Sunday, June 19, 2022

Too bad to be true

 Michelle Goldberg had a column arguing that there has recently been a turn against feminism.  One piece of evidence is a poll sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  According to this poll, support for feminism was considerably lower among younger Democrats than among older Democrats.  In Goldberg's summary:

"Predictably, most young Republicans agree with the statement, 'Feminism has done more harm than good.' What was astonishing was how many young Democrats agreed as well. While only 4 percent of Democratic men over 50 thought feminism was harmful, 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 did. Nearly a quarter of Democratic women under 50 agreed, compared with only 10 percent of those 50 and older."  

Here are the figures for all age/party/gender groups.

                 DM             RM                  DW              RW

18-49   41%-46%     31%-62%       71%-23%      34%-52% 

50+      94%-4%       52%-42%       87%-10%      32%-51%

change   -48%              -21%               -15%             +2%

I show the pro-feminist position (disagree) first.  The last row is the change in support for feminism from older to younger, defined as the average of changes in disagree and agree.  For example, among Democratic men, disagree fell by 53 and agree increased by 42, and (53+42)/2 rounds to 48.  So the survey showed a huge drop in support for feminism among Democratic men, substantial drops among Republican men and Democratic women, and essentially no change among Republican women.  

You rarely see numbers like 4% on agree/disagree questions, even among partisans.  For example, in 2012, Gallup asked if "there should or should not be a law that would ban the possessions of handguns, except by police and other authorized persons."  This is an issue that's divided the parties for a long time, and it's hard to imagine a Republican politician supporting it--but 11% of people who identified as Republicans did.  Also, the gap between younger and older Democratic men is implausibly large.  The two groups are just arbitrary divisions in a continuous variable--that is, you're not comparing "young" and "old," but mixed groups that both include a lot of middle-aged people.   

The best match to the SPLC question I could find was in a 2020 Pew survey, which asked "overall, what impact, if any, has feminism had on the lives of" various groups.  The groups included black women, white women, and Hispanic women.  First, I counted "helped" as +1, "hurt" as -1, and "made no difference" as 0.  Then I summed the scores, and counted +3 (helped all groups) as equivalent to disagreeing with the "more harm than good" position, negative scores (hurt more groups than it helped) as agreeing, and scores of 0-2 as mixed.  

The figures for the age/party/gender groups:

                   DM               RM                  DW              RW

18-49      58%-13%      40%-24%       51%-16%      46%-15% 

50+         60%-14%      43%-21%       53%-11%      42%-15%

change       -1%               -3%                  -4%               +2%

They show little generational difference among any group.  Also, although Democrats are more favorable, the partisan differences are smaller than in the SPLC poll.  This seems reasonable to me, since "feminism" can be interpreted in many different ways.  

The SPLC poll shows similarly implausible results on some other questions--for example, only 2% of Democratic men over 50, but 42% of Democratic men aged 18-49 agree that "transgender people are a threat to children."  They didn't give details on their methodology--just said it was from an online panel of 1,500 people--so it's hard to guess what went wrong.  Maybe it was something strange with the weights, so that the group figures are dominated by a few people.  However, that would be more likely to occur in small groups, such as black Republicans, and all of the age/gender/party groups would be expected to be fairly large.  But in any case, the SPLC survey can't be taken seriously.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


  1. How odd.

    For what it's worth, I've been tracking the popularity of feminism for the last 20 years in the UK & it's remained stable and unpopular as opposed to egalitarianism. I wrote about it in a guest blog for Lee Jussim.

  2. Problems with weights don’t seem all that likely to me, since bad weighting would probably produce huge margins of error.

    My suspicion is that they messed up the actual data. The only explanation I can think of for numbers that are this wrong is that somebody screwed up the code while cleaning the data or something.

  3. I think you're right--it was probably a mistake with the data itself.

  4. Might this demand matched-pair questioning couched in the +ve and -ve to uncover question bias? I hate it, but actually do believe its become a "dirty word" and I think this because anecdata. I think a cohort of feminist-positive women are ageing out and a younger cohort has a different view of the label. The amount of "I am not a feminist but (thing which makes you pretty much a feminist)" I hear is .. off the scale. So its dislike of the label, not the underlying theses.