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Paging Nate Silver

April 16th, 2010 · 18 Comments

The headline on yesterday’s New York Times piece on the demographics of Tea Partiers read: “Poll Finds Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated“—than the general public, that is. The nutgraf adds that they’re also likely to be older, whiter, maler, and (shocking!) more conservative.

Now, the obvious question for me is: Why wouldn’t you try to disentangle a bunch of factors that we know full well are strongly interdependent? After all, we know that older white men are likely to have higher incomes and more schooling than a random sample of the population—and, of course, education and income are themselves related.  Obviously, the headline gets a lot less interesting if it turns out to amount to: “Tea Party Backers Exactly as Wealthy and Educated as You’d Expect for Their Demographic.” Though without someone doing a proper regression, we don’t know if that’s true either.

Of course, you can flip the direction of explanation.  Suppose, plausibly enough, that a movement concerned with the level of taxation and debt might disproportionately appeal to higher earners. A group like that will tend to skew whiter than a random population sample even if race per se is not motivating people to join up.

I have neither the time nor the chops to sort this out, but it does seem odd that nobody at the Times decided to commission an analysis.  The interesting result is not whether the Tea Partiers are whiter or older or richer or more educated than the general population—if you know they differ along one dimension, it’s reasonable to expect them to differ along the others—but which features stick out once you’ve controlled for the others. It is, after all, perfectly possible to be wealthier than “average” but substantially poorer than the average 50-year-old white male. Anyone feel like running the Times‘ data and trying to get something more useful out of it?

Tags: Journalism & the Media


       

 

18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 K. Chen // Apr 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    There are plenty interesting gems of data (to my only somewhat informed self) within the polling. Tea Party supporters tend to be either employed or retired, in fairly good financial health, and seem no more concerned about their own personal situation than anyone else.

    They are strongly opposed to taxing over the 250k bracket to pay for health care, but the cohort is mostly retired or close to retired, and making, while more than the average, distinctly less than 250k.

    I personally would like to see more data on whether the Tea Party is more or less religious (as measured by church attendance) than other conservatives.

    At any rate, headline aside, I think there is plenty of interesting facts to look at.

  • 2 mike farmer // Apr 16, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I might be naive, but I believe they are sincerely concerned about government over-reach which needs to be limited, cronyism/corruption and the financial health of the nation going forward to subsequent generations. I only have what most of them interviewed have said, but I have no reason to doubt it.

  • 3 Julian Sanchez // Apr 16, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    I didn’t think I was questioning any of that, just making a point about survey methodology.

  • 4 The Truffle // Apr 16, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    It would be cool if they could explain all the misspelled signs at the tea party rallies.

  • 5 mike farmer // Apr 16, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Julian,

    I know — I was criticizing your post — it’s just that I hear so many analyses regarding their intentions and psychological make-up, that I think it might just suffice to take it all at face value. I think your post is a good critique of lazy journalism. A more in depth analysis could tell us something about society beyond the Tea Party, I’m sure.

  • 6 mike farmer // Apr 16, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    I wasn’t criticizing your post — I meant to write.

  • 7 dino // Apr 17, 2010 at 9:09 am

    If they were really concerned about the fiscal situation for succeeding generations. They would demand cuts to Medicare.

    Their motives may be sincere, but they fail to recognize that they themselves are cost drivers.

  • 8 Barry // Apr 17, 2010 at 9:39 am

    2 mike farmer

    “I might be naive, but I believe they are sincerely concerned about government over-reach which needs to be limited, cronyism/corruption and the financial health of the nation going forward to subsequent generations. I only have what most of them interviewed have said, but I have no reason to doubt it.”

    Actually, you do. Where were these people when Bush II and the GOP were running things? I don’t recall rallies of thousands of right-wingers protesting Bush/GOP policies.

    IMHO, it’s a replay of the 1990′s. The right lost an election and is throwing their usual temper tantrums.

  • 9 Barry // Apr 17, 2010 at 9:41 am

    As for the NYT, I find this suspicious, but unfortunately the norm for the MSM. They can spend hundreds of thousands of $$ on bloviators like Thomas Friedman, and catty gossip queens like Maureen Dowd, but statisticians are apparently too expensive.

