. But given the fact that only two "viable" choices are offered, a polarized result is inevitable.

What do these results tell us about the electorate? NOTHING!

Fiorina clarifies for us. One set of graphics says it all:

The top graph demonstrates a "Closely and Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom identify with either Democratic or Republican platform/candidate. The bottom graph demonstrates a "Closely but not Deeply Divided" electorate, most of whom DO NOT identify with either party's platform/candidate, but who feel compelled to choose one of them because ... well, those are our choices, right?

If I vote for some other candidate, I'm, what, throwing my vote away or helping one of the major party candidates win, right? Remember -- those Perot voters put that scumbag Clinton into office and, well, if it weren't for Nader, Gore would have won in 2000, right?

Fiorina's book clearly shows that the electorate is more like the bottom graph. For instance:
  • Did you know? ... that when asked to respond to "Too much power concentrated in large companies," 64% of "blue" state folks responded yes AND 62% of "red" states responded ... yes!
  • "Immigration should decrease" -"blue" 41%, "red" 43%
  • "Make English official language" - "blue" 70%, "red" 66%
  • "Favor school vouchers" - "blue" 51%, "red" 54%
  • "Favor death penalty" - "blue" 70%, "red" 77%
  • "Tolerate others' moral views" - "blue" 62%, "red" 62%
  • "Abortion--always legal" - "blue" 48%, "red" 37%

That's only a smattering of issues. A full reading of the book makes perfectly clear that most American citizens, no matter the state, are rather moderate or at least in fairly close agreement, whatever the majority position.

Fiorina writes: "The most plausible explanation is that culture wars, two nations, and similar exaggerations make an excellent story line for the media, so differences are systematically exaggerated to support the story line."

The culture war line also perpetuates control in the two major parties' hands. It's either them or us.

Fiorina quotes David Brooks: "Although there are some real differences between Red and Blue America, there is no fundamental conflict. There may be cracks, but there is no chasm."

And this from Fiorina when analyzing data about purported polarization in the electorate: "For some people a 10 percent difference in the preferences of a state or a socioeconomic group on abortion or gay rights may be sufficient to conclude that the American electorate is engaged in a culture war. Our judgment differs. Certainly, in a majority rule electoral system 10 percent differences that occur in the neighborhood of 50 percent may be politically very consequential. A jurisdiction with a small right-of-center majority may elect a hard-right Republican representative while another with a small left-of-center majority may elect a hard-left Democrat. But to infer from the polarization of election outcomes that voters in the first jurisdiction overwhelmingly disagree with voters in the second jurisdiction is both a logical error and an inference at odds with the data."

Fiorina's book is filled with supporting data. I highly recommend reading it. You will understand the American electorate a lot better than listening to Wolf Blitzer, Britt Hume or Tim Russert, or by reading the New York or L.A. Times. The "polarization" of the electorate, in other words, is more a result of the choices we are presented on Election Day than a severe division in views by the voters.

1 comment:

argonette said...

Fantastic. Thanks for posting this.

I actually came to your blog after having googled "government harm." I'm disappointed to see that you don't seem to be posting any more. If you are posting elsewhere, please let me know.