Saturday, April 5, 2014

I'm not prejudiced, but....

Writing in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, Jill Lepore noted that polls now show that people overwhelmingly say yes when asked if they would vote for a qualified woman for president.  She adds, "But the question requires respondents to self-report on the kind of thing, like church attendance, that they tend to overstate. In 2005, Gallup asked a different question: Do you think most of your neighbors would vote for a woman for President? Thirty-four per cent said no."  From the context, it seems that she is interpreting the answers about what "your neighbors" would do as a more accurate measure of real opinions.

Is this a reasonable interpretation?  I did a cross-tabulation of gender by ideology by answers to two questions, one about what you would do, the other about your neighbors (each question was asked to a randomly selected half of the sample).  The numbers below are the percent saying "yes":

                        You        Neighbors            
Conservative men         88%          61%                    
Conservative women       72%          55%                    
Moderate men             93%          77%                    
Moderate women           90%          66%                  
Liberal men              94%          67%                    
Liberal women            98%          67%                  

Answers about whether you would vote for a women have a strong relation to self-described ideology, especially among women.  Opinions about what your neighbors would do have a weaker relationship.  In fact, moderates are more likely to say that their neighbors would support a woman for president than liberals are.

If you think that the answers to the question about neighbors is a more accurate measure of true beliefs, you have to conclude that a lot of liberal women would not vote for a woman for president, which seems very unlikely.  The more plausible interpretation is that people are answering the question about neighbors in a straightforward way, and people generally think that they are less prejudiced than most other people.

[Note:  data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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