I’m with Stupid

Ted Rall seems to have calmed down a little – this column is more condescending than hysterical. The customary sneering at Jesusland is there, and he does not diminish the importance of hatred and bigotry in explaining the election results, but he seems to feel that stupidity was the major factor. It’s always nice to have Rall’s contribution to rational discourse.

Though there is a religious component to the election results, the biggest red-blue divide is intellectual. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked the headline of the Daily Mirror in Great Britain, and the underlying assumption is undeniable. By any objective standard, you had to be spectacularly stupid to support Bush.

As evidence, he cites a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. I looked up the poll, and it is a real piece of work. Here is a sample question: Is it your impression that the US has or has not found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization? According to the poll, 63% of Bush voters but only 32% of Kerry supporters said that the US had such evidence. Rall cites this as an obvious falsehood. To me, the question seems badly worded and the conclusion is not warranted. It is quite clear that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war. He was in Afghanistan for the war against the US, was wounded, and came to Iraq for treatment. He stayed on to fight the coalition and carry out the blood rituals of his deviant sect. He has re-branded his terrorist outfit as “Al Qaeda in Iraq.” We’ll leave out the Czech intelligence report about Mohammed Atta meeting with Iraqi agents. The connection looks clear enough to me. I suppose Lex and Nito would agree that there may be enough here for an arrest warrant but we would need more for a conviction. Neither do I see enough evidence to convict someone of stupidity for believing it.

The poll also asks opinions on the national economy, compared to the prior year. Bush supporters answered that it had gotten better (48%), while Kerry supporters tended to think it had gotten worse (70%). Again, the question is badly worded, but this time the answers can be checked. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US unemployment rate was about 5.5% when the survey was taken. It had been between 5.7% and 5.4% for 2004, compared to 6.0% for 2003. Gross domestic product grew at 3.0% in 2003, and at 3.7% annualized for the third quarter of 2004 (US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis). If giving a “wrong” answer to a badly-worded survey is proof of stupidity, well …

Finally, maybe I’m just too suspicious, but PIPA, on whose survey Rall bases his meager analysis, did not even publish its entire survey or the complete results. The questions “to be released” are questions 3-6, 7b-12, 12b, 18, 19, 22, 23, 27-32, 35, 39-40, and 42a-44. It makes me wonder if they failed to make the Bush supporters look sufficiently stupid.

Perhaps encouraged by the low standard set by PIPA, Rall tries some statistics himself:

Educational achievement doesn’t necessarily equal intelligence. After all, Bush holds a Harvard MBA. Still, it bears noting that Democrats are better educated than Republicans. You are 25 percent more likely to hold a college degree if you live in the Democratic northeast than in the red state south. Blue state voters are 25 percent more likely, therefore, to understand the historical and cultural ramifications of Bush’s brand of bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy.

By the same logic, Mitch is a geek; Bill Gates is a geek; therefore Mitch is Bill Gates. No, really, Ted that doesn’t work, and the bank won’t cash my check for a million dollars. Without going through a couple of layers of supposition, here are the results of the election by level of education. Bush won among high school graduates, people with some college, and college graduates, stated in terms of highest educational attainment. Kerry won those with less than a high school education and those with post-graduate study. Kerry’s winning categories came to 20% of the electorate. That’s a tough way to win an election, or maybe I’m just too stupid to do the math.

A hat tip to Jardine Davies.

Update 11/21/04: Ted Rall proved a little too much for the Washington Post, which has dropped his cartoon. Naturally, he believes this is censorship. Ted, read the first amendment again. The first five words are “Congress shall make no law…”

11 thoughts on “I’m with Stupid”

  1. “Bush won among high school graduates, people with some college, and college graduates. Kerry won those with less than a high school education and those with post-graduate study.”

    I think the statement that Bush won among college graduates is wrong, at least based on the exit poll data, which is what you cite. It’s true that the table which shows college graduates and post graduate degree holders separately has Bush with a majority in the former and Kerry in the latter. But just below there is a table which shows those with college degrees vs those without–and the two candidates are tied among college graduates.

    I think that in the table you were looking at, “college graduate” actually means “college graduate without postgrad study.” That’s consistent with the fact that the five categories sum to 100%.

    I should add that I thought I saw somewhere else a report of a poll done after the election which showed Bush with a majority of college graduates–but I haven’t been able to find it.

  2. David,

    Who cares? Unless, of course, you buy into Rall’s argument that only dumb people voted for Bush.

    Quibbling over the relatively miniscule percentage differences in post-graduate, college graduate, some college, high school graduate and high-school dropout voters for certain candidates is inane. It’s nothing more than a schoolyard taunt to no or ill effect. By applying the same exit-poll metric to voter preference by gender, I could state that real men vote Republican while feminized men vote Democrat. Or, using economic status or criminal behavior metrics, I could state that welfare recipients and criminals disproportionately prefer Democrats.

    But I don’t see how this advances the debate. Both parties seek to build viable coalitions among different groups of voters – disparaging one group or making tenuous assertions seems terribly counter-productive. Rall engages in a polemical style that divides Americans yet, ironically, drives moderate, swing and other marginally non-partisan voters away. Try as you might to bolster his case, all you do is hurt is cause. After all, calling voters dumb isn’t going to persuade them to vote for your candidate.

  3. Actually i like David’s point. I think a mild correction to “Bush won among high school graduates and people with some college, and at least tied among college graduates.” does not weaken the argument and insulates it against the breezy “Oh, it’s wrong,” conclusions among folks who don’t want to agree and check the data. James Taranto in the 8 Nov “Opinion Journal” was similarly cautious:

    But are teach-ins enough? Exit polls showed that Bush and Kerry did equally well among voters with a college degree, with Kerry taking a majority only among those who have done postgraduate study–and even among them, 44% went for Bush. Some people just never learn!

