Saturday, May 15, 2021

Tolerance, part 7

 A couple of weeks ago, Philip Bump had a column about Senator Tim Scott's response to Joe Biden.  One of Scott's themes was criticism of "cancel culture."  Bump said:

"Scott’s argument about discussions of race centered on education because of the right’s current focus on 'cancel culture,' on the idea that there is a concerted effort to silence people who aren’t adhering to certain cultural standards. The General Social Survey has an interesting bit of data speaking to that issue, as it turns out. The survey asks Americans if racists should be allowed to teach — in other words, if individuals who are racist should be teachers. About 37 percent of Democrats say they should be allowed to teach, while about half of Republicans hold that position."

"This is admittedly an unusual scenario, but it does speak to the broader debate. This is an individual embedded in the educational system. Half of Republicans don't take issue with that person being there."

Bump's figures appear to be from the 2018 GSS, but the question goes back to the 1970s.  People who called themselves liberals were traditionally more likely to say that the "person who believes that blacks are genetically inferior" should be allowed to teach in a college or university.  This relationship has shifted--in 2018, people who called themselves "extremely liberal" were less likely to think that the person should be allowed to teach and there were no clear differences among other ideological groups.  As far as party, over the whole period independents were most likely to say that the person should be allowed to teach, followed by Republicans, with Democrats the least likely.  In 2018, Democrats were least likely (38%), Republicans most likely (51%), and independents in the middle (42%).  

In an effort to get some insight into why these changes happened, I looked at the association of opinions on this issue with some other opinions:  four questions about the reasons for racial inequality, one on whether there should be a law against discrimination in home sales, and one on whether there should be laws against interracial marriage.  In order to keep the signs straight, I coded the answers as liberal or conservative, with "liberal" defined as:  inequality due to discrimination, inequality not due to in-born ability, inequality due to chance for education, inequality not due to motivation and willpower, homeowner should not be allowed to discriminate, should not be a law against marriage between blacks and whites, and a racist should be allowed to teach in college.  (Some people would disagree about the last one, but it's my blog and I'll call it the liberal position if I want to).  So a positive association means that liberal opinions on that issue go with the liberal position on tolerance.  Because most of the variables are binary and some have lopsided distributions, I use log-odds as the measure of association.  To reduce sampling variation, I consider groups of years, which are 1976-84, 1994-2004, and 2014-18. 

                                    1976-84    1994-2004        2014-18

Discrim                        .23            -.18                -.19

Ability                         .34              .22                 .43

Educ                            .36              .10                -.10

Willpower                    .55             .33                  .35

Housing                       .04            -.14                  -.39

Marriage                       .65            .33                  *

  In the early period, belief that a racist should be allowed to teach in a college was associated with more liberal opinions on all issues (although the association with opinions on open housing was very small).  There has been a shift--now it is associated with more conservative opinions on three of the issues.  However, it's not a complete reversal--people who say that racial inequality is due to differences in in-born ability or lack of willpower among blacks are still more likely to say that the racist should not be allowed to teach.  That may seem like a contradiction--people saying that people who share their views should not be allowed to teach--so I'll give the cross-tabulation for 2014-8 to show that I'm not making a mistake:

                                                                          Allowed           Not allowed           N

Yes, differences due to in-born ability                   37%                  63%               332

No, not due to in-born ability                                 45%                    55%              938

Why do we get this pattern of change?  In an earlier post, I said that there were two views about the relationship between tolerance and ideology:  "now the left has a dominant position in some major social institutions (particularly academia and the media), it has the power to repress and is starting to like it.  On the other side, the right is weak in those institutions, so it's now calling for tolerance.  .  . .   On the other side, the main argument is there is some basic psychological affinity between the left/right views and attitudes towards authority--the left tends to be suspicious of authority, while the right tends to be pro-authority (and sometimes authoritarian)."  Maybe both are true, and they don't work in exactly opposite directions?  It's often been observed that liberals tend to have a more optimistic view of human nature.  One aspect of this optimism is a belief that most people can come to the right decision if they're given a chance to listen to all points of views.  Conservatives are more likely to think that some people just don't have the ability or desire to think things through.    Putting it together:  conservatives are generally more likely favor the general principle that people have to be protected against bad ideas, but liberals are increasingly likely to think that the idea that blacks are genetically inferior is especially bad and less constrained by concern that repression could be turned against the left.  The reason that this doesn't lead to a reversal of all the associations is that the questions about ability and willpower tap more strongly into the "protect against bad ideas" aspect of the conservative disposition. 

*question not asked

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