Hearing what you want to hear

So, I was listening to last week’s Slate Political Gabfest when special guest, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (and object of David Plotz’s fandom) casually mentioned that the study showing that conservatives are more authoritarian had been retracted for getting it’s findings 180 degrees wrong.  This definitely caught my attention as I had noticed in some earlier comments (before I stopped reading them) to my Washington Post piece that a number of readers were entirely skeptical with our findings regarding an “authoritarian” parenting style.  I didn’t expect the respected-for-his-relative-Republican-sanity to just be parroting misguided talking points, but I guess I gave him too much credit.

Anyway, here’s the deal, the evidence that Republicans and conservatives are more authoritarian than liberals and Democrats is quite overwhelming (nice summary of it in Vox).

Now, there was a study not long ago in AJPS about Psychoticism (not quite what it sounds like) that originally found this:

Having a high Psychoticism score is not a diagnosis of being clinically psychotic or psychopathic. Rather, P is positively correlated with tough-mindedness, risk-taking, sensation-seeking, impulsivity, and authoritarianism [emphasis mine] (Adorno et al. 1950; Altemeyer 1996; Eysenck and Eysenck 1985, McCourt et al. 1999). In social situations, those who score high on P are more uncooperative, hostile, troublesome, and socially withdrawn, but lack feelings of inferiority and have an absence of anxiety. At the extremes, those scoring high on P are manipulative, tough-minded, and practical (Eysenck 1954). By contrast, people low on P are more likely to be more altruistic, well socialized, empathic, and conventional (Eysenck and Eysenck 1985; Howarth 1986). As such, we expect higher Pscores to be related to more conservative political attitudes, particularly for militarism and social conservatism.

Now, notice that this study is about psychoticism a personality trait that, despite being published in the pages of the 2nd most prestigious PS journal, I’ve literally never heard anybody discuss in relation to real-world politics– in marked contrast to authoritarianism.  So, interesting, but really nothing much more than that.  And again, it is only correlated with authoritarianism, among many other correlates.

So, things get interesting when it turns out the authors had an absolutely monumental screw-up (and one I mentioned in quick hits a while back):

 The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. [emphasis mine] Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck’s psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative.

Whoa.  Amazingly embarrassing and appalling.  Nice summary of the matter at Reason.  Am I now abashed that liberals are more likely to have the anti-social tendencies of psychoticism?  Nope.  Again, interesting but not like this is a personality trait that has proven particularly interesting or useful in explaining politics.

Anyway, what is quite interesting to me is how it has clearly become very widespread for conservatives to believe this somehow refutes the link between conservatism and authoritarianism despite the fact that this present research is only tangentially related while there is a whole body of unchallenged scholarship finding that key relationship.  Just search for– conservatives authoritarian retraction– and you fill find a whole host of articles/posts like this from the Washington Examiner:

Who would have guessed that a study conforming to every liberal media narrative about conservatives would turn out to be complete and utter garbage?

It turns out that the study, titled “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” got its conclusions switched, meaning what it determined to be personality traits of conservatives were actually the personality traits of liberals.

The paper originally stated that, “In line with our expectations, P [for “Psychoticism”] (positively related to tough-mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social conservatism and conservative military attitudes.”

Surprise! The authors set out believing conservatives were authoritarian and they “proved” they were right. [emphasis mine]

So, there you have it.  The conservative world is now entirely convinced that the authoritarian-conservative link– a very real, very consequential phenomenon– is just a made-up liberal academic fantasy.  Of course, it is also fair to wonder how the ideology of the authors of the AJPS study affected their long delay in uncovering their mistake.  Hmm, I guess we can all go on keeping believing what we want to.  Social science got it horribly wrong in this case.  But given the alternative, I’ll stick with it.

Photo of the day

Came across this on FB in a series of photos that were among White House photographer Pete Souza’s favorites.  For some reason, I just love this one.

President Barack Obama eats a peach following a town hall meeting at Kroger’s Supermarket in Bristol, Va. on July 29, 2009. Seconds later, the President handed a dollar bill to the CEO of Kroger’s, who attended the event. (Official White House Photo...

