Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Literature and Politics, part 2

A 2010 survey sponsored by Vanity Fair magazine and 60 Minutes asked "Which of the following American writers has made the most important contribution to literature -- Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Dan Brown, or Stephen King?"  46% said Twain, followed by 18% for Hemingway.  Dickinson narrowly beat out King (8.8% to 8.6%).  3.5% chose Morrison, and Brown was last at 0.6%.  The rest said that they couldn't or wouldn't choose.  

The survey also contained a question about whether President Obama deserved to be re-elected:  about 27% said he did, 36% that he didn't, and 36% that it was too soon to say.  If you take percentage saying he deserved re-election minus percentage saying he didn't, here is how it breaks down by opinion about contributions to literature:

Twain          -15
Hemingway      -16
Morrison       +60
Dickinson       -7
King            +3

I leave Dan Brown out since only a handful of people chose him.  People who chose Morrison clearly stand out in terms of support for Obama (only 2% said he didn't deserve to be re-elected).  However, people who chose King are substantially more favorable than those who chose Twain or Hemingway.  It's hard to be sure about Dickinson.  

Of course, there were differences in the kind of people who chose the different authors, but even after controlling for race, education, income, and age, people who chose Morrison or King were more likely to say that Obama should be re-elected.  The survey also had some questions about approval or disapproval of Obama's performance in various areas, as well as Democratic and Republican positions on health care, and the same pattern showed up with those (there were no clear differences among those who chose Twain, Hemingway, or Dickinson).  So as my last post suggested, people who read Stephen King tend to be on the liberal/Democratic side.  However, this doesn't show up with self-rated political ideology, on which people who chose King were essentially the same as the rest of the sample.  

The Vanity Fair/60 Minutes surveys often include unusual questions, and this one also asked "If you could choose any of the following places and times in history to return to, which would you choose -- 1. Arriving in America on the Mayflower, 2. The Summer of Love in 1967, 3. Ancient Rome, 4. When dinosaurs ruled the Earth, 5. The Wild West, 6. The Roaring Twenties, or 7. The best time and place is here and now?"  In the sample as a whole, 45% chose here and now; the 20s, the Summer of Love, and the Wild West were roughly tied for second with about 13% each.  People who chose King were less likely to favor the present (35%) and the Wild West (9%), and more likely to favor the Summer of Love (23%).  

To summarize, it seems that people who like Stephen King are not strongly ideological, but are kind of discontented with the way things are.  That could explain their tendency to favor the Democrats.  

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