Saturday, May 30, 2009
But here's some good news if you're Rush Limbaugh -- yes the Dems like her, yes Republicans don't (big surprise), but among self-described "Independents" a quarter of them had a negative opinion. That's kinda interesting and it leaves a window of opportunity for the Hannities of the world to define her as they see fit.
Painting her as a racist is going to be interesting given the people waving the paint brush (Limbaugh, Gingrich, et. al). Irony, much? You want racism, look at our chief justice's history. But I doubt that'll come up on Fox News.
Anyway, the numbers suggest this may not be the slam dunk the Obama folks hoped for. If I were betting then I'd place serious money on her getting through, but there may be a little blood in the water and the sharks are starting to get a bit frenzied. And don't ya know the cable news talking heads will froth at the mouth.
Friday, May 29, 2009
- If you follow Pennsylvania politics, you can take this quiz and see how much you really know (I didn't even try).
- What is political ignorance? An economist and blogger explores the topic. At the bottom you can follow to later links and discussion.
- A new book argues that to advance our understanding of political knowledge we must consider five principal areas of research: the traditional model, heuristic models, impression-driven models, affect-based models, and models of operative knowledge. I plan on reading the full chapter soon. Will report back.
- Perhaps people don't do well on political knowledge tests because they're just not motivated to try hard. That's the focus of this conference paper (abstract only).
Thursday, May 28, 2009
He manages to get at selective exposure, political perceptions, moral values, and a host of other favorites in the social science arena, all in one quick column. Basically the argument is this: liberals and conservatives differ not only on the obvious political preferences but also in basic moral values. That isn't a surprise to the talk show blowhards, but it's deeper than they realize. Liberals like fairness and prevention of harm, conservatives focus on authority, loyalty, and "revulsion at disgust." And some of it is just plain weird. You can tell a conservative by the level of disgust registered at nasty smells or stepping on squishy things or using a public toilet.
For those of you who read the classic The Authoritarian Personality, some of this comes as no surprise. Then again, I'm fairly certain the classic book failed to mention toilets.
Kristof mentions a web site terribly busy today and hard to reach: www.yourmorals.org. Try again in a few days, once the post-NYTimes attention eases.
This all kinda fits something I blogged about a couple of days ago, how journalism needs to look to social science for fresh material, for intellectual scoops, for new ways of helping people understand the world.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
In other off-topic news, working on my Public Opinion seminar syllabus. Scouring the net for good stuff and trying to plot out my day-to-day discussion topics. It's a summer seminar that meets too many days in a week for too many hours in a day.
In yet more off-topic news, in about an hour it's Manchester United vs. Barcelona. Go Barca!
And in a final bit of off-topic, off-blog news, my data analysis on a new manuscript absolutely sucks. Not sure what to do -- toss the zillion hours of work I've put into it, or try to salvage something? It's on a topic I love (wishful thinking and predictive accuracy), but the data simply are not cooperating. Not sure what to do.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Okay, that last one goes a bit too far.
Not all is well in newsland. Just a few minutes of CNN/Fox/MSNBC/et. al and you quickly realize they can't report on anything unless there's a dash of partisan or ideological seasoning tossed into the recipe. TV News = haul out a tired hack from the left, a tired hack from the right, and let each have his or her say, in 30 seconds, which isn't enough time to explore these complex problems. Sigh.
In more important news, one-in-five people followed American Idol "fairly closely" or "very closely." In what people know, a crappy TV show with even crappier talent really matters.
Interesting data point. American Idol's shrinking audience over the past three years has happened more among the youngest and oldest viewers, but not the 40-to-64 age bracket, a group that stayed more or less constant in its love of bad TV. Parents show a huge drop, non-parents almost no drop. Weird, but I honestly don't care enough to tease out meaning from this odd yet fascinating statistical datum.
Monday, May 25, 2009
The phrase struck a cord.
Some call this "value added" journalism, the notion that breaking news is always out there and available -- and free -- so journalists need to focus on stories you won't find elsewhere, or stories with angles no one has considered, or scoops that tickle the brain and make you see something in a new light.
Journalism, meet Social Science.
Some journalists make a nice living scouring the world of social science for stories to tell (for example, see Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). As a practicing social scientist and former journalist (now j-prof) I straddle both worlds and in this blog I try to tie them together, but I firmly believe there are ways journalists can exploit the world of social science for those intellectual scoops that look at the world's problems in a new and interesting light, one likely to get an audience.
