The Daily Telegraph of the UK came up with a list of the top 100 most influential 'conservatives' and 'liberals' in the US earlier this year. After going through it, I realized that either I'm out of the loop or the Beltway folks (and the media correspondents in Washington that report on them) are out of touch.
Dick Cheney is more influential than President Bush? Than Condi? Still? He can't show his face anymore, if he is even still alive. When was the last time you heard about him doing or saying anything? His hawkish stance on Iran isn't going anywhere.
Larry Craig has influence? He didn't before the airport tryst was exposed, and he has even less sway now. Laura Ingraham over Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, both of whom have millions more listeners (and Hannity has a TV show as well) than she does? Mississippi's Governor at #18, ahead of the President? Elizabeth Edwards over her husband, a Presidential candidate? Obama's wife (quickly, what is her name?) over Steny Hoyer, who is House majority leader and has been a Congressman for the last quarter-century?
Okay, enough of my quipping.
The methodology isn't even disclosed, so speculating on how or why the players were ranked as they are is purely conjecture. But the names on the lists have face validity, even if the specific rankings do not. So who are they?
It took longer than I'd expected to gather basic demographic information on them. The liberal side is especially difficult to find information on, presumably from a relative lack of scrutiny from media sources.
The Protestant-Catholic split among those of Christian heritage should be taken as an estimate--if nothing turned up, I looked to ethnicity and ancestry, then to names, visual images, and failing that finally assumed Protestant (for about 15 of the 200 a best guess is substituted for certainty).
In cases of Christian conversion, the 'final decision' was used (since mention of conversion presumes it is important in the person's worldview). Erik Prince of Blackwater, for example, was raised Dutch Reformed but converted to Catholicism in adulthood. Judaism, however, is determined by birth. Consequently, the percentages add up to a little over 100% for the section covering nominal religious identification.
Only avowed atheists who've given themselves that description were counted as such. Others, many of whom are surely only nominal members of a religious organization, are still counted as representing that religious grouping.
In a few cases (four conservatives, five liberals) age is estimated as well, based on when the person's career started. I presumed about 24 years prior to that point, using pictures as an aid).
Sexual orientation is assumed heterosexual unless there is reason to suspect otherwise.
The occupation categories are pretty broad. The section captures what makes them influential today, not what brought them into the limelight in the past (Howard Dean, now head of the DNC, is classified as a "Moneyman" rather than as a "Politician"). "Political fiends" work for political parties and/or politicians but do not actually hold political office themselves, with the exception of those who primarily work to raise funds for causes, even if those causes are primarily political (and sponsored by a political party) in nature.
"Activist" is a catch-all that characterizes people like Al Gore and Cindy Sheehan who have star power behind them but not an official position or job that gives them notoriety, and also those who were politically involved at one time, like Colin Powell, but who don't do much of anything influential today other than leveraging the prestige of their pasts to bring attention to their contemporary causes and positions. Additionally, spouses of prominent figures who are not in positions of power themselves are counted (Michelle Obama, for example).
In the cases where a person could qualify under multiple occupational labels, the one for which he is most well-known is used. For example, Bill O'Reilly is classified under "television" although he is also a powerful radio presence.
"Scholarship" can be further broken down into "historian", "academic", or "scientist", but the category is already small when it is this broadly defined. Victor Davis Hanson and Noam Chomsky are included under the heading.
The Wyly brothers, who are for this purpose demographically identical with the exception of a one year difference in age, are counted as a single person (presumably their high ranking would not have been merited by only half of the team). For the moveon.org founders, Joan Blades, the more publicly active of the two, is tracked.
Race is broken down into the four major Census categories. I counted Ralph Nader and John Abizaid as white, although they are both half-Arabic.
|Average Age||58 years, 7 months||Just under 58 years|
* Includes Arianna Huffington, who seems to be spiritually mystical
** Blogger Jerome Armstrong
^ Includes Larry Craig, the other being Andrew Sullivan
^^ Alex Castellanos of rats 'fame', currently working for Romney's campaign
The right is more heavily comprised of dead white males than the left, but Euro-descended Christian men make up the majorities on both sides. Baby-boomers make up more than half of those identified (54%). Most of those outside of this generation preceded it. Only 15 (7.5%) of the 200 people were born after 1964.
Jewish representation, coming to almost one-quarter of the total on both the right and the left, far outstrips its representation in the population at large. It is in line with Jewish representation among US nobel prize winners (27%).
Racially, the story is mostly one of blacks and whites. Asians are almost non-existent (Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Michelle Malkin are the only two). There are a total of only four Hispanics from both sides. Just two of the four--Bill Richardson and Markos Zuniga (the Daily Kos guy)--come close to household name recognition.
Perhaps surprisingly, the conservative side has a substantial representation of columnists while the liberal side is almost devoid of them. This is partly due to the leftward slant that characterizes most of the traditional media, which makes it more difficult for leftist writers on the editorial page to stand out from what is contained in the hard news pages, since there is so much overlap.
Conservatives don't get much help from Hollywood. The only entertainment figure to make the list on the right is Chuck Norris, whose acting career is essentially over. This meshes well with the perception that to be openly conservative in Hollywood is to jeopardize one's career. Liberals, however, are foreigners in the land of radio (NPR just isn't that influential).
Politicians and political operatives are more heavily represented on the left than on the right. That might also be a consequence of 'selective' media focus, as in the case of Charles Schumer.
With the exception of the "print" category, the occupational list is predictable enough. Military figures show up on the right. So do religious figures. Racial leaders appear on the left. More of the left's influential figures are involved in awareness campaigns and public protests (activists) than they are on the right.