Trick or Treat and The Street

October 31, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do the Wall Street super-rich seem so dissatisfied.  As a non-rich person, I like to think that I’d feel very satisfied if I had tens of millions of dollars or more; that I wouldn’t spend long days doing whatever it is that hedge funders or derivativistas do just to supersize my wealth; that I wouldn’t be disgruntled that my bonus from Goldman was a measly $11 million when the guy down the hall got $14 million?*  (I actually heard such a story from someone who knows.)  What could I do with $14 million that I couldn’t do with $11 million?

Obviously, my thinking about this was all wrong, and Halloween two years ago showed me why. 

We took a little tour of the building to see what people on other floors were doing.  (One family on thirteen made an elaborate haunted house out in the hallway.)  We left the basket of candy on a small table outside our apartment.

As I was coming back to my apartment, I saw two boys of twelve or so standing over our table scooping the candy bars into their bags.  They saw me, turned and ran past.  When I got to the door, I saw that the basket was empty except for a couple of Almond Joys. They had probably done this at other apartments in addition to whatever they got by knocking on doors. 

Could anyone actually eat that much candy? Probably not. This was not about the inherent pleasure of Snickers. It was some sort of competitive game, and the candy was just a way of keeping score.  Satisfaction came not from eating the candy but from the thrill of skirting the rules to get a lot of it and then from just having a lot of it for the sake of having it, or at least having more of it than other kids.

Are they any different from the super-rich? Well, yes. These twelve-year olds would not claim that what they do is virtuous or that it benefits all kidkind or that hyperglycemia, for want of a better word, is good. 

Maybe Wall St. should start giving bonuses in the form of Snickers, or better yet, lower-value currency like Necco Wafers and tiny boxes of Sun-Maid raisins.  (More on candy rates of exchange here.)


* This earlier post argues that greed is not so much  personal as institutional.  Its sources lie not in the traits of the traders but in the structure of  the Street.  

Art as a Commodity

October 30, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Andrew Gelman looks at my post about the fake Rothko from a slightly different angle – moral outrage. If you paid $8 million for what turns out to be a fake, you’ve been ripped off, and you react accordingly.

I agree.  But the moral consideration still doesn’t close the gap between aesthetic value and market value. You feel ripped off only if you were thinking of the Rothko as a commodity.

Two (or two and a half) personal anecdotes relate to this distinction, though I’m not sure how.

When I was a young grad student, I bought a couple of Calder prints as a birthday gift for my mother.  The woman in the art shop said that if I preferred, she had the same prints but signed by Calder.  They cost ten times as much.

“You mean they’re identical except for a signature?” I asked.  (How naive I was.)  I bought the unsigned ones, very pleased with myself for getting such a bargain.  I had the same prints that some artsy pretentious schmuck was going to pay ten times as much for.

When my mother died, we consigned the prints, along with much of the rest of her stuff, to an auction house. 

They sold for much more than I’d paid decades earlier, but it was still less than I’d hoped. I kept wondering: what if I’d bought the signed version?  How much more would a signed Calder have appreciated?

My first summer in New York, I met a guy at the tennis courts who turned out to be an art dealer.  (The people who have their afternoons free to play tennis are people who don’t have real jobs – musicians, actors, art dealers, professors . . .)

One afternoon I asked him, “Just hypothetically, if I was going to buy something, what would you suggest?”

“Well, right now I have some Frank Stella drawings you could have for $200.”

I passed.  It seemed like a lot of money back then, at least to me, even if I’d been crazy about Stella, which I wasn’t.

Occasionally, I still find myself thinking: what if I’d bought one (or more) as an investment, as a commodity?  I’d have done well.


I once asked the art dealer* if he’d seen some art show that was getting good coverage in the press.  No, he said. The only art that he could appreciate now was from the Renaissance. Why? I asked.

“Because I know I can’t touch it. With anything else, I’m looking at it and thinking about whether I could buy it and who I could sell it to and what I could get for it. I can’t enjoy it as art.”


* What I didn’t know at the time was that he didn’t really think of himself as an art dealer.  It was just something he did when he couldn’t make a living in his true metier – theater.  (I just discovered this by searching for him on the Internet. And now I realize why his regular tennis partner was a conductor/musical-director who did Broadway and other non-symphony gigs.)