  • 10 mike farmer // Apr 17, 2010 at 10:20 am

    To Dino and Barry,

    If they aren’t willing to tackle Medicare, then they are hypocritcal or misguided, but we don;t yet how they’ll respond to creative ideas which tackle the Medicare issue. Somethig will have to be done, so we’ll see then how they react.

    The argument that the Tea Party didn’t form under Bush is understandable given that people were taken by surprise when a “conservative” staring spending wildly — it took a while for it to sink in — but from the 2007 until now, enough people started paying attenion – the radical moves were all of a sudden in everyone’s faces — and most Tea Partiers now hold both parties responsible. It just took time fro people to shake out of their apathy, plus the Information Age was puping out more information — and then spending became a very serious issue. The election and Democrat control, coupled with campaign promises to add much more debt, did bring it all into focus, but Bush hasn’t been given a pass — Bush is considered the orginator of the current problem, although it goes back for decades.

  • 11 mike farmer // Apr 17, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Excuse my terrible typing and errors — slept late

  • 12 DivisionByZero // Apr 17, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Well, I think the Tea Party is equally critical of Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately they are the same people that are responsible for Bush II. And based on the responses to the survey they were the core of the old Republican Party. I liked the piece to the extent that it tries to clear-up some of the stereotypes floating around.

  • 13 Minos // Apr 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    The question of why we didn’t see tea partiers until Obama I think has two answers, and on the basis of both of them, I think, those calling “hypocrite” can chill out (speaking, by the way, as a pro-Obamaite).

    1) Bush was a spending freak (and did get some serious flak from small government types in more muted form), but he wasn’t posting *these* kinds of budget-busting deficits. Not even close–and the deficit projections for the next decade are *scary*. Of course, these are the result of (a) the financial meltdown and (b) Baby Boomer Retiremets coming home to roost, neither of which are Obama’s fault, but you can’t expect everyone to appreciate that. We’re in the red like never before, so people freak out. Not crazy.

    2. The other team was in power. Yes, this makes them “hypocritical”, but in a small way. We *all* (well, maybe not Matt Yglesias, but almost all of us) are more critical of something when the other team does it than our team. As long as it’s not egregious, that’s not a reason to dismiss the criticism, since they may well be right, and we’re just unwilling to criticize *our* team. Low grade hypocrisy doesn’t deserve a sneer, it’s human nature. Think of all those on the left who were Very Concerned about the fiscal implications of Bush’s wars and the tax cuts (small beer compared to our current deficit). Why are they not budget hawks now? Does that mean the Left didn’t have a point about the cost of these things? No, they *did* have a point. The loyal opposition is always a little hypocritical. We should still listen. It was ever thus.

  • 14 McCleary // Apr 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    I think we need to challenge the starting-to-become-conventional wisdom that Tea Partiers were absent during Bush II.

    The 2007-2008 Ron Paul presidential run (specifically the money bombs) was the origin of the modern Tea Party movement, and his supporters were definitely anti-Bush — not just on spending, but war and civil liberties policies as well.

    Yes, the Republican party and other agenda-driven factions have effectively stepped into the movement with the hope of co-opting it, but at least in the beginning, this movement existed in opposition to Bush.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2007-12-17-ronpaul-fundraising_N.htm

  • 15 The TeaBaggers Doth Protest Too Much « The New Print // Apr 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    [...] Tea Party Backers Wealthier and More Educated” is genuinely disgusting and misleading.  As Julian Sanchez eruditely points, that should have read “…than the general public.” …we know that older [...]

  • 16 Barry // Apr 19, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Mike: “The argument that the Tea Party didn’t form under Bush is understandable given that people were taken by surprise when a “conservative” staring spending wildly — it took a while for it to sink in — but from the 2007 until now, enough people started paying attenion – the radical moves were all of a sudden in everyone’s faces — and most Tea Partiers now hold both parties responsible. It just took time fro people to shake out of their apathy, plus the Information Age was puping out more information — and then spending became a very serious issue.”

    Not accepted. It was a radical ramp-up, taking only a few months. And Bush II was (a) clearly out of control years beforehand (and in terms of deficit spending, before 9/11), and (b) was in a great position to run amok, and taking as much advantage of it as he could.

  • 17 Northern Observer // Apr 23, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Mike,
    You’re naive.
    You’re projecting your virtues into a group that does not posses them.
    If it is any consolation, you are not alone.

  • 18 プロペシア通販 // Sep 24, 2011 at 12:36 am

    thanksan interesting blog

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