Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

It's Tough to Defend the French  | e-mail post

I will be the first to admit that we Americans seem to go overboard on our derision for the French, but it is a two-way street in many ways. Of course, many liberals take it upon themelves to defend all things attacked by the majority, whether it be high taxes, partial birth abortions or, in this case, France.

Witness the "I hate Pat Robertson" blog. Now, any regular reader probably knows that I am not a fan of the religious right, and thus should be largely sympathetic to the blog's author. I must also tell you that I actually like the look of the blog, it's got some nice CSS tricks. Unfortunately, the blog's author decided, simply because Pat Robertson had an anti-French author on the 700 Club, that now he must take up the very heavy mantle of defending France. We can start with this:

Pat starts off the interview by attacking France:

The truth is, France is a second-rate power and can’t even compete with (South) Korea

Actually, France is much more powerful than South Korea. The Gross Domestic Product of France is near double that of South Korea, as is the per capita income. As for the military, France is the 3rd largest military power, South Korea is #9.

The simple fact that the author feels the need to defend France in comparison to a nation that is effectively a U.S. protectorate is itself quite humorous. Actually, if the author wasn't such a knee-jerk, he'd stop for a minute and realize that France's equivalent of our FBI is their gendarmerie, or national military police, and is part of their defense organization. In 2004, the gendarmerie was 101,000 strong versus the balance of their military forces at 259,000.

The South Korean Army, in contrast, has about 560,000 troops, or a ground force of 300,000 more troops than France.

The blog's author should consider reading the Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Military Trends in France: Strengths and Weaknesses" which can rarely go more than a page or two without pointing out the obvious, such as:
During the first Gulf War, and operations in former Yugoslavia, France
realized that it had major difficulties with coordination at the strategic and tactical levels, including the integration of combined operation command structures.43 France has extensively studied Britain as a model in these areas due to its relative deficiencies compared to the UK.
During the first Gulf War, France had difficulties in deploying a light division of only 12,000 troops, whereas Britain managed to deploy twice that number despite having a much smaller army. At that time, France only had 6,000 troops immediately available for force projection.
(That was the first Gulf War, the one where Iraq had invaded Kuwait...the one John Kerry voted against) Or, citing from Jane's Security Sentinel Assessment:
France's defense industries are oriented towards export markets, particularly in former colonies in the Third World. The difficulty with this emphasis is that products that sell well abroad are not necessarily the best for modern European military force. The French armed forces are not configured for modern warfare, in which high technology is critical."
(Oh, and as to why France had a larger Army: the French used conscription to maintain their Army up three years ago today, November 30, 2001.)

The author then has the following comments:

Pat then asked John Miller why France hated us so much:

Their animosity right now is mostly fueled by wounded national pride.

And this [American animosity toward France] isn’t fueled by national pride?

Actually, no, it's not a matter of national pride for us. When you're #1 with a bullet, it's really hard to have insults from anyone count for much. On the other hand, France went from being one of the most significant powers in the old world to being an also-ran in the new world. France has not had a significant military force since Napoleon's defeat, despite their cultural aspirations for military power; witness de Gaulle's election as their President after fleeing the country and "leading" the impotent French resistance from Algiers. One who wished to criticize the French might argue that only in France could a deserter be considered a war hero. In the world of industry, while Airbus has been a success (although some would suggest the heavy support of the French government and Eurocentric purchasing by other European nations might have be a factor), looking at Renault and Peugot reminds us that the French aren't known for their engineering, as are the Germans. And in the modern age of computers and communications, France's isolation has hampered their progress in the international arena as much as it has protected their weaker players from domestic competition.

The long-standing imperialistic nature of the French government also shows that they have had difficulty relinquishing power. Consider how relatively long it took the French to relinquish their control over their colonies like Algeria and Vietnam as well as how they continue to try to play big fish in a small pond over their former colonies. Even in the case of Iraq, France would never have backed U.S. action because it was too significant a trading partner. (Of course, the kickbacks might have helped as well.) And while many (most?) of Great Britain's former colonies became powerful countries in their own right, France never appeared to have nation-building as an agenda, just international dominion. Indeed, a number of things, from their anti-semitism to their opposition to Turkey joining the EU seems to be indicative of their disrespect (or disdain) for non-European cultures. [Another blogger's interesting observations on former French colonies.]

The reason people mock the French is that they are so easily mocked. Insular, parochial, living in another world, and keeping their language pure from outside influence as the world passes them by while they continue to relive their glory days of centuries past, the days of Versailles and the Sun King and of Napoleon's domination of Europe. Indeed, when our original patrons, one-time enemies and now nearly permanent allies, the British brought Napoleon to his knees (insert short joke here), France has never really recovered its stature.

In many ways, the sad tragedy of France is the tragedy of the homecoming king and quarterback who peaked in high school, never again to experience the greatness he once knew.

Update: MostlyCajun, commenting why his ancestors got out of France early, also points us to this post on Common Sense and Wonder.

