Political Brand Loyalty

May 31, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Show people a quotation and tell them it’s from Thomas Jefferson, most will agree. Tell them it’s from Lenin, more will disagree. It’s about the brand as much as the content of the quote.

Apparently, brand loyalty is just about the only thing the Republicans have going for them these days. That’s the conclusion of Republican pollster Glen Bolger. He gave people statements about Iraq, taxes, the economy, and trade. In the “Partisan” condition, people were told which position was Republican and which Democratic. In the “Nonpartisan” condition, people were read the statements without party attribution.
Iraq and trade both follow the exact same pattern. We’re getting smashed on both issues on the partisan test, but when you look at the nonpartisan test where our damaged image isn’t a factor, the numbers get even worse among Independents and Republicans.
On taxes, when Republicans are told whose message is whose, they go for the Republican view by 39%. But when they’re given the positions without attribution, even the Republicans go for the Democratic message by 14%. (Hiding the source makes only a slight difference among Independents and Democrats.)

(To see the chart in a visible size, click on it. For the full report, go here.)

Hat tip to Josh Kahn at the conservative
The Next Right.

Ad Hominem

May 29, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Sounds like a left-wing blogger,” said Karl Rove scornfully of the new book by Scott McClellan. I’m not sure which of those terms, left-wing or blogger, Rove intends as more damning, but together, apparently, they are devastating.

Rove’s reaction also reminds me of something my father said decades ago as we watched a TV news item in which some politician was responding to accusations made by an opponent. When the politician had finished, my father said, “He called him a son-of-a-bitch, but he didn’t call him a liar.”

I’ve cited this bon mot before, but it’s relevant again. In case you hadn’t heard, McClellan, a former Bush press secretary, describes in the book how the White House deceived the press and the public. His former colleagues, understandably, are not pleased.

Here are some quotes gathered from various news stories.
  • “Here’s a man who owes his whole career to George W. Bush, and here he’s stabbing him in the back and no one knows why . . . He appears to be dancing on his political grave for cash.” Trent Duffy, Scott McClellan’s deputy.
  • “His view is limited.. . . For him to do this now strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional.” Fran Townsend, former head of the White House-based counterterrorism office.
  • “I’m really stumped. If he had these misgivings in 2002 ... why did he take the job, if he thought it was propaganda?” Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary.
  • “Sad . . . puzzling . . . . This is not the Scott we knew.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.
  • “If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them. And frankly, I don’t remember him speaking up about these things. I don’t remember a single word.” Karl Rove.
  • “Scott McClellan was not the press secretary. He was the deputy press secretary who dealt with domestic issues,So, he would not have even been really have access to the types of meetings and deliberations that the president participated in.” Dan Bartlett, a former White House counselor.
As social scientists, we’re supposed to look at evidence. These statements all aim to discredit McClellan’s character and motives but say nothing about the substance of his book. They’re saying he’s a son-of-a-bitch, but they’re not saying he’s a liar. I wonder if anyone will notice.

Sociology on Trial II

May 28, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

In my day and a half on jury duty last week, I never even made it into the box for voir dire.

Long ago, when I first started doing jury duty in Manhattan and the system was less efficient, you had to count on being there at least ten days. It was summer, and the air conditioning was just what you see in “12 Angry Men” (which takes place in this same building) – none.

I was called for several cases, but at voir dire, prosecutors would never allow me on a jury. (In principle, you don’t know which lawyer – prosecutor or defense – has rejected you, but it was pretty easy to guess.)

I wanted to be a juror. Not Henry Fonda, just another juror. Hell, a trial had to be more interesting than hanging around the central jury room.

One afternoon, after the lunch break, I went to the men’s room, and by chance, there was the prosecutor who that morning had rejected me.

“Why’d you toss me off your case?” I asked as innocently as possible.

“You kidding?” he said, “A sociologist? You people don’t think anyone’s responsible for what they do.”

I still wonder what I should have said.