The key, of course, is to step away from the usual practice of "he said-she said" stenographic journalism.
The NYTimes does this better than any news organization. The problem for journalists is that many are ill-equipped to understand the arcane analysis found in most academic journals. As the writer of many arcane academic pieces destined to be read by an audience in the tens of people, I can say that they're written for a handful of experts and not a general audience.
Then again, journalism is often about taking the complex and making is less so. Journalists need to understand the tools and trends of social science (and hard sciences too) and make this stuff understandable. Not only that, but they need to be well read enough to make those terrific "intellectual scoops" that academics themselves miss because we are mired in theory and method, not often in real-world applications.
Friday, May 22, 2009
News media serve a surveillance function for many people. Journalists feed the need to know, the need to keep up with what's happening, a sense of connectedness and knowledge that many people find vital, if not absolutely necessary, to get through their day either because of jobs or because they're news junkies.
But of late, with the growth of TV and radio talk shows but most especially thanks to cable TV news, there has been a replacing of the need to know with the need to feel.
Talkmeisters of all partisan stripes, from Lou Dobbs to Sean Hannity sell one thing today and it's not knowledge. It's anger and frustration and righteous indignation. Sure, they pepper their gabbing with bits of information, but even a fan has to acknowledge the info is skewed, that straw men are set up and knocked down. Hannity and Bill O'Reilly can't do a show without name calling, for example, and they often falsely or incompletely portray the other side. No wonder they hate the idea of a fairness doctrine (btw, so do I).
They want people to feel more than they want people to know.
If they wanted people to know they'd offer fairer portrayals of the other side. If they wanted people to know they'd cover topics other than those laced with partisan and ideological intrigue -- some of it nonexistent except in their own minds (saving Christmas? Jeez, ever walk into a real store?). If they wanted people to know they wouldn't openly mislead, which happens all the time on these programs (don't even get me started on how they screw up science to fit their partisan beliefs).
But people don't want to know so much as they want to know what to feel.
All news, especially cable TV news, continues to edge this way. The news audience as a whole has shrunk and as a result has become more partisan and ideological. The battle is on for this smaller yet passionate group and the results ain't pretty. CNN dodges left and right trying to find an audience. Fox News has been doing this bit for years, spending more time talking about the news than actually covering it. MSNBC is doing well with a small, loyal liberal audience. Foundering newspapers may be next to get on the bandwagon, but I don't know if it'll save 'em.
In some ways this is not so bad. I think we'll see the growth of advocacy journalism not unlike, in superficial ways at least, the old partisan press prior to the 1830s. This will free journalists and cause innumerable problems as well, but that's for another post. Indeed I've proposed an undergraduate class in advocacy journalism to explore what I think our new journalism will look like -- even offered to swap out a graduate class to teach it -- but I've heard nada from my boss. Ah well.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Monday, May 18, 2009
Gallup asks: "Thinking for a moment about moral values: How would you rate the overall state of moral values in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?"
The latest numbers from May 5-10 have 2 percent saying "excellent" and it gets worse and worse after that: 15 percent "good" and 37 percent "only fair" and 45 percent "poor." For you math majors, that leaves 1 percent "unsure" what moral values are, why they're being asked about them when they have better things to do. In 2008 there were 2 percent saying "excellent" and years after that, just 1 percent.
"Poor" has steadily increased over the years, from 40 to 45 percent, pulling about the same from the other two categories of "good" and "only fair." Not sure what that means other than movement toward the extremes of the scale, which is a bit unusual methodologically but may be a function of growing partisanship. Dunno.
What people know about the moral values of the nation is partly a function of the media, partly what they deal with in their daily lives. Celebrated moral disasters can tweak the national numbers in a fairly consistent direction, but there's usually a recovery. The individual stuff is impossible to predict and I'd think personal experiences cancel one another out.
Does this stuff matter? Like trust in major institutions, the answer is yes. There needs to be some reservoir to draw on when things get tough -- trust, perception of morality, all the bits and pieces necessary to draw people together to meet a challenge, be it the economy or anything else. Everyone doesn't have to be trusting. There are the cynical, or the fashionably cynical who haven't really earned the right to be yet, but like the poor those folks will always be with us. We also need that reservoir of optimism, and that's something that's always been there in the U.S., though less so now than perhaps several decades ago.