Update: A reader responds with "France's Admitted Strong Points."

Update: Interested in French foreign policy or postwar Europe? Read my piece on "Kojève's Latin Empire and Contemporary French Foreign Policy." It provides a great deal of insight into French thought, some of reaffirming our stereotypes, but also providing context for such a worldview.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (3) comments |  | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Bush Administration Fighting for Title IX  | e-mail post

Yesterday the other cynical Barry Johnson commented about the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the Massachusetts gay marriage case. He said:
Some conservatives will be chagrined that the Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to Massachusetts' gay marriage law. Some liberals are no doubt disappointed as well, since this development doesn't really fit their whole "Jesusland" narrative. Damned inconvenient, that.
Though the Jesusland, red-state/blue-state, "America divided" narrative does seem loved by press and pundit alike, today again it appears descriptively wanting. The case today is in fact another case today, namely Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, on which the Supreme Court hears arguments today. The nuts and bolts of this case is that a coach was fired after complaining that his girls' teams had inadequate resources compared to the boys' teams. He sued, but a lower court ruled that the Title IX protections do not include whistleblower protection from retaliatory firing. The cases falls before the court, pivoting on the argument that any such law without whistleblower protection is toothless, as teachers and coaches are in the best position to know when gender discrimination is taking place.

In this case, the Bush administration is doing the right thing by most people's standards, particularly those on the left, they have joined Jackson's side and have submittde amicus briefs arguing in support of anti-retaliation measures. Interestingly, the states joining Alabama in the case cut across the red-state/blue-state narrative on which the media seems so often fixated. Nine states including Oregon, Hawaii, and Delaware have all sided with Alabama.

[USA Today] [CNN] [ABC] [MSNBC]

If you're curious, you can read why I don't think America is really all that divided.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Europe 157,327, U.S. 7,481 - U.S. Wins  | e-mail post


While normally one might think that a 20-to-1 deficit would indicate some kind of loss, this is one case that I think we can be happy coming it such a distant second. So what are the above numbers? The word lengths of the not-yet-ratified European Union constitution compared to our comparatively brief U.S. Constitution, including all of the amendments it has taken on over the past 200-plus years. Now, for those who think I am being unfair by including the annexes and declarations of the EU constitution, I will only say that those two portions are a) a part of the proposed constitution and b) still less than half the total word count. Even the EU's own summary runs almost 6,300 words, about twice the length of our unamended Constitution. I suspect the U.S. Constitution could probably be summarized, in fair detail, at 1,000 words. [Feel free to browse the 6 PDFs containing the EU constitution] [U.S. Constitution] [Amendments to the U.S. Constitution]

Now, some of this may simply be the advantage our founders had, working in a simpler time. Possibly the most stark contrast can be drawn by pointing to the actual presence of a logo for the EU constitution (and a 19-page usage guide [English PDF]). Of course, as anyone in the corporate world knows, every initiative or project needs a name, as if it were a military operation, and any project of significance certainly needs a logo, or at least a graphic design treatment. I just can't imagine some young scribe running into the constitutional convention to get Hamilton's or Jefferson's opinion about the use of Pantone 280 for the background color, or whether Helvetic Neue would be a good typeface to present the constitution to the states. (And, to be clear, the logo must be a big issue, as the "graphical design and logo" section is linked from the top-level main page on the EU constitution!)

I think another possible consideration is that Europeans, particularly the French, and by implication the Belgians, are sticklers for detail and are nothing if not all about standards. The meter bar is sitting in Paris. Cardinal de Richelieu founded the French Academy (or Académie Française, more properly) to regulate and preserve the purity of the French language back in 1635, long before the French could have anticipated the profound damage the new world would cause the French language some four and a half centuries later, with our use of words like "bazooka" and "e-mail" ("courriel" to you francophiles). And while I certainly am weary of (and occasionally appalled by) Americans' abuse of our own language, I can't imagine regulating its use.

I am sure it is a combination of factors including both the regulatory cultural bias of contintential Europe as well as the way we in the contemporary world are prone to making things more difficult and more complex than they need to be. I'm not sure that either main political party in the U.S. has produced a platform shorter than the U.S. Constitution in recent memory. General guidance has been replaced by specific directives. Ultimately, I am confident that the EU constitution's specificity will prove its weakness in the same way our Constitution's generality has proven its strength.

