Thursday, July 21, 2016

Not about Trump

This post was inspired by a story about the scarcity of Republicans among prominent rock musicians.   However, it;s not about Trump, but about an idea in the sociology of culture:  that more educated people tend to be "omnivores," who like all genres, rather than liking just a few things.  Of course, this doesn't mean that more educated people like every artist better, but that they like "quality" artists from all genres.  I recently wrote about a 2009 Pew survey that asked people how well they liked various popular musicians.  My impression is that all of the musicians are pretty well regarded by critics, so the "omnivore" idea suggests that education should have a positive correlation with feelings about each one.  The correlations, ranging from highest to lowest:

Frank Sinatra      0.157
Beatles            0.144
Bob Dylan          0.119
Bruce Springsteen  0.099
Coldplay           0.092
Madonna            0.089
Aretha Franklin    0.087
Jefferson Airplane 0.074
Grateful Dead      0.053
Rolling Stones     0.042
Michael Jackson   -0.009
Jimi Hendrix      -0.014
Elvis Presley     -0.020
Kanye West        -0.064
Nirvana           -0.093

Education has a positive correlation with views of ten, and a negative correlation with five.  Eight of the positive correlations and only two of the negative ones are statistically significant (the standard errors vary, but are mostly about 0.03).  So the omnivore hypothesis is right in a general way--more educated people tend to like a broader range of musicians.  But there are striking differences among the correlations for different musicians.  

Two factors that might affect the correlations are when the musician was most popular, since education might increase the chance of being familiar with the older ones, and whether the musician was a tabloid celebrity, which might make educated people regard them less favorably (even though the question asked about the music, it's hard not to think about the general image).  I did a regression with my ratings of when they had their musical peaks and whether they were a tabloid figure, and found some support for both ideas.  But there's still significant variation left unexplained.  The fact that education has a negative correlation with ratings of Nirvana seems particularly interesting, since although they sold a lot of records, they made a point of being outside the mainstream and not being focused on popular success, qualities that would be expected to increase their relative appeal to educated people.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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