Blargh Blog

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From the Annals of Misleading Research

Did you know that most Democrats think that the government should do stuff to help people? They support New Deal programs, and laws from the 60s and 70s, designed to protect people's health and safety (e.g. the EPA, FDA, & OSHA), provide resources to poor people (e.g. minimum wage laws, progressive taxation), and prevent discrimination (e.g. racial discrimination in hiring). In a recent survey of academics in the humanities and social sciences, the vast majority of self-identified Democrats indicated strong support for each of these policies, while self-identified Republicans had more varied views.

What conclusions can we draw from this research * ? "The left has a narrow tent."

This peculiar spin comes, not from some hackish blog, but from the authors of the study itself, right up front in the abstract, and even in the title "Narrow-Tent Democrats and Fringe Others: The Policy Views of Social Science Professors". Within the paper (pdf), Klein & Stern expand "Clearly, campus diversity does not extend to political/policy ideas and values" (p. 19). "Whereas the Republicans usually have diversity on an issue, the Democrats very often have a party line. It is clear that there is significantly more diversity under the Republican tent" (p. 43). Apparently, not being sure that you want the law to limit human-thumb levels found in meats is "centrist" (p. 20) and brings diversity to academia.

The authors also state that "across the board both groups are simply more statist than the ideal types might suggest." Among the "main results" advanced in their summary (p. 43) are "On the whole, the Democrats and Republicans are quite statist." and "Economists are measurably less statist, but most of them are still quite statist."

Their concluding paragraph is a call to greater libertarian inclusion in politics. The primary focus of their paper is the overrepresentation of the left in academia, but after finding that libertarians are as common as conservatives in academia they show no concern about the possibility that libertarians are overrepresented as well. Instead, they conclude "If freedom is a core political value, then there is something very wrong with a formulation [of American politics] that omits the ideology most aligned with that value" (p. 45).

Would you care to guess at the political ideology of the authors?

Some discussion questions:

1. Come up with a set of policy questions that would show that Republican academics have a "narrower tent" than Democrats (i.e. less variance in their levels of support). Suggested topics: taxes, religion, jurisprudence, terrorism.

2. Come up with a set of policy questions that would show that Republican academics are more statist than Democrats. Suggested topics: homosexuality, adultery, abortion, civil liberties, marijuana, conscription.

3. What are the American people's views on these eighteen questions? Are they more similar, on average, to the academic Democrats, Republicans, or libertarians (or one of the narrower groups that Klein & Stern identify through cluster analysis)? How do non-academic Democrats and Republicans compare to academics who identify with the same party? How does the distribution of Americans' views compare to the distribution of academics' views?

4. Is it a serious flaw of academia that most academics tend to support the laws and policies that currently exist in this country? If diversity of "political/policy ideas and values" is important, how do we decide which of the existing laws and policies should have a large group of opponents in academia?

5. If universities are to blame for conservatives' exclusion from academia, who is to blame for libertarians' exclusion from American politics?

6. Since when are laws regulating air and water quality anti-libertarian? Aren't libertarians the people who say that my right to produce chemicals ends where the other guy's nose begins?

HT: Cowen@MR, Zywicki@Volokh

* The paper actually has 18 different policy questions, but most of the evidence for a "narrow tent" comes from the six questions described in the opening paragraph. You can see the exact pattern of responses in their paper (p. 13-16). Here's a summary.

There are 4 policies that Democrats strongly support (about 75-90% strong support), while Republicans have varied views but lean towards support:

- OSHA workplace safety regulation
- FDA regulation of pharmaceuticals
- EPA regulation of air and water quality
- Anti-discrimination laws that apply to private parties

Here are the 4 policies that Democrats strongly support (about 75-90% strong support), while Republicans have varied views and are about neutral on average:

- Minimum wage laws
- Laws restricting gun ownership
- Redistributive aid programs and taxation
- Government run K-12 schooling

There is one policy that Republicans strongly oppose (about 75% strong opposition), while Democrats have varied views and are about neutral on average:

- Government ownership of industrial enterprises

On all of the other policy issues, both parties have varied responses. There are 4 policies where both parties lean towards support:

- Laws restricting hard drug use
- Using monetary policy to tune the economy
- Using fiscal policy to tune the economy
- Foreign aid

There is one policy where both parties lean towards opposition:

- Tariffs

There are 2 policies where both parties are about neutral on average:

- Laws restricting prostitution
- Laws restricting gambling

There are two policies that Republicans tend to support but Democrats tend to oppose:

- Tighter controls on immigration
- Use of the military for democracy promotion


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