Friday, May 15, 2009
According to this report, not everyone -- in this case young Australians -- are all that excited about voting (the ultimate participatory act).
Here's the first two graphs:
Australian youth are showing extreme apathy towards their right to vote, with 20 per cent not enrolled to vote, and close to half saying they wouldn't vote if it wasn't compulsory, new University of Sydney research shows.
However the research found that if your kids attend a private school, study politics or civics, and engage with their school community, then they're more likely to vote come election time.
Specifically on media and political communication:
The study also looked at where young people gain their knowledge of Australian politics. Over the past two decades, the number of young people relying on the media for information has declined, with students favouring advice from parents and teachers. In spite of this, the study found newspapers' reputations remain strong, declaring them, "the most effective source of political knowledge."
We are certainly seeing a massive shift in where people get their news, especially young people. They get it from friends, they get it from Facebook postings, they read a tweet or two from Twitter, they scan headlines and they, sometimes, actually read. Print is superior. There's no doubt. But depth reading of print is going down, which is too bad.
Anyway, interesting that we're seeing many of the same changes regardless of the nation studied. Not sure that's comforting, but it is interesting.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Now the study these scholars was working on has been published. Below is a key graph describing some of the coding problems. It's worth a read for the methodologically inclined:
But these are not the only limitations plaguing this approach to measuring political knowledge. Most worrisome, in one instance, the ANES required its interviewers to code the accuracy of the respondents’ answers to the knowledge question during the interview itself, apparently using quite stringent criteria. Thus, if one replies that William Rehnquist is ‘‘the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court,’’ the interviewer would, according to ANES coding rules, record the answer as ‘‘correct’’ (even though the official title of the leader of the Court is the ‘‘Chief Justice of the United States’’). Also according to the ANES rules, references to Rehnquist as a Supreme Court judge who is the head honcho or main guy or the main one are scored as incorrect. According to these strict procedures, only 10.5% of the respondents ‘‘correctly’’ identified Rehnquist in the 2000 ANES.
Basically the open-ended responses were miscoded, or coded too strictly, or at times not even accurately when considering the official title of the chief justice. This affects a small but significant number of responses, which in turn can influence not only our evaluations of what people know about the Supreme Court but the consequences of that knowledge when examining its relationship with other variables. For example, the authors examine the role knowledge has in institutional loyalty.
Ultimately, they write:
But we do assert that the image of the American people as entirely bereft of information about courts, as ignorant of their role in the American democracy and their importance as makers of public policy, and as oblivious to the nature of judicial institutions and processes, most likely undercredits ordinary people.
In other words, the "Just How Stupid Are We" question becomes "Just How Stupid is Our Methodology?" In defense of ANES, they are working hard to repair the miscoding of previous data sets (these guys do great work) and in the latest 2008 pre- and post-election release the knowledge items are not even available yet (which is kinda pissing me off given that I need them for some work I'm doing). So the Pelosi, Cheney, Brown, and Roberts identification codes all are listed as -3, as in "we dunno yet, but we're working on it." I figure we'll see 'em sometime later this summer.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I'm looking at how much people trust the government and are satisfied with democracy after an election. There's been a lot of work that shows, much of the time, losers are -- not surprisingly -- more unhappy with government and democracy after they become, well, losers. It occurred to me that when you expect to win, but lose, you'd be even less satisfied with democracy or the government.
Not so much.
Playing with data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections, I really found no significant effect. I was sure people who predicted their candidate would win but ended up on the losing side would be really pissed, for all kinds of solid theoretical reasons. But noooo, the data says I need to find something else to think and write about, at least for publication in a respected academic, peer-reviewed journal. So instead I write about it here, and a not-so-respected, no-peer-review blog
The winner-loser thing doesn't always work, either. In fact, winners in 2000 (Republicans) actually score lower on trust than the winners. This gets all mired in partisan and ideological feelings about big bad federal government that goes beyond mere winning and losing. A lot of the research fails to take this into account, by the way. A serious failing.
Anyway, I'm gonna set this one aside as one of those great ideas that didn't quite pan out, one I may revisit at some point if inspiration strikes.