What got me thinking about the EU constitution in the first place was the Wall Street Journal Europe Op-Ed piece by Craig Winneker, "Roving Europe," in which he discusses how Karl Rove, with all his political genius, may be the one man alive who could get the EU constitution ("an almost entirely unsellable document") ratified across all of Europe. I do tire of the deification of Rove, not because I think he's undeserving (he is smart, there's no question), but because I think it denigrates Bush's victory and is another example of the broader move to discussing politics as process, rather than as policy, by the American public. However, the piece was worth a chuckle. One of the funnier bits:
Denmark: This small Scandinavian country has proven to be an inveterate flip-flopper when it comes to EU referendums -- a reputation that should be exploited to maximum effect. Case in point: Denmark actually voted against the Maastricht Treaty before it voted for it. Just as the indecisive Hamlet eventually chose the road that led to self-destruction, so can today's wavering Danes be trusted to eventually vote "yes" -- and, with Mr. Rove's help, maybe even in less than two rounds.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Monday, November 29, 2004

Microsoft Releases Payoff Service Pack to Settlement 2004  | e-mail post

Apparently Bill Gates learned something from Saddam Hussein's using of bribery and payoffs to help with gaining support for a more relaxed and permissive attitudes by those ostensibly focused on reigning in their capacious appetites. [For recent discussion of Saddam's "Oil for Alliances" program, you can start with a recent update that provides backlinks.]

Just as Saddam spread ill-gotten wealth around to various parties with possible influence over the U.N. Security Council, Microsoft appears to have paid off the President of the Computer and Communications Industry Association to halt the CCIA's involvement in the EU antitrust case against Microsoft. Laura Rohde has this report in Computerworld:
The antitrust settlement between Microsoft Corp. and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) announced earlier this month included a payment of $9.75 million to the CCIA's president, according to a report published today.
Almost half of the $19.75 million total settlement went to Ed Black, who has been the president and CEO of the Washington-based industry organization since 1995, in a deal approved by the CCIA board, according to a report in the Financial Times. The newspaper cited confidential documents in its story.

A spokesman from Microsoft declined to comment on the FT report. The CCIA referred questions to Black, who couldn't be reached.
Basically, the payoffs were to get the CCIA to stop being a party to the EU antitrust litigation Microsoft is facing. Nokia has resigned from the CCIA in response to this, and the entire issue has stirred up a great deal of controversry.

Follow up in Financial Times 26-Nov-04: "MS.dosh Settlement"

The Guardian reports on the examination of the deal by the EU judge, "Judge Puts Microsoft Deal Under Scrutiny" The Guardian has some great quotations from newly-minted millionaire Ed Black. In addition to his retrospectively hypocritical criticisms of Netscape's acceptance of $750 million to drop their case against Microsoft this past May, Black used to say things like:
Microsoft is an adjudicated monopolist who continues to deliver anti-competitive, illegal products into the marketplace. Their products hurt innovation, unfairly impede competition and, in the end, harm consumers.
But today all that money seems to have taken the fight out of Ed Black:
We are pleased with this agreement and expect our relationship with Microsoft and others will enable us to address important issues impacting millions of people and the future of our industry. While there may be times when we and Microsoft will not agree on every issue, we are looking forward to developing a stronger relationship.
The EU judge hearing the case will keep all the testimony provided already by the CCIA and other who have been bought out of the case, according to another Guardian story.

Interestingly, the NY Times doesn't seem to mention the Black payoff, even though it seems to be well-publicized in Europe. [NYT Nov 25] [NYT Nov 24]

And while the story was picked up by the Dow Jones Newswires [through WSJ link], apparently the Wall Street Journal's editors felt that the story wouldn't fit well with their typical position on EU antitrust issues, so they have neglected to mention it in their reporting. Hardly shocking. As much as I do like the WSJ, I believe that they are at least as bad as any media outlet with respect to editorial bias.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (1) comments |  | Saturday, November 27, 2004

An American Eulogy (not quite): Who Was Yasser Arafat?  | e-mail post

In the process of analyzing some data for clues about how informed Americans are about the news (the answer is not very, read the full post for the breakdown), I decided to look at the verbatim poll results from a 2002 Pew survey for the question "Can you tell me who Yasser Arafat is?" All of these people had initially answered, "Yes" to the question of "Do you know who Yasser Arafat is?" In general, only 48% of 3,0002 and survey respondents could say who Arafat was.

I discovered that in terms of the opinions of Americans, Yasser Arafat was more of an enigma than Keyser Soze. He was everywhere and nowhere. He was the leader of many countries. And while I had been so innoculated to American ignorance that I didn't find it entirely odd that many people could only mention his headwear, I was surprised that Americans had enough first hand experience with him to complain of an odor problem. In memory of Yasser, let's take a look at what Americans were saying about Yasser Arafat back in 2002. This is not a complete list of the idiocy, but it will give you a good sense of what people were saying.

Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, Yasser was King of the World
Can you imagine trying to write a personals ad for this guy?
But clothes make the man, and Yasser's headwear got attention
Arguably correct, if incomplete answers
He Ain't From These Parts
Aren't you glad these people can vote?
Other thoughts from self-described "Very close" followers of Palestinian/Israeli news:
Viagra, anyone?
He can ride in their posse anytime
There were a couple of funny right answers
Conflicting views on his Al Qaida relationship
Did they get Sharon on the phone?
But Yasser had friends here, too

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (1) comments |  | Friday, November 26, 2004

Digging Into Ignorance  | e-mail post

This is a followup from my prior post discussing political ignorance. At the end, I promised to dig into a decent-sized dataset from a survey, primarily to measure media consumption, conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press in 2002. This all relates to a post from a couple of days ago about the great "political divide" in America, which I tend to question. Read the first post on that subject for what political ignorance has to do with it.