Control Freaks

October 28, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

There’s much to be said for control. “Create Your Own Economy,” says Tyler Cowen in a book of the same name. Lane Kenworthy (here) summarizes part of Cowen’s argument:
Imposing order on information is psychologically satisfying. The increase in our ability to control the amount, the content, and the timing of information and entertainment we consume may be just as valuable, in terms of our well-being, as the increase in the amount of information to which we have access.
But do we really want to turn our lives into those Holiday Inn ads that promised “No Surprises”? 

Halloween is coming, and if you go to a costume party or wait for kids to come to the door for candy, you know you’re going to see people in costume. That’s fun. But last night I found it more amusing to see costumes in surprising places. 

You don’t expect to see a knight waiting for the downtown express.

When you’re walking to Times Square, you don’t expect to be approached by three gorillas.

These ghouls were just outside the entrance to the subway.

If I had seen these girls at a costume party, I would have shrugged – some girls in store-bought costumes. 

But seeing them in such an incongruous place – the stairs to the subway – tickled me.  And maybe when they got to the top of the steps they were tickled to see those zombies, more so than if they’d seen them at a costume party. 

Control is nice, but it isn’t everything.  You can’t tickle yourself.  (I don’t know, maybe Tyler Cowen can.)

Silly Ideas About Voting

October 27, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Elections are silly season,” says Katherine Mangu-Ward at Reason.  I agree, but on different grounds.  Mangu-Ward says that voting itself is silly, and so are the reasons people give for voting.  My view is that what’s silly are articles like Mangu-Ward’s. 

She repeats the usual arguments against voting:
  •  your vote will not make a difference – elections are almost never decided by a single vote
  •  “people do not typically vote in ways that align with their personal material interests.”
  •  “the expected utility of your vote still amounts to approximately bupkes.”
  •  the wrong people vote –  “Get-out-the-vote campaigns promote precisely the kind of morally condemnable ignorant voting we should be discouraging.”
  •  people vote for “expressive” reasons – “Ignorant expressive voters, even rationally ignorant ones, may be committing immoral acts”
Underlying all these arguments and underlying her contempt for voting is one crucial assumption: the only worthwhile motive is calculated, individual self-interest.   Little wonder that most of the people who make these arguments are free-market economists* –  the people who also have a hard time wrapping their mind around economically irrational customs like tipping and Christmas presents.

The individual rationalists do manage to see the social motives that bring people to the polls – for example, a feeling of connection to wider communities.  (An earlier post on this sentiment is here).  But that connection as a legitimate motivation seems to have lost strength. That’s why Obama’s brief mention of citizenship in his acceptance speech was so unusual.  Much more common is the idea implicit in Romney’s statements:  Ask not what you can do for your country, ask how you can make a lot of money as an entrepreneur.

That difference in the way we think about citizenship (or don’t bother to think about citizenship) is nothing new.  Nearly thirty years ago in Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah and co-authors wrote about Biblical and republican traditions in America, traditions embodied in the small-town America we feel so much nostalgia for.  We feel that nostalgia because in the America of modernity and mobility, political discussion often speaks the language of “ individual utilitarianism.”  Mangu-Ward provides a stunning example.  She seems to be aware of the concept of citizenship – voting or participating because you are a member of the polity  –  but rather than celebrate citizenship as an important foundation of the nation, she dismisses this sentiment as unworthy.  It is “silly” and even “immoral.” **

And they say that it’s the liberals who are elitists.

*Mangu-Ward is a journalist with an undergraduate degree in political science and philosophy, but the people she cites are conservative economists like Casey Mulligan and Greg Mankiw).

** Andrew Gelman (here) finds other flaws in Mangu-Ward’s essay – the “innumberacy” of some of her calculations and her assertion that “Rich people are not more likely to vote Republican,” which is just factually wrong. 

Catching FIRE

October 25, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Why do so few 18-24 year olds vote?

Greg Lukianoff, in a Times op-ed today (here), has the answer:  campus speech codes. I am not making this up.
Colleges and universities are supposed to be bastions of unbridled inquiry and expression, but they probably do as much to repress free speech as any other institution in young people’s lives. In doing so, they discourage civic engagement at a time when debates over deficits and taxes should make young people pay more attention, not less.
Lukianoff, who works at FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) offers not one shred of evidence for this assertion.

It’s true that younger people have lower rates of voting. 

But college students have very high rates of voting (high by US standards).  This survey found that in 2004, about 77% of college students voted (81% of women, 72% of men).  That’s 30 points higher than their non-college age-mates who are unfettered by oppressive campus speech codes.   It’s also higher than the rate for any other age group. 