President Barack Obama eats a peach following a town hall meeting at Kroger’s Supermarket in Bristol, Va. on July 29, 2009. Seconds later, the President handed a dollar bill to the CEO of Kroger’s, who attended the event. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


Trump and the polls

Jamelle Bouie argues that when it comes to the polls, Trump is only going down:

More than half of Republicans want someone else to lead their party in the fall,according to a new Fox News survey of the electorate, with the greatest anti-Trump sentiment among Republican women and Republicans with college degrees. Overall, as Phillip Bump shows for the Washington Post, using data from HuffPost Pollster, Trump wins an average of around 80 percent of Republicans, down from May when his support among co-partisans reached the mid-80s. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, wins close to 86 percent of Democrats. Likewise, according to a new survey of swing states by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, Clinton has consolidated 89 percent of Democrats while Trump holds only 80 percent of Republicans. In a national election, a difference in party unity of five or six percentage points can be dispositive, especially if one candidate is winning a higher-than-normal number of voters on the other side. And that’s where Clinton stands: She pulls around 8 percent of Republicans, while Trump wins around 5 percent of Democrats.

Once again, however, it’s only July. The conventions—where nominees are buffed and shined and celebrated in primetime—haven’t happened yet. Republicans could remember that they’re Republicans and return to Trump’s column in a spasm of post-convention partisan loyalty. And indeed, this is what we would see if Trump were more like a typical candidate. The problem for his campaign, and for the GOP writ large, is that he’s extremely atypical. In addition to his erratic behavior and offensive, often demagogic rhetoric (the attacks on federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel are exhibit A here), Trump rejects the Republican consensus on economic policy, and is silent on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. He’s made little effort to assuage or appeal to party donors and faces a backlash from skittish party elites. Some delegates want to derail Trump at the convention, while dozens of prominent Republicans, from senators and governors to ex-presidents and former nominees, just aren’t attending.Mitt Romney is loudly anti-Trump, as are other GOP heavyweights. John Kasich is still governor of Ohio and he’s not attending the convention, which Republicans are holding in Cleveland. Far from a coronation of Trump, there’s every indication that this convention will be a bonanza of chaos and confusion.

This matters. If a normal convention boosts party unity by activating and celebrating partisan identity, a chaotic one corrodes it by highlighting anger and division in the ranks. Most nominees receive a boost after they officially claim the nomination: It stabilizes the race and sets the stage for the fall. In fact, it’s the August after the convention when polls reach their most stable and reliable state. Donald Trump, however, might be the exception.

Without a weeklong endorsement from Republican stars and luminaries—and with wide coverage of any division and disruption—there’s a strong chance that Trump gains nothing from his convention. It might even hurt him. [emphasis mine]

I’m a little more open-minded about how the Republican convention will go, but let’s just say it would not be at all surprising if Trump fails to get a convention bounce.  Meanwhile, I suspect Clinton will get a modest, but real, convention bounce.

Anyway, I’ve got a theory about how Trump may do in the election that is very much related to his strength in the polls.  I think that if come September of October Trump is polling as a very likely loser, he is going to have a substantial downward spiral of support.  I think there’s a lot of college-educated Republicans who are supporting Trump because he’s the Republican nominee, but are basically embarrassed to being supporting a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, know-nothing, buffoon.  It’s one thing to support the guy in a close election– there’s a lot at state.  Supreme Court, anyone?  But if it looks pretty clear that Trump is going to lose, there’s really not much point in holding your nose and apologizing to your kids years from now that you embarrassingly voted for this guy.  You might as well just abstain from the presidential election or vote for Gary Johnson.

So, short version, I think if Trump can keep the gap at, oh, five points or less, and have at least some polls showing him within the margin of error, he hangs onto pretty much all his support.  But if Trump is pretty consistently trailing by >5 in all the polls and there’s a clear media narrative that he’s going to lose I think this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and many Republicans that were supporting him despite themselves just stop doing so and he hemorrhages support.  I think it may actually be more likely for him to lose by 10% than to lose by 6-7%.

For now, it’s just speculation.  In another month, after the conventions, I think we’ll have a very clear idea where this election is heading.

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