But while I'm in prediction mode for elections, I am going to do some work in a favorite topics of mine, wishful thinking, which is basically the notion that we tend to see our own candidates (or sports team, or whatever) as the likely winner. This effect is robust and even exposure to polls that tell us our guy/gal is certain to lose does not moderate this preference-expectation link.
Basically, who we prefer is who we think will win, and all other information be damned. Gonna play with that and examine the effects media consumption might play, because dammit it ought to moderate the effect. But ... and here's an angle worth exploring, selective exposure/attention to bias-confirming information (conservatives watching Fox News, for example) may actually enhance wishful thinking. Here we have two competing hypotheses -- that means if I present 'em both, maybe I'll nab support for at least one of 'em.
Time to get the old SPSS rolling ...
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Monday, May 11, 2009
The audience for American Idol continues to shrink, yet Fox manages to squeeze out more and more profit thanks to the aggressive sales of such ilk as trading cards, partnerships with iTunes, and even the disturbing thought of branded of ice cream. While you might be tempted to call this yet more evidence of culture death, you gotta give 'em credit for wringing a few more bucks out of the old franchise.
For local TV news, well, the news ain't so good. With a shrinking audience and shrinking revenue (all those car dealers with no money to spend on local ads), the TV guys look a lot like the newspaper guys -- except with better hair.
So why the irony? Journalism is kinda stuck since it can't easily market its product or use tie-ins (yeah, local TV does this some and it's ethically questionable) or sell trading cards or have Action News Ice Cream. Magazines tread awfully close to what we used to consider ethically questionable behavior (sweetheart deals with advertisers, etc.).
Journalism has a lot of choices to make. We can go the route local TV news and mags have used for years, doing questionable tie-ins with people, placing "stories" for clients, that sort of thing ... or not. Today's NYT front page picture of some military guys involved in a cyberwar game is an interesting example. Right there on the back of the monitor is the Dell label. Holy free advertising, batman! The rules of journalism are simple: never add stuff, never make up, never change what someone said, or what a photo shows. You can't photoshop out the Dell label, so should you instead ask Dell to pony up some bucks for the free advertising?
The journalism guy in me says nope. Never. Not in a million years. But that journalism guy, he's hungry and he's desperate.
American Idol would do it.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Using Harris poll data drawn from here, let's look at a few.
The Press. Of course I start here, being a journalism guy. Since 2002 the press has seen a high of 16 percent saying they have "a great deal of confidence" to a low of 2009, where it sits at 12 percent. Still, that's probably within the margin of error. There's also a category for Television News and the latest number was 22 percent. It's bounced around the 20 mark for several years.
Colleges and Universities. Gotta go here too given that a major university pays my salary. This has actually gone up from a low of 33 percent with "great confidence" to 40 percent this year. Woo woo! We rock.
Wall Street. Oh what a beating Wall Street has taken, so it's no surprise that the richies have dropped from 19 to 4 percent of people having great confidence. Four percent? That's the lowest of any of the 16 institutions examined. Even Congress, which has slipped to 9 percent from a high of 22 percent.
Organized Religion was at its lowest in 2002 but now is at 28 percent. Not bad.
Overall, most major institutions have seen a drop in confidence over time. This is nothing new. I remember in graduate school reading a textbook, The Confidence Gap, that discussed the trend from the 1970s as trust in major institutions slowly eroded (in part a Watergate effect, in part Vietnam, in part everything else).
Coincidentally (not really) I am working on a research paper that examines trust in government and how being a winner or loser in an election affects your trust. Lots of people have mined this territory, including a couple of professors of mine in grad school, but I'm taking a different twist that, as far as I can tell, no one has explored yet. More when I get the blasted thing actually finished, but basically I'm looking at winners and losers and whether or not you expected to win (but lost) and how that may lead to even less trust. And there's media stuff there too. Sigh ... if I finish grading, maybe I can get back to it.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
- Cable news
- Local TV news
Source of Information
- Local TV news
- Cable news
- Network evening news
That second, disturbing list, deserves some explanation. Respondents were asked where they learned something about H1N1 and they could rattle off any number of sources, so 69 percent somehow managed to find local TV news as a source of swine flu info and 63 percent identified cable news. Both have covered this frothing at the mouth, but that's a different matter.