FIRE can argue against speech codes as a matter of principle.  That’s a moral question.  FIRE can try to make its case on  Constitutional grounds.  That’s a legal question, and a bit thornier, especially with private schools, since the First Amendment protects us only from governmental infringement on free speech.

But if FIRE is going to argue that these codes have some general effect on students’ political thought or behavior, that’s an empirical question, and FIRE ought to offer some evidence in support of that claim. They do not, presumably because they have none.

Money, Value, Quality

October 24, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

A year ago, Shamus Khan’s Privilege won the C. Wright Mills award.  The other day, Shamus discovered that Amazon was offering to buy back copies.  The price: 68 cents.

Here we have another case of where quality is unrelated to dollar value.  Privilege is just as good a book as it was a year ago.  But it must be disappointing to be told that your book is worth only a few pennies. Maybe Shamus can find some solace in a Times story that ran the same day about a Manhattan art gallery that had been selling expensive forgeries.  I know that in art, quality and value are two very different things.  Still, I had to stop and wonder when I read about
Domenico and Eleanore De Sole, who in 2004 paid $8.3 million for a painting attributed to Mark Rothko that they now say is a worthless fake.
One day a painting is worth $8.3 million; the next day, the same painting – same quality, same capacity to give aesthetic pleasure or do whatever it is that art does – is “worthless.”*  Art forgery also makes me wonder about the buyer’s motive.  If the buyer wanted only to have and to gaze upon something beautiful, something with artistic merit, then a fake Rothko is no different than a real Rothko.  It seems more likely that what the buyer wants is to own something valuable – i.e., something that costs a lot. Displaying your brokerage account statements is just too crude and obvious.  What the high-end art market offers is a kind of money laundering. Objects that are rare and therefore expensive, like a real Rothko, transform money into something more acceptable – personal qualities like good taste, refinement, and sophistication. 

*  Other factors affect the perceived quality and authenticity of a work.  Artistic fashion plays an important role, but so does social context (see this post from 2007.)

Where in the World . . .

October 23, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

It wasn’t just a slip.  It wasn’t a temporary lapse to be corrected later.  Romney has been saying it for months.*
Syria is Iran’s route to the sea.

Anyone who looks at a map will know that Romney has some ’splainin’ to do.

 Maybe Romney assumes that most Americans will not look at the map and will be happy to remain ignorant of the rest of the world.**  As Ambrose Bierce said, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”

We haven’t gone to war with Syria or Iran, at least not yet, but we did invade Iraq.  Maybe Bierce’s observation applied seventy years ago, when newsreels had dash-lines rolling across a map to show the progress of Allied forces.  Maybe it applied during Vietnam, when TV news each night showed us the regional map with little explosion symbols marking battles or bombing targets. 

Will the network news shows tonight (not Fox, of course, but the serious news sources) show Americans where these countries are?


*Back in April, Glenn Kessler at the WaPo FactChecker had this summary.

** Last month’s post on ignorance and arrogance is here.

George McGovern and the Wisdom of Crowds

October 21, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the 1972 presidential election, George McGovern lost every state except Massachusetts and DC. 

The Republicans said that McGovern
  • advocated a withdrawal from Vietnam
  • thought the war was a mistake
  • wanted to abolish the military draft
  • favored amnesty for men who had resisted the draft for that war
  • favored legal abortions
  • favored decriminalizing marijuana
  • favored income support for poor people
Clearly, McGovern was on the wrong side of history.  The Republican slate of statesmen – Dick Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew – won in a landslide.

That worked out well, didn’t it?

A Time to Be Born

October 19, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield, Ty Pennington and Chris Kattan, John Le Carre and Trey Parker. Give up? They all were born on October 19. Happy Birthday.

The birthday problem came up again on a New York Times blog earlier this month.
How many people do you need in a room to get 50-50 odds that at least two of them share a birthday?
The official answer is 23.  The blogger, Steven Strogatz, takes you through the math (without once using the word factorial!) and even embeds the video clip of Johnny Carson getting it wrong. 

But even 23 is too high.  It assumes that birthdays are randomly distributed throughout the year.  But they’re not.

(The lack of a zero-point exaggerates the differences.  Still, September babies outnumber January babies by nearly 10%.)