To assess the ignorance rampant in this great country of ours, I started to dig into the Pew survey results. The survey, with 3,002 respondents, asked three questions that I decided to examine, as they seemed like an obviously interrelated set:
My assumption is that the first question provides the respondent's self-assessment of how closely they follow a relatively specific news story, while the second two questions are indicators of how much knowledge they have about the current situation and background directly related to that specific news story. While this is a very small set of questions on which to base any determination, I felt that the specific interrelatedness of the questions provided some counterbalance to the narrow focus. In addition, I liked this question set as it doesn't have an inherent political bias to it. That is, one would think that Democrats and Republicans would have equal interest in the topic.

People Overrate The Extent to Which They Follow The News

The results were, shall we say, unfortunate. Recoding the data to compare whether the respondent got neither, either, or both of 39(e) and 39(f) correct, and comparing it to their self-assessment of how closely they followed news of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict result in this table:

How closely Mideast news followed vs. Related Knowledge

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Total Count
Don't know/Refused 65 26 8.7 100 23
Not at all closely 83 11 5.4 100 258
Not too closely 57 29 14 100 395
Fairly closely 43 29 28 100 1131
Very closely 25 31 45 100 1195

What!? Only 45% of people who honestly think they are following Palestinian/Israeli violence very closely can answer both of those questions? Even more astounding is that 43% of those who think they are following it "fairly closely" couldn't answer either of them. Bear in mind that with Israel's establishment, it was a multiple choice question. But maybe I'm being too harsh, suppose we just consider at the incredibly simple question of who Yasser Arafat is. Certainly everyone should nail that one?

How closely Mideast news followed vs. Who Is Arafat?

Don't Know
Incorrect Correct Total Count
Don't know/Refused 39 43 17 100 23
Not at all closely 57 35 8.5 100 258
Not too closely 28 44 28 100 395
Fairly closely 18 38 44 100 1131
Very closely 9.9 30 60 100 1195

Still, only 60% of these self-assessed very close followers of Mideast news can say who Yasser Arafat is. C'mon, in 2002, he had been head of the PLO for 33 years. This is an embarassment that had me ready to put the "for sale" sign in my yard and get a one-way international plane ticket. I figured the Thanksgiving travel crowds would be too much, though. So I'm staying put for now.

Well, It's Probably Because of Those Stupid [Insert Opposing Party Here]

I am sure that partisans on both sides of the political spectrum are assuming that the "other guys" are weighing those numbers down. Not as much as you might think, with respect to those who claim to follow things "very closely" however there is a significant partisan difference between people who think they follow things "fairly closely."

Party Affiliation vs Knowledge For "Very Close" News Followers

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Total Count
Don't know 29 39 32 100 28
Other 18 18 64 100 11
No Preference 40 33 27 100 52
Independent 23 29 49 100 308
Democrat 26 30 44 100 406
Republican 22 32 46 100 390

Party Affiliation vs. Knowledge for "Fairly Close" News Followers

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Total Count
Don't know 47 39 13 100 38
Other 42 33 25 100 12
No Preference 57 28 15 100 67
Independent 39 33 28 100 291
Democrat 50 27 22 100 352
Republican 36 27 37 100 371

Among those who follow the news "very closely" there is a statistically insignificant difference Democrats and Republicans, with Independents slightly ahead, and all three within a margin of error for the subsample sizes of 308-406. However, it appears both Democrats and independents have a different standard for what watching the news "fairly closely" means. That is, while the "both correct" score for Republicans went down 9 points between the very closely to fairly closely group, Democrats who follow the news "fairly closely" went down by 22 points, and independents by 20. compared to their similarly-aligned "very closely" group. Half of Democrats who "fairly closely" followed Mideast news missed both questions, while slightly more than a third of similarly self-assessing Republicans could got neither correct.

Well It's Probably the [Stupid Kids/Senile Old People] Then

I thought I would look at ages as well, given that maybe the numbers for the Dems were being skewed by the presumably larger proportion of young people, my assumption being that the natural hubris of youth combined with a lack of perspective might have young people even more likely to incorrectly regard themselves as following the news when they really aren't. The first quick check I did was to see how party affiliation lined up by age within the sample:

REF 65+ 55-64 45-54 35-44 25-34 18-24
Don't know 34 2.8 4.3 1.3 1.9 1.9 2.0
Other 4 0.5 0.25 1.3 1.2 1.1 0.58
No Preference 2 4.7 5 6 7.2 8 7.9
Independent 24 20 24 28 25 29 36
Democrat 18 38 34 34 30 29 27
Republican 18 35 32 29 34 31 26
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100
Count 50 599 397 552 584 477 343
Really not too much of a skew for party affiliation, but I thought I would still look at the results of knowledge versus age for the very close and fairly close news followers.