Nostalgia, New York Style

May 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The Times put up an online link where readers can list their own answers to “What Do You Miss Most About Old New York?”

The hook for the story was the announcement Thursday that New York may bring back double-decker buses. Today, the Times Metro section has an article with photos of the Automat and the 1964 World’s Fair and references to the Dodgers and boom boxes.

Nostalgia is apparently very popular, at least among Times readers. In the first 24 hours, the link has gotten over 400 responses. It’s not an unbiased sample, but if you’re looking for a nostalgia database, it’s a place to start.

There’s a lot of price nostalgia. Of course, the people who remember getting the Journal-American for a nickel and a theater ticket for $6.60 omit any mention of their annual income then and now. And as someone points out, in a few years, we’ll fondly remember the $5 cup of coffee.

Many of the items are about restaurants, bars, clubs, and stores that are no longer around. They’ve been replaced by other restaurants, bars, etc. that the next generation will wax nostalgic about. But as one Maury F implies in a wonderfully sarcastic post, some aspects of the current cityscape will never be a source of nostalgia.
Banks. I miss banks. Have you noticed there aren’t any more BANKS in Ol’ Gotham? Can’t find a one anywhere. And drugstores! Oh, how I miss seeing those Duane Reade’s and CVS’s and Walgreens. . . . And coffee, dammit! Where’s my double-latte? Can’t find me a decent cup of coffee nowheres no more. Oh, and chain stores — if all of the rest of the country has all them nice stores in all them nice malls, why can’t we??? . . .I miss the old days when New York wasn’t so unique.
Some people miss the subway token even though the Metrocard is far more convenient. On the other hand, Checker cabs (mentioned by at least 20 people) are a real loss. They really were more comfortable and easier to get in and out of.

The most contentious issue is urban disorder, and the flash point is Times Square, once seedy but now Disney-clean. One poster quotes Jimmy Breslin – “gimme the hookers!”– and another says, “Bring back the porn.” Other posters dismiss this sentiment. “Yeah, I really miss the prostitutes, squeequee shakedown artists, and crumbling tax base of “old New York”. How about some bankruptcy and racial violence while we’re at it?”

One poster, recognizing a tradeoff between sleaze and rent wants “just enough crime to drive housing costs down to an affordable level.” But someone else responds, “Living in fear of getting mugged/raped is NOT an acceptable tradeoff for low rents and cozy brick tenement buildings.”

Is there any good research on how real estate prices and crime are related? Do decreases in crime drive up prices in the same way that increases in crime drive down prices, and with similar lag times? Do different types of crime have different effects? (If I were still in the crim biz, I’d probably know more about these questions, but alas I’m not, and I don’t.)

Sociology on Trial

May 24, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jury duty. The man in charge in the central jurors’ room, a sixtyish man named Walter something-or-other, gave his announcements and instructions with a dry and delightful sense of humor that made the waiting bearable.

We filled out our “ballots” with name, address, occupation, and date of birth and took them up to the desk. When I handed mine in, Walter looked at it and asked, “What do you profess?”

“Sociology,” I said.

He paused only a second as if trying to remember something from long ago. “So we all suffer from . . . what? Anomie?”

“Right,” I said. We were both pleased.

Paris Dreams

May 21, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

French political culture differs from US political culture (see yesterday's post and posters). Other cultural differences also turn up dans les rues.

I wonder how long this Paris driver could keep on truckin' in the US before he got arrested (though not on kiddie porn charges, despite yesterday's efforts by Scalia, et. al. ; the ad guarantees that the model is 25 years old.)

Tip of the cap (lens cap, that is) to Misplaced in the Midwest.

"Unemployable Sociology Graduates"

May 20, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

From an article on Sarkozy in the Economist
Last summer Mr Sarkozy granted the universities autonomy from central state control. This has freed them to recruit the lecturers they want, at salaries they negotiate, and to set up private foundations—with tax breaks for donors—to complement public finance. The idea, says one government adviser, is to encourage a dozen of the most go-ahead universities, such as Toulouse l, to transform themselves into centres of excellence, even if the rest carry on churning out unemployable sociology graduates as before.
This from the issue of May 1. Forty years earlier in France, an unemployable sociology student, Daniel Cohn-Bendit was one of the leaders of a movement that nearly brought down the DeGaulle government.