    This may be the source of David’s impression that there was another poll, because i had the same impression.

    I don’t know about other folk, but i do repeat what i learn here in more hostile environments. And so i appreciate both the insulation and the tone of the presentation.

    However, what i really like Tim’s point on the more likely consequences of the “You must be an idiot” line. It may make the elite feel more elite to say it, but it seems to me it further barricades them into ivory towers.

    Matya no baka

  4. Like the Ivory Tower Chair Queens he looks to emulate, Rall points to a survey as proof of stupidity which, if accurate, documents ignorance, an entirely different thing. His hypothesis – 60 million Americans have subnormal intelligence – is not confirmed by his disingenuous citation of an irrelevent study. The survey’s inherent deficencies of methodology and technique would render it useless for most purposes anyway.

    The only question Rall’s “analysis” raises for me – Is he willfully ignorant…or merely stupid?

  5. Tim responds to my correction with “Who cares? Unless, of course, you buy into Rall’s argument that only dumb people voted for Bush.”

    I care. One ought not to make false statements, even inadvertently, and when one comes across such statements correcting them is useful. Conversation is not entirely about “which side are you on.” It also is, or should be, about what is true.

    If Tim adopts the position that only conclusions matter and whether the facts used to argue for thos conclusions are true or not is unimportant, sensible people will conclude that the purported facts in his arguments are quite likely not to be true. Since checking all purported facts is a lot of trouble, they will (sensibly) pay attention to other people’s arguments instead.

  6. OK, David, I clarified it to state that the categories were “stated in terms of highest educational attainment.” The classes are now discrete, so that post-graduate does not contain both high school and college graduates. The table below the one I cited uses broader categories.

    The underlying point remains that Rall’s abuse of statistics fails to bear out his argument. I wanted to address the shoddy logic used in making the argument that Bush voters, as a class, are more stupid than Kerry voters. I cannot disprove this assertion and in fact did not try. I was trying instead to show that the arguments in the affirmative are deeply flawed (PIPA survey) or entirely specious (Rall).

    Among the other issues I did not address:
    1. An evaluation of the probable success of calling someone stupid while seeking his vote.
    2. A comparison of the belief in a supreme being to a belief in the foreign policy expertise of Madonna, in terms of having a defensible basis for such belief.
    3. The intelligence of either candidate, or of their supporters.
    4. The talents and mental abilities of Ted Rall.
    5. Regional distribution of IQ scores (there’s a new urban legend circulating on this).

    Some of these may be worth taking up at a later time, except of course for any topic involving Madonna.

  7. What the snidely intellectual (not to be confused with intelligent) post-graduate degree holding snobs who are the most liberal and vote most Democratic don’t seem to understand is that an education provides knowledge NOT intelligence. Intelligence is somthing you are born withand must be exercised through constant use. More than any other group, liberals suffer from a syndrome I would call “educated beyond their intelligence”.

  8. Instapundit linked to a chart that noted that professions that used words (instead of actions) were more likely to vote Democratic; I suspect there is truth to that, even if the people of this blog tend to love words and few voted for Kerry. But another point we might make is that longer work hours, a more precarious work environment, and more individual responsibility leads to a sense of empowerment, an “I can” sense, that is often lacking in more professorial jobs. (I suspect if you did a study of creative writers, you would find that most are – albeit uneasily and often not happily – carrying the relatively light yoke of “writer in residence”.) For years I was miserable because of the choices my husband and I made about thirty years ago – but looking back I am glad I learned that I could, indeed, do something other than teach English. Of course, I am happier using words and talking about literature. But I could feel certain emotional muscles expand with every weighted decision I had to make, every loan I took out and every loan I paid off.

  9. Is it fair to assume that people at the postgraduate-study educational level are most likely to be employed in academia? That seems reasonable, but at the moment I can’t put my fingers on any numbers. If it is true, then I would be interested to see some numbers for postgrads in academia vs. postgrads employed elsewhere.

  10. I doubt doctors vote like academics.

    This sense of post-graduate academic work as a sinecure was probably a bit misleading in that clearly this is not that “certain” a track. But it does mean that a) there is considerable peer influence to fit into a certain mindset – both in grad school, in choice of fields, and in pre-tenure time and b) the system as it now is leads to an infantilization that comes from being a “student” – at least for liberal arts people – into the late twenties and even thirties, followed by six years of “probation” leading up to tenure. Then the certainty is beyond that in about any other job.

    This is more likely to be “certain” if a scholar is pursuing an approach closer to those of the left than the right. But most of all, it leaves the academic with little control, little clear responsibility for his own fate. And in this country the vast majority are paid by the government (even private schools depend on student loans to pay tuitions, on government grants for research, etc.).

    This is why the people in my household (both of us teach in public schools) seldom complain about the level of taxation – to do so would be hypocritical. We may end up where the people on this blog do quite often theoretically, but we do know who pays us.

  11. Ginny – agreed that doctors are unlikely to vote like academics. Another way to look at it:

    When i was an ARPAnaut, the company i worked for made money (profit) from the government contracts that my division worked on. We also had a “commercial products division” that lost money. But it was worth while supporting the commercial products.

    Why, given they lost money year after year? Well, it turns out that companies pay their bills. So the maintenance on the commercial products paid for the salaries for the whole company.

    The government, however, paid bills when it felt like it. We ARPAnauts got our profit, but in very sporadic payments that would have left the payroll unpaid had it been the only source of income.

    Ever wonder why high Medicare incidence hospitals tend to go out of business?

    Matya no baka

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