Age vs Knowledge for "Very Close" Mideast news followers

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Total Count
Refused 23 32 45 100 22
65+ 21 37 42 100 298
55-64 17 26 57 100 192
45-54 24 27 49 100 236
35-44 32 30 38 100 213
25-34 24 33 43 100 146
18-24 36 28 35 100 88

Age vs Knowledge for "Fairly Close" Mideast news Followers

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Total Count
Refused 26 35 39 100 23
65+ 41 30 30 100 179
55-64 31 30 39 100 152
45-54 39 22 39 100 205
35-44 40 34 26 100 233
25-34 50 29 22 100 208
18-24 64 30 6.1 100 131

So it looks like those from 18-44 have a slightly different perspective of what "very close" means compared to 45-64. Again though, this "fairly close" segment blew me away. Fewer than 25% of those under 44 who think they are fairly close followers of Mideast news could answer both questions, and among the 18-24 crowd, it's a particularly sad 6.1%. I hesitate to read too much into this question because both of the questions are things that have been known facts for decades, and thus could arguably favor older people, although I have a tough time accepting that argument.

But, given that age and party affiliation were pretty well-distributed, I wanted to look a little more closely. The next thing I did was to look at the percentage of individuals who got both questions correct within each age and party affiliation segment for the groups that reported following the news very closely or fairly closely. Remember that this is a fairly large total sample (n=3002), so these are still decent-sized slices, with n=1195 for very close news followers and n=1131 for fairly close news followers. I then computed the percentage decline with each cross-sectional group.

% of Cross-section of "Very Close" Mideast News Followers Answering Both Mideast News Questions Correctly

REF 65+ 55-64 45-54 35-44 25-34 18-24
Don't know 33 50 25 0 0 67 0
Other 0 100
67 50 100 100
No Preference 0 33 0 50 18 13 33
Independent 80 53 70 52 39 47 16
Democrat 25 36 51 47 42 46 48
Republican 60 41 64 48 37 39 45

% of Cross-section of "Fairly Close" Mideast News Followers Answering Both Mideast News Questions Correctly

REF 65+ 55-64 45-54 35-44 25-34 18-24
Don't know 30 14 0 0 20 0 0
Other 0 0
25 33 50
No Preference
8.3 33 43 6.3 13 0
Independent 17 40 45 42 18 25 4.3
Democrat 100 20 33 30 19 19 3
Republican 75 41 48 49 41 23 12

% Decline of Cross-section's ability to answer Both Mideast News Questions Correctly Between Very Close and Fairly Close news followers

REF 65+ 55-64 45-54 35-44 25-34 18-24
Don't know 10 71 100
-Inf 100
63 33 50
No Preference
75 -Inf 14 66 -6.7 100
Independent 79 25 35 20 55 47 73
Democrat -300 44 36 36 54 58 94
Republican -25 0.41 25 -3.2 -10 41 73

Looking at the numbers, the one thing that I think is visible is that while everyone seems to think they are better informed than their knowledge suggests they are, younger people seem to have a lower standard of being informed on the news, but Democrats, even more than young people, are more likely to overstate their familiarity with the news compared to their actual knowledge of that news. To look at this, I examined just the 25 and older crowed (throwing out those who refused to provide and age as well as the 18-25 group).

Among this group (25 and up) Democrats who considered themselves "very close" followers of Mideast news (n=375) scored about the same as Republicans who only rated themselves as "fairly close" news followers (n=326) (41% VCD to 40% FCR). In contrast, self-described Republicans (n=363) and Independents (n=272) who were very close news followers did much better than similarly self-reporting Democrats, with 48% and 52%, respectively, able to answer both questions accurately, versus the 41% for Dems. (Note that this contrasts some from the early observation that Dems and Republicans seemed to be quite similar in the "very close" news follower segment, the 18-24 group was hurting Republicans and helping Democrats.)

Education and Income Do Have An Effect, Obviously

Since the Republican numbers would tend to be natural skewed by education and income, I thought it would be worthwhile to just take a quick skim at those numbers as well:

Income vs Knowledge for self-reported "Very close" followers of Mideast news

Neither Correct
One Correct
Don't know/Refused 27 33 39 100 218
$100,000 or more 12 26 62 100 137
$75,000 - $100,000 17 23 60 100 110
$50,000 - $75,000 20 31 49 100 197
$40,000 - $50,000 26 31 43 100 120
$30,000 - $40,000 32 32 36 100 133
$20,000 - $30,000 24 32 45 100 127
$10,000 - $20,000 37 32 31 100 94
Less than $10,000 39 36 25 100 59

Education vs. Knowledge for self-reported "Very close" followers of Mideast news

Neither Correct
One Correct
Both Correct
Refused 80 20 0 100 5
At Least 4-year Degree
12 26 62 100 444
Some College/2 Year Deg
21 33 46 100 282
High School Graduate
36 34 30 100 374
Less Than High School
48 34 18 100 90

The numbers for fairly close watchers fall off about as one would expect. That is, while the more educated and the weatlhier drop off about 10 points, the lower categories fall off at a faster rate.

