Saturday, April 28, 2012

Moderate is a moderate is a moderate?

Do liberals, moderates, and conservatives respectively vote Democratic, split, and Republican in roughly equal proportions across states, the difference being that the Wyoming breakdown is 14%/47%/39% while Vermont's is 32%/44%/24%? Or do Vermont's liberals, moderates, and conservatives all tend to be more liberal than Wyoming's liberals, moderates, and conservatives tend to be? To formulate an answer, let's ask the question "Is a moderate a moderate is a moderate in the US, or is the definition of 'moderate' contingent upon the political atmosphere said moderate exists in?"

The proceeding table ranks states by what percentages of their self-described moderates voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election. The states are colored according to their contemporary political profiles, with purple states representing those in which Obama's total vote share ranged between 46%-54%.

StateObama %
1. District of Columbia92
2. Hawaii75
3. Vermont69
4. New York68
5. Oregon67
5. California67
5. Delaware67
5. Illinois67
9. Rhode Island66
10. Washington65
11. Nevada64
11. Maryland64
13. North Carolina63
13. Colorado63
13. Iowa63
13. Wisconsin63
13. Michigan63
13. Maine63
13. Connecticut63
20. New Mexico62
21. Missouri61
21. Ohio61
23. Indiana60
23. New Hampshire60
25. Massachusetts59
26. South Carolina58
26. Georgia58
26. Virginia58
26. Minnesota58
26. Pennsylvania58
26. New Jersey58
32. Florida57
33. Montana56
34. Mississippi55
35. Kentucky53
35. Texas53
35. South Dakota53
38. Utah52
38. Arkansas52
38. Kansas52
38. Arizona52
38. North Dakota52
43. West Virginia51
44. Nebraska50
45. Alabama49
46. Idaho48
46. Tennessee48
48. Louisiana45
49. Alaska44
50. Oklahoma43
51. Wyoming40

The correlation between how a state voted and how its moderates voted is .93 (p = 0). That is, the relationship is nearly perfect, as a cursory glance at the table pretty clearly illustrates. As 2008 was a good year for Democrats, it's not surprising that a moderate majorities across most of the country went for him.

But the state-level differences are pronounced and predicted by the general political climate of those states to a significant degree. To some extent, moderates probably go with the flow. Put in another way, conditions 'on the ground' are more determinative of what a moderate is than Fox News and CNN definitions of "moderate" are. For an extreme example of this, consider that Wyoming's liberals were nearly three times as supportive of McCain as DC's moderates were.


pat said...

I don't understand why some people are conservative while others are liberal. I'm only consoled by the realization that no one else does either.

One interpretation of your figures is that only the center matters. About half of populace seem to be moderates and it may very well be that these are the only voters who count. I don't know.

I think it's important to always keep our ignorance in mind. For example from all the imprecations issued by politicians to reduce our carbon footprints you might imagine that we understood climate. We don't. We live in a million year era where there are periodic ice ages. There presently isn't any good theory as to why. Milankovitch cycles don't really fit. Yet too many people are eager to supply answers on both sides of the AGW debate. Mere ignorance doesn't keep people from having strong opinions. In the climate debate typically both sides attribute the opinions of the other side to character. They call the other side evil.

In electoral politics the preferred explanation is intelligence. Each side calls the other side stupid.

To me it seems clear that there is a genetic component and an environmental component. We know that among the young we have a lot of liberals while among the old there are more conservatives. But is this developmental phenomenon an example of learning or maturation?

Sex attraction is maturational. When the hormones hit you discover whether you like boys or girls. It come from the inside out. People do not "read up" on the sexes and decide to be straight or gay.

I was a liberal in my teens and rather conservative now. This is very, very common. Was that change like sex the result of some internal clock? Or was it the result of learning?

Liberals usually change to conservatives when they become disillusioned. David Horowitz tells of how he changed when the Black Panthers murdered a woman he knew. He suddenly realized that the left wasn't very nice. I had a very similar if less dramatic experience. But why didn't Bill Ayers change? Ayers isn't stupid.

It could be that the inherent liberalism of youth is genetic and that an internal clock in some people at some point allows the person to learn. Personally when I was a liberal it was as if I couldn't even hear or see a conservative viewpoint. Then one day I began dismissing liberal beliefs on the basis of my personal experience.

That's a raggedy and shaky theory of political preference. I wouldn't stake my reputation or fortune on it, but it keeps me from calling liberals stupid.


Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

These results are not surprising. In academia, a "moderate" is one who supports Luce Irigaray rather than Helene Cixous.

Noah172 said...

Put in another way, conditions 'on the ground' are more determinative of what a moderate is than Fox News and CNN definitions of "moderate" are.

In the Soviet Union in the 1920s, there was the "Left Opposition," led by Trotsky, the "Right Opposition," led by Bukharin, and Stalin(!) in the "center". Now that is a skewed political spectrum!

Audacious Epigone said...


Are you familiar with Jonathan Haidt's work on political orientation? Employing five moral dimensions, he argues that liberals put great emphasis on care and fairness while putting very little on loyalty, respect, and sanctity. Within this framework, it might be that the maturation rates of the latter three tend to be slower than the first two, to varying degrees (and in many cases, never developing much at all). Of course, I don't know if how accurate his characterization is, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Here's a good blogging heads diavlog with Haidt for those who might be interested.


Hah, I'm ignorant of the detailed, intricate interworkings of 20th century feminism. Blissfully ignorant. But I'll take your word for it!


Yeah, I guess that's even more extreme than the DC vs. Wyoming example!

Audacious Epigone said...

The Haidt link.

Anonymous said...

"I was a liberal in my teens and rather conservative now. This is very, very common. Was that change like sex the result of some internal clock? Or was it the result of learning?"

Learning. aka school of hard knocks

Stupid ideas that don't work are easier to sell to ignorant kids.

Once you get out there and have to work, you aren't so up for working your ass off to give it away to mean lazy disgusting people. The exception to this is folks for whom life is fortuitously easy. I am thinking Hollywood stars and some children of the rich. Actors are good looking and can act and are rich before they ever have a chance to work their asses off doing real crap work where they paid high taxes and were constantly blamed for stuff and under a ton of pressure.