In the US, the workers (“hard hats”) were beating up student demonstrators, and even today, despite an extraordinarily unpopular administration and an unpopular war, there is still resentment of “elitist” educated types. We find it hard to imagine students and workers uniting against the government, especially against an administration headed by a military hero. But that’s what happened in France in May of 1968.

You can find photos here and here .

Trucking Ritual Among the Westbound

May 17, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

So there I was sitting in traffic near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel this morning and thinking about – oh, I don’t know, the usual I guess: the Celtics’ loss last night, sex, classic articles that get anthologized in just about every intro sociology reader. That sort of thing. I glanced over at the truck next to me, and saw this.

Once out of the tunnel, I pulled alongside for another view.

If you look closely through the window, you can see Horace Miner in the driver’s seat.

What's In a Name Tag?

May 16, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston
The discussion over on Scatterplot about ASA meetings has a subthread about name tags – what to put on them (insitutional affiliation? interests?) and whether to have them at all.

My first ASA experience with name tags is exactly the same lesson in gender studies that Dave Pike mentions in his Scatterplot comment: for the first time in my life, I understood what it felt like to have people constantly looking at my chest when they first met me.*

Maybe we should wear hats – like reporters in the 1940s movies – with our names just above the brim.

*This adds another level of significance to the SNL spoof of Annette that I mentioned a couple of posts back.

I, You, We

May 14, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

One of the things that bothers me about Hillary Clinton is that I don’t think she really believes in democracy. Or rather, she believes in democracy the same way that the people in the Cheney-Bush administration believe in democracy. It’s an O.K. way to elect a president but an inconvenient way to run a government.

Democracy, or their version of it, is best summed up as “electing our king.”* They see their election as a mandate to rule as they see fit. And because they are the ones who know best, sharing power and information with others would just be inefficient. What they want, and what they believe is necessary, is the concentration of power.

Why, I wonder, do I think that Hillary doesn’t really trust others and that her approach to government would be a continuation of the current administration’s arrogation of power and information? I have little evidence beyond the way she tried to run the health-care policy reform initiative in the early days of the Clinton White House. Other evidence may exist; I’m just not enough of a political junkie to have collected it.

More to the point, why do I think that Obama would be substantially different? Where did I get these impressions?

I’m not sure. But brands consultant Claude Singer has an answer: pronouns.
The key to understanding this primary struggle and the ultimate victory of Obama over Clinton lies in the pronouns. Hillary is about I and you. I will do this for you. . . . You are in trouble and I will help you. I will fight on and on… for you. I – it’s very much about what I am, have been, will do – am here for you. . . . Hillary is pleading for us to help her… and in return Hillary promises that she will help you.
Obama is all about We.

Claude hedges his bets. “I’m not speaking of the words themselves, not literally.”

But what if we did take the idea literally, word for word, pronoun for pronoun?

I did a quick-and-dirty with the texts of speeches I could find easily on the Internet. These included the speeches of both candidates after SuperTuesday, Clinton’s speech after the West Virginia primary last night, and Obama’s speech on race in response to the Rev. Wright flap. I counted all the instances of I, We, and You (including contracted forms like I’ll and You’ve but excluding the thank yous and you knows). I divided by the total word count of each speech to get a rate per 1,000 words. Here are the results.

We usually has the highest frequency for both candidates – Clinton’s West Virginia speech is probably an exception, but worth noting nevertheless. Clearly, the We/I and We/You ratios are higher for Obama – even in the Race speech, where he had to discuss his own experiences with race, religion, and Wright.

I do believe that the candidates’ styles of speaking, including their choice of pronouns, reveal a difference in their styles of thinking and that while Clinton prefers the concentration of power, Obama looks more favorably on the diffusion of power. Can this decentralizing tendency survive the structural pressures of the White House? I hope we find out.