General Observations

Here are some quick general observations from the data.

I will add a comic relief section to this later that lists some of the verbatim responses captured when asking who Yasser Arafat was. ("Bad ass" is my favorite so far.)
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Friday, November 26, 2004

Looking at Political Apathy and Ignorance  | e-mail post

In my recent post about the nature of the political divide, I basically suggest that there really isn't as much of a divide as people would suggest, and attributed the appearance and sense of a divide to a fairly comprehensive set of factors. I claimed that the fertile soil in which the problem starts is the evil twins of political apathy and political ignorance. Hopefully I won't have to defend the claim of political apathy when we are talking about this year's "very high" election turnout still bringing less than 60% of the voting age population to the polls.

Whence Political Apathy?

A combination of positive and negative factors has created a significant (and generally growing) level of political apathy over a period of decades, but I think the major ones are:
Political ignorance is both a cause and an effect of political apathy, creating a snowball effect. Citizens uninterested in public affairs will not become informed, and politically ignorant citizens are going to be as apathetic about an election campaign or outcome as the typical American (even a cosmopolitan blue-stater) would be if plopped down to watch an India vs Pakistan cricket match.

Political Ignorance

For an overview of the extent, root causes (other than apathy), and implications of political ignorance, I suggest GMU law professor Ilya Somin's "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy." Also, if you're a Kerry voter thinking that political ignorance must be a big problem since Bush won, you might want to slow down and see Ilya Somin's breakdowns on political ignorance by party affiliation.

I can't help but think that contributing to political ignorance is the decline in both the consumer's demand for public affairs news and the resulting decline in the supply of that news. Pew's 2002 survey on news consumption indicated that 20% Americans didn't expose themselves to any news in the prior day (controlled for weekdays), that's double the 1994 result when only 10% skipped news. And while television news (primarily local) is still the largest source of news for people, the average American was watching less than 30 minutes a day. In terms of topical interest in news, people are more likely to follow "community," health, crime and sports news very closely than news of local goverment, international affairs or Washington politics and policy.

Highlighting of the mutual reinforcement of ignorance and apathy, the poll also found that even among "heavy" news consumers (those spending at least one hour on news in the prior day) approximately 40% of them said they would often lose interest in news stories because they lacked the background context to understand them. Consider that if this number of people have a difficult time keeping up with the news

Believer me, the media isn't helping, but that criticism will have to wait for another post.

"But I'm Not Ignorant, I Keep Up With The News" - Yeah, Right

Even more disconcerting than how little news people do consume is how much people appear to overestimate their level of attention to the news or their understanding of news the claim to follow. (I hope you are sitting down for this.) While 65% of respondents claimed to follow both international affairs and national politcal news somewhat or very closely:
It is also interesting that 20% of people thought they knew the answer to the Israel and Secretary of Defense questions, while 30% thought they knew who Arafat was. I guess I should not have been surprised, I am sometimes dumbstruck at the level of ignorance exhibited by some people who claim to "be up on things."

I wanted to try to get a better understanding of just how bad this situation is, so I actually downloaded the 2002 media survey data set from the Pew Research Center's data archive. They release the complete SPSS data files (.sav) for their surveys six months after they release their findings. If you know how to use a stats package like S-plus, SPSS, SAS or R, you can go nuts with them. By the way, if you don't know about Pew Research, they are a non-profit, and their lead pollster, Andrew Kohut, was something of a minor celebrity after the election this year, having nailed the prediction of the final national vote tally. He was also critical of the inclusion of the "moral values" question on the exit poll and the amount of attention given the results.

You'll have to wait for the next post for the results. I can tell you already that they're really pretty depressing. And for all you partisans out there, I did run some partisan segments, but I don't think anybody will be claiming bragging rights, at least on the small analysis I am doing.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thankfully, Ukraine Reminds Us What 'A Nation Divided' Means  | e-mail post

When writing yesterday about what to do about the division in America, I questioned whether or not our nation really is that divided. I pointed to the case of the much closer, higher-turnout election of Kennedy over Nixon in 1960 as a point of modern comparison. However, in the interests of keeping the piece shorter, one of the things I left out from my draft were some historical examples of a divided America, to help provide some perspective about what a really divided America looks like:
In all those cases, there were extremely fundamental disagreements about core elements of our governance. Today, people are at odds over, for example, whether or not the FCC is on a censorship campaign despite the seemingly uncontestable fact that not only are broadcast television standards clearly more relaxed than they have ever been but that we as a nation have more and easier access to a broader variety of material to suit the anyone's most prurient of interests. And don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining; I like it that way. I simply can't take the "FCC as moral gestapo" argument seriously. It's another example of the left having no great causes, and so they pick around the edges.

