Conservative or Liberal? One Question to Rule them All
I’m devastated that Christian Rudder hasn’t posted to the OKTrends blog for more than a year.* He did statistical analysis of the monstrous database of OK Cupid — a dating site that asks participants hundreds of often odd and quirky questions about themselves — to draw out conclusions about various, sundry, and often fascinating topics.
I also can’t believe that I never posted about a finding in one of his posts that really caught my eye — from The Best Questions for a First Date:
If you want to know…
Do my date and I have the same politics?
Ask him or her…
Do you prefer the people in your life to be simple or complex?
We were very surprised to find that this one question very strongly predicts a person’s ideas on these divisive issues:
Should burning your country’s flag be illegal?
Should the death penalty be abolished?
Should gay marriage be legal?
Should Evolution and Creationism be taught side-by-side in schools?
In each case, complexity-preferrers are 65-70% likely to give the Liberal answer. And those who prefer simplicity in others are 65-70% likely to give the Conservative one.
This correlation is for a nationwide dataset; it won’t be as useful in places where one ideology is much more prevalent than the other. For example, in New York City there are lots of people who like simplicity and yet have Liberal politics.
This jives perfectly with my own anecdotal observations: that conservatives tend to like simple answers to everything: “Just cut taxes!” or “It all boils down to X.” (Scott Sumner deserves unlimited praise for acknowledging and battling that predilection in this link. That admission — along with the Rudder’s finding here — might also go a long way towards explaining why Steve Randy Waldmann thinks that professedly right-ish Market Monetarists have more in common with generally lefty MMTers and Post-Keynesians than they or others might suspect, or than any of those groups have in common with simplistically delusional freshwater neoclassicals.)
And I would also add: people aren’t simple. Ever. Especially when there’s more than one of them. (Can you name a single family that you know well that doesn’t have all sorts of odd and complicated stuff going on?) So this portrays conservatives wishing for things that don’t exist — like, for instance, prosperous, modern, high-productivity countries that don’t have massive doses of redistribution.
I’ll leave you with that. But I can’t resist sharing another beauty from the same post:
Okay, if you want to know…
Will my date have sex on the first date?
Do you like the taste of beer?
Among all our casual topics, whether someone likes the taste of beer is the single best predictor of if he or she has sex on the first date.
This caused me some difficulty recently. I was out with a friend and his girlfriend. She took a big swallow from her glass, put it down firmly, and announced, “Damn I love the taste of beer.” I almost spewed mine across the room.
Finally, for those who’ve read this far: if you’re thinking that the title of this post is ironic…you’re right.
* Ah. He sold his shop to Match.com just over a year go — for $50 mil. Just six days ago a “rumored seven-figure” deal was announced for the book on big data that he’s writing/has written, titled Dataclysm. I’ll be buying it.
Cross-posted at Asymptosis.
just to prove i have no sense of humor at all..
Do you prefer simple answers to simple questions, or do you prefer to get to know the actual people?
Do you prefer simple solutions like “tax the rich” for every issue?
Or is the following person a liberal or a conservative:
I don’t believe in “creationism” and for all practical purposes i believe in “evolution,” therefore I think both “ideas” should be “taught” side by side in school. I have to admit to a preference for letting people figure things out for themselves as opposed to giving them “the way it is” catechism, but that gives away the answer.
and oh yes, just because you are educated and liberal, and all of your friends are too, doesn’t mean that all “liberals” are educated (or that all educated people can think). Remember “the left” is on the side of workers, poor people, and, uh, minorities. And some of those people, bless their hearts, have pretty simple ideas about complex subjects.
In fact, nearly everyone does about everything.
As Coberly has addressed, the irony just jumps out at you. Someone who likes complex people is assigned a single set of simple answers to complex issues. Fail!
I think there tends to be a value put on simplicity and tradition by conservatives more than liberals. This makes me think of a woman I know whose ideal man is a stereotypical cowboy, god-fearing, traditional, sort of a John Wayne figure. I think there’s a similar tendency in political preferences, such as preferring simple, uneccentric, seemingly reliable average-guy candidates who tout “common sense”.
Liberals, on the other hand, would be more likely to associate simplicty with being “simplistic” and boring when it comes to people. There’s a greater tendency to value uniqueness, contrary to the conservative value towards simple and traditional. Though I don’t think that translates as strongly to preferences for political candidates for liberals.
But I think in either case, liberal or conservative or other, not caring enough about the complexity of issues tends to give similar results. They are more likely to be noisy about their political beliefs, due to undue confidence and a tendency to believe that opposing views are so wrong that they much be stupid or have alterior motives. Similarly, they are more likely to beleive in conspiracy theories.
The ones who acknowledge the complexities of issues (and so know more than just 1 side’s real argument) tend to be quieter, dispassionate, and more conciliatory. And perhaps more ignored, maybe because the loud ones prefer to argue against the loud ones on the other side.
I modestly think I know the “complexities” of the Social Security “issue” better than anyone. This leads me to suspect there must be some conspiracy between the simple minded Right and the simple minded Left who both want to see Social Security destroyed by turning it into “welfare” which is all either of them can understand. Of course the Right wants to turn it into welfare on the way to drowning it in the bath. While the Left wants to turn it into welfare so the Rich will pay for everyone’s retirement.
This tends to make me loud and not at all conciliatory.
Do you really think the mainstream conservative position on SS is to eliminate it and the liberal position is to make the rich pay for it? You sure you’re not just assigning motivations that are easy to attack because of your own apparent confidence that you know what’s going on better than anyone else? You’re choosing to attack a fringe bogeyman… the stereotypes or caricatures of the opposition that each fringe potrays the other as.
It’s not a conspiracy. It’s difference of priorities. You’re ignoring the real motivations and arguments.
i have been looking at these people for ten years or more. There is no doubt the “right” wants to destroy social security… that’s what “privatize” means.
And there is no doubt that the people on the left who talk about social security want to turn it into welfare… that’s what “scrap the cap” means.
Now, if you have something substantive to say, I’ll listen.
But if you think “mainstream conservative” means anything other than “agrees with the right as to goals but doesn’t like to use the rhetoric, i think you are naive.
They did ask prefer rather than are, but that preference is the attraction of ideology. It saves one from having to think too much.
that’s true. and it’s a perfectly legitimate strategy for the human brain… or any brain… to adapt in a world too complex to analyze everything every time.
but it is what the bad guys from both sides rely on when they give you lies carefully designed to agree with the lies you already believe because they agree with what you really, really want to believe.
i doubt very much that i, even i, can escape this most of the time, though i have become old and cynical (in the diogenes sense). but i did think fairly hard about SS and am as sure as a person can be that i am not being fooled about that. trouble is it does absolutely no good as long as everyone else has their own favorite ideas.
OKTrends had some great stuff in it. Thanks for explaining why it hasn’t been updated lately. I remember the taste of beer question. I’m impressed that you kept it together.
coberly – Do you really think raising taxes on the rich is simple? It seems to take a lot more effort than cutting things for the middle class.