Indeed, the Pew folks found H1N1 to be the big story in terms of interest, even besting that perennial favorite the economy.
Of course H1N1 so far isn't as bad as TV went on and on and on about, and there are even reports of people thinking about swine flu parties to get infected. Why? Apparently there is anecdotal evidence that back in the big one, the 1918 epidemic, people who caught an easier Spring version were better able to handle the next Winter version that killed so many people. The thinking goes -- and I do NOT recommend this because it's dumb -- that catching it now will help you next Winter when we get a nasty, mutated, angry version of the swine flue sweeping across the globe.
The Internet is the growing source of info, and compared to TV I have to say -- thank god. Then again, it's hard to know where on the Net people are getting their info, so lemme take back that thanks until we know more.
Knowing More -- Added Stuff
A Pew Center person pointed me to a report that breaks down where on the Net people are going for H1N1 info. Thanks!
The good news? The CDC is #1. The bad news? Wikipedia is #2. Then there's Google and Yahoo, basically search engines, and then oddly enough ... MySpace? The land of awful music and even awfuler web pages, a source of swine flu info? CNN shows up on the list at #6 and sadly is the only news site mentioned. There's also another government web site, and ... Facebook?
The only thing missing from this frightening scenario is Twitter. Probably comes in at #11.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Okay, but what about new forms of participation?
Younger voters especially see participation in a different way. While a political scientist will often examine how often one attends rallies, votes, gives money, that sort of thing, I know of damn few standard surveys that include as participation such activities as visiting a candidate's Facebook page or "friending" that candidate, of subscribing to tweets, of posting on your own page something good about a candidate, or a bit of embedded viral video, or anything else.
Is that participation? Oh yeah, but we don't really measure it all that well. Not yet at least.
Does that kind of participation result in the splendid little reciprocal circle I mentioned above?
No one knows.
I'm thinking yes. I'm thinking it's gotta make a difference. Any form of participation raises the stakes a little, makes you recognize how a campaign or issue affects you, makes you attend just a little more to the subject -- thus raising your political knowledge. Nudging the needle, I'd call it, perhaps in a statitically significant way.
At least that's my hypothesis. Someone out there needs to test it, so get to it budding PhDweeb types. There's a thesis or dissertation or journal article there just waiting to be exploited.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I've always been interested in people's perception of opinion. We tend to project our own opinions on the public at large. In other words, we tend to think others think the same way we do, what the social scientists sometimes call projection but based also on the fact we tend to hang out with people much like ourselves, thus skewing our perception of opinion for a broader public.
I've been wondering whether social networking, at being tied in to the mundane and profound thoughts of so many friends and quasi-friends, can influence our perceptions of opinion. Thus, I'm gonna toss out a few possible hypotheses over the next day or two.
Hypothesis 1: The greater the use of social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), the greater the likelihood one will perceive other people agreeing with your own opinion.
Huh? Wouldn't more information make you more accurate, not less so? I don't think so. First off, we tend to link to people like ourselves, even if they're only barely friends, so that should increase the likelihood we'll think the world agrees with us because that's all the opinions we see expressed. Our narrow little worlds make us a bit more likely to overestimate how many people agree with us, and I think social networking only accelerates, not moderates, this effect. I'd love to see this tested.
Hypothesis 2: Social networking posts include only poll information that favors a poster's point of view, not poll results that run counter to a poster's ideological or partisan position.This one kinda makes more sense, or at least is not counter-intuitive. There are exceptions, the people who put on a Facebook news feed some poll that they think shows how dumb people are, but overall I expect to see confirmatory information, which in turn would lead to Hypothesis 1 being supported.
Hypothesis 3: Attempts to shift public opinion via social networking will ultimately fail.Yeah, a crappily-worded hypothesis, but I'm short of time and didn't want to get all PhDweeb on it, but the above hypo in its various forms has significant meaning for people in politics, public relations, and even journalism. Basically I'm arguing, and need to explore this further, that social networking, even at its most viral, does little to nudge public opinion. It might move perceptions of opinion.
To me, Facebook is the big guy in this test. Twitter, less so. Too ephemeral, too silly, too confined. But Facebook with its updates and news feeds, that's a place ripe for examination by people interested in what moves public opinion, or moves perceptions of that opinion (to me a more interesting theoretical question).
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Public opinion is no more than this,
what people think other people think.