The first thing it called to mind was the hockey aperçu made by Paula Barnsley but made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in the first chapter of Outliers.  The revelation takes place at a junior championship hockey game in Canada.  One of the spectators was Canadian psychologist Roger Barnsley.
   He was there with his wife, Paula, and their two boys, and his wife was reading the program, when she ran across a roster [that listed the players’ vital statistics]
   “Roger,” she said, “do you know when these young men were born?”
Barnsley said yes. “They're all between sixteen and twenty, so they'd be born in the late sixties.”
   “No, no,” Paula went on. “What month.”
   “I thought she was crazy,” Barnsley remembers. “But I looked through it, and what she was saying just jumped out at me. For some reason, there were an incredible number
of January, February, and March birth dates.”
In Canadian age-graded sports, kids are grouped by the year of their birth.  A boy born on Jan. 1, 2000 and a boy born on Dec. 31, 2000 are both twelve years old, at least for purposes of hockey eligibility, even though one is a year older than the other.  The older 12-year old is likely to be bigger and to have whatever other physical advantages develop with age.

Horse racing uses the same rule. Officially, every thoroughbred has the same birthday – January 1.  So the breeding season peaks in the late spring.  Most Kentucky Derby winners are foaled in March, very few after May. 

Is anything similar going on among human breeders, usually called parents?  Apparently not. The numbers for the early months are low rather than high.  (In Canada too, births in the first quarter are lower than in the next seven months.) 

Some school systems use a cutoff date of September 1, so all those September babies have an edge, but if parents were breeding rationally, we’d expect lots of births in the following months as well rather than the dropoff shown in the graph.

It looks as though most parents are not breeding rationally, or if they are, other considerations are affecting their scheduling. 

Yes, you can find articles (this one, for example) about competitive parents redshirting their 5-year olds – delaying a child’s entry into kindergarten for a year so the little tyke will have an edge over his even littler classmates.  It would appear that there are too few of these to make a blip in the graph. Still, I wonder what the graph would look like if it were based only on upper middle-class births. 

In any case, births are not distributed randomly. Cue The Byrds, channeling Pete Seeger channeling Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season . . .  a time to be born . . ..”

Unwed Moms or The Hood

October 17, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The question to Obama was:
In 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?
Obama did actually respond to the question, in part. 
I also share your belief that weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets.
And he even offered a relevant fact:
in my home town of Chicago, there’s an awful lot of violence and they’re not using AK-47s. They’re using cheap hand guns.
And then he wandered off into schools and opportunity.*

CROWLEY: Governor Romney, the question is about assault weapons, AK-47s.

Romney ignored the moderator ad made no mention of AK-47s.  He merely said he wanted no new gun laws. Then he too quickly skipped to matters that have nothing to do with the availability of AK-47s: education, hope, opportunity, and . . .
let me mention another thing. And that is parents. We need moms and dads, helping to raise kids.  . . . But gosh to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone, that’s a great idea.
Or as someone said or tweeted:
Guns don’t kill people. Unwed mothers kill people.
With variables like unemployment and single-parent families, it’s crucial to distinguish between individual effects and neighborhood effects.  Romney is thinking only about individual effects  – the effect of the family on the child.  The assumption behind Romney’s statement is that single parenting is bad parenting, and therefore it will have bad consequences.**

I confess that I haven’t kept up with the literature on crime, but as I recall, the individual-level correlations are not all that strong.  When you control for other variables, children of single parents or children of unemployed parents are not much more likely to commit violent crimes. 

So the problem is not the unwed mother or the unemployed parent.  The problem is what happens to a neighborhood with high rates of single-parent families and high rates of unemployment. 

We know this intuitively.  Imagine two boys – one with a two-parent family, the other with a single mother.  The two-parent kid lives in a neighborhood where most families are headed by single mothers and there are few employed men.  The single-mother boy lives in a neighborhood where most families have two parents, and most men have jobs.  Who is more likely to commit a violent crime? 

Or imagine that you yourself have a kid and a spouse.  If family structure is the overriding factor, and you wanted to be sure your kid didn’t commit violent crimes, then you would have no preference between those two neighborhoods.  But would you?

Back in the 1980s, researchers like Rob Sampson were shifting the focus from individuals and families to neighborhoods.   Unfortunately, political debates about crime and violence often ignore what every parent knows: that  parents can do only so much, and kids are subject to many influences outside the home.***


* When I become czar of presidential debates, we will have not just time-keepers to make sure speakers stay within their time but topic-keepers to remind candidates when they are not addressing the question that was asked.  In the three debates this month, topic-keepers would have been very, very busy.