So it's probably good for all of us to have news of a really divided nation, just to keep things in perspective this Thanksgiving. The Ukrainian elections have the country on the brink of a civil war. International election monitors are claiming widespread vote fraud on behalf of the winner of the election, Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine's Prime Minister, backed by both the outgoing President and Moscow. The EU has spoken out against the results, as has Canada. The U.S. weighed in with Colin Powell mentioning the serious consequences of certifying the fraudulent election (namely U.S. aid). Meanwhile, needless to say, Putin has already been congratulating Yanukovich on his "win," and the outgoing President has asked the world to, basically, mind their own damn business. [Retuers via Yahoo] Today, Ukraine's highest court has blocked the inauguration of Yanukovich. [Reuters via Yahoo] It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Again, like my historical examples, but unlike today, in the U.S., Ukraine shows a fundamental division in a nation, with a part of the nation wanting to pursue westernization and liberalization, wanting to align itself more with the EU and the Western democracies. Now this is a difference that matters: about remaining as a satellite of Russia, little different than the days of the Soviet Union, or becoming an independent and autonomous nation.

I think it would help us all, as we go to see families and friends, many of whom may be at odds on politics, to think of Ukraine or the history of our country, and remember that we agree about more things that we disagree, that we're really all Americans, living in the greatest nation in history, participants in that bold experiment in democracy that still continues. I think that's something for which we should al be thankful, whether your're Michael Moore or Pat Robertson.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (0) comments |  | Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thoughts On Our 'Divided America'  | e-mail post

Since I was delinquent in addressing last week's Homespun Symposium topic, I will get this week's out of the way immediately. This topic this week is three (really four) questions:
Before answering any of these questions, I think it is critical to consider what exactly "the division in America" really means. Is the conventional wisdom regarding the nature, source, and extent of the division in America accurate?

The contemporary American political process naturally demands a certain level of division.In every election competing candidates offer competing or opposing positions and visions for the future; and in every election only one candidate can win. That's the way it works. Why does this election demonstrate some kind of unique divide?

Some point to the election results as evidence of the rift. They say the relatively narrow margin shows just how evenly split the nation is, while the high voter turnout indicates the intensity of the divide. But compare this to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 in which Kennedy won the national popular vote by a margin of .17%, about 113,000 votes, a smaller vote margin than Bush had in Ohio alone. And as to turnout, in 1960, 63.1% of the voting age population showed up to vote, compared to 55.1% this year. Was the nation as divided then as it was today? More importantly, did people feel as divided as we do today? It is doubtful that Kennedy's election left 3 out of 4 Nixon voters "worried" and over a third "angry" about the outcome, as a Pew poll found Kerry voters to feel about Bush's victory.

A political scientist would say that close elections aren't usually a sign of division, but instead are the result of a lack of clear substantive differences between the candidates. I have commented at length on John Kerry's failure to present an agenda that offered a significant alternative to Bush. Kerry talked of doing things "better" or "smarter" or "differently;" he said we should do "more" or "everything possible." However, as a substantive forward agenda, he offered little more than increasing taxes on the wealthiest 5% of the nation and eliminating restrictions on funding embryonic stem cell research. The first President Bush might say that Kerry lacked that "vision thing."

"But look at the maps!" division-seekers claim, "The maps make the divisions so clear." If you really feel that way, I would encourage you to read a piece by the Washington Post's Philip Kennicott, "Election Map Makers, Exercising Some Latitude" to help provide some perspective. One of Kennicott's observations:
On the Internet, the shape of the United States is being reconfigured, recolored, relabeled and even twisted, in some cases, into unrecognizability. The infamous Jesusland map, which pits the blue states and Canada against a new southern theocracy, is only the tip of the cartographical iceberg. A more sober slide show, originally produced for CBS News, walks the user through just about every conceivable demographic division, from wealth to education to race and ethnicity. It is a mesmerizing and obsessive repetition of the American silhouette, colored to capture myriad degrees of social difference. It has the unintended consequence of reducing America like an X-ray reduces a patient, reinforcing the same minutiae of demographic cynicism we deplore in major-party strategists.
"Well if you can't see the division from the polls, you must be blind," say the believers in a deep divide, pointing to electoral splits among various demographic or sociographic factions. Of course, one can obviously segment groups, and identify segments that vote in one direction or another, this is exactly the "minutaue of demographic cynicism" Kennicott described. Indeed, I recently argued that the exit polls were actually engineered to "find" the division. But looking at the bigger picture and reading various postelection polls, the division appears less clear. For example, a CNN poll found 63% of voters want Bush to emphasize a bipartisan agenda, while only 30% want a focus on a "pure" Republican agenda. If you assume that anyone who voted for Kerry would, by definition, want a bipartisan agenda, slightly over 40% of Bush voters must want that bipartisan agenda as well. I would even bet that if the election results had flipped, the results would be mirrored, with at least as large a portion of Kerry's voter's endorsing a bipartisan agenda.

