Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The value of a stupid question

The survey I discussed in my last post also included this:  "Here is a question about the actor, Charlie Sheen. As you may know, he frequently has used the word 'winning' when talking about himself. Based on what you know about his recent behavior, would you say that Charlie Sheen has mostly been winning or mostly been losing in the past few weeks?"  This was not an issue of lasting importance--in fact, I've forgotten what he was doing except that he was generally thought to be making a fool of himself.   But if you compare people by self-described political views, there was a definite relationship:  12% of the people who said that they were very conservative or conservative thought that he'd been "winning," compared to 25% among people who said that they were "liberal" or "very liberal."  Also, the relationship was stronger among less educated people.   With nearly all political opinions, you get the opposite pattern:  the relationship to self-described ideology is much stronger among educated people. 

This is one of the clearest pieces of evidence for a claim I've made several times:  for many less educated people, statements about whether they are liberal or conservative don't have much to do with their political views, and are more about lifestyle or general morals.  In effect, they may understand "liberal" as meaning something like "libertine." 

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