** Romney hedges – “A lot of great single moms, single dads” – but it’s clear that he thinks these are lucky exceptions to the general rule.

*** Philip Cohen has conceptual blog post about the link between unwed mothers and violence (here).

Dialing for Donations . . . and Deductions

October 16, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Google finishes your sentences for you. At least, they finish your partially typed search string, based on what searchers before you have sought. 

Then Google gives you a list of Websites based on their Algorithm. The way people talk about The Algorithm, I get a picture of some powerful, mysterious god.  Those who can unravel its secrets stand to gain mightily by having their Website win the race to the top. 

Maybe the Republicans have nailed it. Or maybe they just paid for it.   Here’s what you get if you want to donate money to the Democratic National Committee.  (Pink-background sites are paid ads.)

I guess the GOP thinks they’ll get some money by advertising to people who want to give to the Dems.

A search for donating to the Republicans has no Democratic ads. 

(Click on the image for a larger and possibly clearer view.)

What’s interesting here is the autocomplete.  Apparently, a lot of people who want to donate to the Republicans are also concerned that they get a tax break for their largesse.  Which  pretty much confirms what they’ve been telling us about their position on taxes all along – paying less on their taxes is really, really important to them.

Do Pro Athletes Want Gambling?

October 14, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

The obits for Alex Karras  all noted that the NFL suspended him and Lions teammate Paul Hornung for gambling.  Then there’s Pete Rose, whose gambling has kept him out of the Hall of Fame.  And Tim Donaghy, the NBA ref who later said his gambling affected the way he called games. 

What’s up with White sports dudes and gambling? 

Chad Millman at ESPN touts the latest issue of their  magazine (he’s the editor) with the promise of some data.

In that issue we run one of our Confidential polls, in which we question dozens of athletes about taboo topics. In the current version we asked 67 jocks from the four major sports: . . . do you think sports betting should be legalized?

Let’s stipulate that a non-random sample of 67 jocks-we-could-get-to-answer-our-phone-call divided into four categories is less methodologically rigorous than we would prefer.  Still the differences among the sports are striking.  The NHL players were overwhelmingly in favor of legalized sports betting, the NBA players against it.

Here’s a graph that makes the ESPN data look more impressive than it actually is.

The Whiter the sport, the more its professional practitioners want legalized gambling.

Millman is not an academic, so he didn’t end his article with a call for further research (and funding).  But maybe he should have.

Majestic Inequality

October 12, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston
Cross posted at Sociological Images

In 1894, Anatole France said,
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
Back in June, Mitt Romney said
I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone . . . get[s] as much education as they can afford
After all, Mitt got as much education as he (his parents, really) could afford, so he thought it best if everyone had that same majestic equality of opportunity. 

Opportunity – how much is that in American money? 

Yesterday, Planet Money posted this graph showing the costs and benefits of a college education in several countries. 

The title of the post summarizes the interpretation of the college-educated folks at Planet Money.
College Costs More In America, But The Payoff Is Bigger
But what if you look at the data from the other side? Here’s the glass-is-half-empty title
    College in the US Costs a Lot, and If You Can’t Afford It, You’re Really Screwed
or words to that effect.

What the chart shows is inequality – specifically, the inequality between the college educated and everyone else. In advanced economies, like the those of the countries in the chart, education is important. But some of those countries, like the Scandinavian countries, have reduced the income sacrificed by non-college people relative to the college educated. Other countries, those toward the right side of the graph, favor a more unequal distribution of income. 

I looked at the Gini coefficient for the ten countries in the Planet Money chart. The correlation between the Gini and the economic benefit of college for men was 0.83, which seemed a bit extreme.  So I added another ten OECD countries.

The correlation is 0.44.  Either way, the US is the clear outlier.  In the land of opportunity, if you’re a male, either you pay the considerable price of going to college, or you pay the price for not going to college. 

With this inequality come the kinds of social consequences that Charles Murray elaborates in his latest book about non-educated Whites – disability, divorce, demoralization, death. 

Sore With the Eagles

October 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

A 17-year old boy had completed his final project to qualify as an Eagle Scout, but the scoutmaster blocked his application.  Why?  The kid’s gay.  His mother got up a petition and also apparently went to the media.  (The USA Today story is here.)

The statement from the troop’s high commander says that the plucky lad “does not meet Scouting's membership standard on sexual orientation.”