And, there really isn't so very much difference between the major parties. I'm not saying it's Coke versus Pepsi, but we certainly aren't deciding between milk and whiskey, this election was LBJ versus Barry Goldwater. When you consider the entire gamut of government policy, so much of it has been settled and institutionalized into vast professional bureaucracies. Even in policy areas that haven't been completely settled, the debate is not black or white, but more about deciding between a charcoal or slate grey. Each party is more than willing to co-opt positions traditionally "owned" by the other: Clinton brings us free trade and welfare reform, and Bush spearheads the largest entitlement program since Social Security (the Medicare prescription drug benefit). Ever tort reform, a key platform item for Bush, was first implemented by a Democratic governor and legislature in California back in 1975 (more on this subject). And truthfully, there wasn't much of a healthcare debate because Kerry's plan really wasn't all that different from a proposal presented by Republican Senate Leader Bill Frist. It's hardly surprising that many earnest progressives would call Kerry "Bush lite," or that conservative ideological purists would point out that Bush could hardly be called a "genuine" conservative.

Some might suggest that the similarities between the parties indicate a dysfunction in the political system. I would suggest that, more positively, such similarity might also be taken as evidence of a significant national consensus about a great many issues as well as the relative effectiveness of the two parties at ultimately arriving at solutions that are acceptable to a broad national consensus. The truth is that, as a collective whole, our nation is in pretty good shape, really. Citizens around the world might criticize or insult us for reelecting George Bush, but the funny thing is, we are still the envy of the world. For every Kerry voter that joked of leaving the country, there are easily a hundred people around the world who would wish nothing more than to take their place in America. And, as a practical matter, there hasn't really been any sort of exodus.

But If There's All This Consensus, Why Do We Feel So Divided?

As I've thought about it, I believe that the sense of division we feel is symptomatic not so much of a broad political difference but of a partisan rivalry, created and compounded by some broadly interrelated factors, none of which should make us very proud. (I will be posting followups to elaborate on these items as well, but I am trying to be brief(?))

A broad level of political ignorance and apathy, combined with the an expanding commonality between the major parties, has encouraged, if not forced, the use of more wedge issues, shrill claims, and personal demonization in campaigns, creating a political Kabuki theater. Poor mainstream news reporting of both government and politics has also encouraged more stark differentiation and simplistic messaging. The media has compounded their failure by being a party to the shift in the political debate from one of substance, facts, governance and policy to one that is personal, partisan, misleading and process-oriented.

These factors, combined with a pragmatic consensus by many in the informed middle has resulted in the group of citizen partisans for each side being composed of proportionally more extreme elements, who have also become increasingly shrill. The rise of niche media outlets from talk radio to blogs has also provided these citizen partisans with a greater voice.

The increasing intemperance by partisans and a lack of substantive knowledge about politics and policy has combined with a culture that discourages the social discussion of political disagreement to create a situation in which our social circles are more likely to be politically homogeneous, leading to groupthink and intemperate "debate" within those circles. When combined with increasing privacy and social isolation in people's political worlds (evidenced by increasing absentee voting and online political discussions) the result is many people who don't have (or don't know they have) any friends with an opposing viewpoint. A broad decline in the culture of respect and civility has also meant that people are more likely to view those who share different political views as somehow abnormal (and since it is often only the most extreme from the other side that rise above the din, this is more understandable).

All of this has combined with an increasingly self-indulgent culture that encourages, or at least validates, this emotional and dramatized sense of division that requires healing. Depression, as they say, is a disease of affluence. And, of course, it makes great news copy, having become the meme of the year for the mainstream press.

So What Can We Do?

Shortly after the election, I did an in-depth analysis of the NEP exit polls, which led me to believe the questions and tabulations were selected to highlight the sense of division in the electorate, it forced me to contemplate their motivation:
I'm not 100% sure why they would want to create that image so badly it would be worth effectively rigging the voter opinion results. The only rationale that comes to mind for doing this is that an America divided along largely demographic grounds is a better story for television.

I suppose television as a medium can't compete as strongly with print or online in the deeper discussion of policy, and that is exactly what our nation needs. If polling revealed the commonsense fact that most Americans, regardless of who they vote for, are generally concerned about the same sorts of things, and the conflict is really about the philosophical approach to achieving those common goals, then Americans are going to realize that we need to come together, across party lines and ideologies, and have a dialog about how best to achieve those common goals. That is usually what I try to do here, but I think many people think it's just easier to believe that "the other guys" are just too far apart from them to even have a conversation.
And while I could go on about this at length, that seems like the best summation for now. I will be posting further information about some of these issues mentioned here, and will add links to the expanded information in this post as I do.


"Thankfully, Ukraine Reminds Us What 'A Nation Divided' Means" offers both some contemporary and historical perspectives on our nation's current divide.

"Looking at Political Apathy and Ignorance" considers some of the reasons for political apathy and touches on the extent of political ignorance.
e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  | (1) comments |  | Wednesday, November 24, 2004

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