*I was sure that this was the title of a book some years back, but Google and Amazon though I might, I cannot find it.

The Old College Try

May 9, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Rejection is tough.

About a month ago, high school seniors heard from the colleges they’d applied to. There were a lot more rejections than acceptances. That’s just the math. This year’s seniors are the product of a birth-rate peak in 1990, and not only were there more kids, but each kid was sending out more applications – not to three or five schools but to a dozen. The numbers are especially daunting at the elite schools. Harvard and Yale had more than ten applicants for every place.

How do you deal with that kind of rejection? At my son’s school (one of New York’s selective public schools), they have a Wall of Rejection – a wall in the main lobby where kids tape their rejection letters.

Apparently, other schools do something similar. At Newton South in Massachusetts, it’s called the Wall of Shame. Bad choice of names. In fact, it should be the Wall of No Shame. When you see all those letters, you come to understand that there’s no shame in being rejected. Disappointment, yes, but not shame. It’s one thing to know in some abstract way that others have been rejected. But seeing the evidence of specific cases –“Omigod, Eric got rejected??” – provides more real comfort. Those rejection letters of the standout students make your own seem less stigmatizing.

One student even created a customized Harvard rejection letter for himself.*
(Click on the letter to see it in a readable size.)

He’s kidding, of course, about his own qualifications.

On the downside, only a day or two after the Wall of Rejection went up, some kids started wearing t-shirts or sweatshirts from the colleges where they had been accepted and would be going in the fall. If you were rejected from Brown (as it seems just about everyone was), you don't want to walk down the hall and see a kid wearing a Brown t-shirt

*The print in this picture may be too small to read, though if you click on the image, you may be able to get a larger version. The letter says in part,
What were you thinking? There is no way I would EVER offer you admission to the class of 2012. Over twenty-seven thousand students, a record number, applied to the entering class. A great majority of the applicants could have been successful here academically, and most candidates presented strong personal and extracurricular credentials as well. You, however, had no business applying here. Your grades are terrible, your scores were awful, and your extracurriculars were non-existent.

Harvard is out of your league, kiddo. Get over it.
And under the signature
P.S. If you appeal this decision, apply for a transfer, or apply for grad school here, I will hunt you down.

The Ecological Fallacy and the Not So Great Divide

May 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Early in the semester, I try to teach the ecological fallacy. Students find correlations of state-level variables and try to come up with explanations. But, I warn them, you can’t infer facts about individuals from facts about states. As an example, I use the fairly strong correlation between the Bush vote in a state and its suicide rate. It can’t be because voting for Bush makes you more likely to commit suicide, I say, nor can it be because those who committed suicide were then more likely to vote for Bush. (Many easy jokes to be had here.)

Many students get it. David Brooks doesn’t. Here’s an excerpt from last Friday’s column.
In the decades since [1958], some social divides, mostly involving ethnicity, have narrowed. But others, mostly involving education, have widened . . . .The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.
In this paragraph, Brooks is talking about differences between individuals — more educated compared with less educated. In the next paragraph, he extends this analysis from smoking and obesity to voting preferences.

This year’s election has revealed a deep cultural gap within the Democratic Party. In state after state (Wisconsin being the outlier), Barack Obama has won densely populated, well-educated areas. Hillary Clinton has won less-populated, less-educated areas. For example, Obama has won roughly 70 percent of the most-educated counties in the primary states. Clinton has won 90 percent of the least-educated counties. In state after state, Obama has won a few urban and inner-ring suburban counties. Clinton has won nearly everywhere else.
Counties with higher levels of education have a higher Obama vote. Brooks explains this county-level correlation in terms of individual differences in education. As John Sides at The Monkey Cage points out, Brooks is committing the ecological fallacy. Exit polls, which survey individuals, show that in Pennsylvania Clinton beat Obama among both the college educated and those without college degrees.