Fair enough.  Me, I dropped out after Cub Scouts, so I wouldn’t know, but it does make me wonder: What activities or projects do the Scouts require for a demonstration or proof of heterosexuality?  And are there merit badges for that sort of thing?

I also refer back to the founder Baden-Powell’s writing that was the basis for the organization - the 1908 book with the delightfully ambiguous title.

Do entendres get any more double?

Communication Craft

October 6, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

I couldn’t understand why Mitt Romney would make a point of telling people he was going to off Big Bird.  What was the political wisdom in promising to get rid of something everyone likes?  But his statement seemed so deliberate, I figure his people must have tested it or at least thought it through, and maybe they have evidence that contradicts common sense.

Here’s another political ad where the strategy seems all wrong.  Don’t the communications experts say that everything should to work together? Consultants coach candidates on how to make the body language consistent with what they’re saying.  In ads, images should amplify the message stated in words. If the candidate is talking about farm policy, show him in front of a field of cows.

Maybe the ad does work.  When I was watching it, I realized, just as the researchers say about cell phones and driving, I couldn’t attend simultaneously to two different things– the written Kerrey-ad video and the Steve Martin home-crafts instructional video.  When I read the writing on the pages, I lost Martin, though if I tried, I could shift my attention quickly from one to the other. 
I wondered if the end of the ad would have a voiceover: “I’m Clair Parlance, Professor of Communications studies, and boy, did I not approve this message.”

(For another example of audio not matching video, take a look at this version of “The Shining” with Seinfeld music and laugh-track)

Yellow Peril

October 4, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

I could have understood it if Romney had gone after Welfare, which is still not a very popular concept, at least in the abstract.  Or if he’d said he was going to get rid of unnecessary Bureaucracy (and maybe Bureaucrats).  And of course I understood his promise to eliminate Obamacare, which a majority oppose, at least in opinion polls..

But Big Bird? 

The much-loved muppet was the second thing Romney mentioned, right after Obamacare, when he went into cut mode during last night’s debate.  Romney must also know that PBS is a minuscule fraction of the budget.  So surely this was not some spontaneous off-the-cuff remark.  It had to be a rehearsed zinger, to be inserted at the earliest opportunity.

Romney also phrased it so that everyone would get a clear picture in their minds – not the abstract PBS, but Big Bird. But why?

Does Big Bird really poll so badly?  Is the large yellow creature this election’s Willie Horton? 

The Romney people must know something about this that I don’t.  But what?

(Almost as soon as Romney had spoken, the pictures of Big Bird – mash-ups or with text added – started showing up all over the Internet.  Check Google Images.)

Political Donations - Check the Name on the Check

October 1, 2012 
Posted by Jay Livingston 
Cross-posted at Sociological Images

Are people’s first names a clue as to which party they support? Chris Wilson at Yahoo  created this nifty interactive graphic from information on contributors of $200 or more. Mouse over a name-circle to see the proportion of Democratic and Republican donors. Or enter a name in the search box. For example, 60% of the 3000 Scotts gave to Republicans.


The most obvious difference is that women (or at least people with women’s names) are all to the Democratic side of the of midpoint. Men are mostly Republican, though several fall to the left of the midpoint. Bob is the farthest left – 61-39 Democrat – though Robert breaks Republican (55-45). Jim and James follow the same pattern, with the 57-43 split going from Democrat to Republican as you go from informal to formal. 
Among the women, Ellen is the most partisan Democrat (81-19), Ashley the least (52-48). If you change the view from numbers of people to amounts donated, the whole chart shifts to the right. Republicans pony up more money. Or to put it another way, the political big spenders break Republican (despite what Foxies like Tucker Carlson claim).


Among the women, Ashley, Heather, Tiffany, and Betty all lean to the right on the money scale. The Democratic Heathers may outnumber their Republican sisters, but the Republican Heathers have more money to donate to politicians. And similarly for just about every name, male or female.

Among the men, the Jonathan is now the most liberal, giving 55% of his money to the Democrats. In fact, Jonathan is the only man to the left of the midpoint. But while Jonathan is a Democrat, John gives 63% to the Republicans. The difference here is probably ethnic/religious. Jonathan (Old Testament, son of Saul) is Jewish. John (the Baptist, New Testament) is Christian. Age may also be a factor.

Younger, thirtysomething names like Heather and Ashley, Tyler and Clayton, lean to the right. So perhaps the youth vote, or at least the youth money, is not as firmly in the Democratic party as we might have thought.