The results give some support to Brooks. Though Sides does not mention it, Clinton’s margin was much greater among the non-college voters (16 points vs. 2 points).

But Sides has other data that show that among Democrats
  • the differences between these two groups are very small
  • the gap between them has not widened

Here, for example, is the graph of Democrats voting for the Democratic presidential candidate. The only year with a big difference was 1972, the McGovern debacle.
If you know someones level of education, you can make a better guess as to their BMI or whether they smoke. But it will not allow you to make a better guess as to whether they prefer Clinton or Obama. If you use information about the average education level of counties to make statements about individuals, you are committing the ecological fallacy.


May 3, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Did Hillary really say this?
They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything. They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced, and nobody said anything.
Yes she did. But who is this “they” so sinister as to resemble the Nazis? (I assume everyone recognizes the source of HRC’s allusion – “First they came for the Socialists. . . .”)

It’s the same sort of “they” that the Iraq war supporters use – “If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them here” – as though Saddam had been about to launch an invasion of Ohio, or, as we speak, the Mehdi army is massing on the Kansas border.

When the Bushies and others have to specify this enemy, it’s “the terrorists” or “terrorism.” We have a “war on terror,” though it’s very unlikely that terror will ever sue for peace and sign a surrender treaty or that some day we’ll be celebrating VT day. Others name the “they” as Islamists or Islamofascism. This lumps together a variety of people who are often at odds with one another, much like the communism and communists that we feared and fought for three decades in wars hot and cold.

Apparently, you can be successful in US politics if you can get people to be afraid, to be very afraid. You don’t have to identify a real enemy, and your policies to fight this vague enemy don’t even have to make sense or be effective. You just have to declare a war – on terrorism, on communism, on crime, on drugs. I just wonder what or who will be the object of Hillary’s war.

Good Girl, Naughty Picture

May 2, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

The New York Times headline calls it “A Topless Photo.” “RACY MAG PIX,” screams the Daily News. “Exploitative semi-nude photo spread,” says the Toronto Sun. In the London Times headline, it’s “Half-naked Photos.”

It wasn’t what Miley Cyrus was showing – a beach photo of her in a scoop-back, one-piece bathing suit would have shown more skin – it was what she wasn’t showing but that the viewers knew was there. “Seemingly bare breasted,” was how the Daily Record put it (just under the headline “It’s not Art – It’s Porn.”). What made the photo “racy,” at least to these observers, was not the sight of her bare breasts but the thought that she either had just bared them or might be about to.

The problem for Disney seems to be how to have their teen-age girl stars be attractive without being sexual. That was hard enough in the 1950s, when Annette was prima inter pares among the Mouseketeers, and as Dave Barry put it, some of the letters on her jersey were closer to the screen than others.* Still, like a good Disney kid, she acted happily unaware of the changes puberty had brought. Not till she left Mouseworld did she go on to make all those beach films. (“Hi, I’m Annette, and these are my breasts,” cooed Gilda Radner in the SNL parody.)

That was then. Now, girls younger than Miley Cyrus are eager to be “grown up,” that is to be attractive in some sexualized way. They don’t get this idea from nowhere. It’s certainly out there in the culture, and it’s especially visible when someone – clothing manufacturers, for example – can make a profit from it. One September a few years back, the New York Times ran an article on back-to-school shopping in which the mothers of middle-school daughters described much of the available clothing as “hookerwear.”

Miley Cyrus the TV character was the perfect antidote. Several of the recent news stories cited both the character and the actress as a “role model.” But how difficult it must be for a 15-year-old girl working in television in Los Angeles to resist the lure of being just a little bit sexy. The problem may also be that we want our public figures to be one dimensional – sexy all the time or innocent all the time. We don’t want to accord them the complexity of feelings and desires that we take for granted in ourselves.


*It’s a good line, but it isn’t accurate. Google a picture of Annette in her Mouseketeer outfit, and you’ll see that Disney had placed the kids’ name letters just below the neck, probably for the very reason Barry alludes to.