Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?
Posted on: December 5, 2009 4:44 AM, by Andrew Gelman
Tom Ball writes:
Didn't know if you had seen this article [by Jason Richwine] about political allegiance and IQ but wanted to make sure you did. I'm surprised the author hasn't heard or seen of your work on Red and Blue states! What do you think?
I think the article raises some interesting issues but he seems to be undecided about whether to take the line that intelligent Americans mostly have conservative views ("[George W.] Bush's IQ is at least as high as John Kerry's" and "Even among the nation's smartest people, liberal elites could easily be in the minority politically") or the fallback position that, yes, maybe liberals are more intelligent than conservatives, but intelligence isn't such a good thing anyway ("The smartest people do not necessarily make the best political choices. William F. Buckley once famously declared that he would rather give control of our government to "the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University."). One weakness of this latter argument is that the authorities he relies on for this point--William F. Buckley, Irving Kristol, etc.--were famous for being superintelligent. Richwine is in the awkward position of arguing that Saul Bellow's aunt (?) was more politically astute than Bellow, even though, in Kristol's words, "Saul's aunt may not have been a brilliant intellectual." Huh? We're taking Richwine's testimony on Saul Bellow's aunt's intelligence?
Richwine also gets into a tight spot when he associates conservativism as "following tradition" and liberalism with "non-traditional ideas." What is "traditional" can depend on your social setting. What it takes to be a rebel at the Columbia University faculty club is not necessarily what will get you thrown out of a country club in the Dallas suburbs. I think this might be what Tom Ball was thinking about when he referred to Red State, Blue State: political and cultural divisions mean different things in different places.
I do, however, agree with Richwine's general conclusion, which is that you're probably not going to learn much by comparing average IQ's of different groups. As Richwine writes, "The bottom line is that a political debate will never be resolved by measuring the IQs of groups on each side of the issue." African-Americans have low IQ's, on average, Jews have high IQ's on average, and both groups vote for the Democrats. Latinos have many socially conservative views but generally don't let those views get in the way of voting for Democrats.
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For trivial amusement, people can play with the GSS:* POLVIEWS vs. WORDSUM.* REGION vs. POLVIEWS; REGION vs. WORDSUM, filter POLVIEWS(4).* POLVIEWS(1-3,5-7) vs. WORDSUM.
A more subtle question involves that quote about The smartest people do not necessarily make the best political choices. Is there a difference in scope and social distribution of the fallout for the types of mistakes each make? Which distribution is more harmful to society?
Andrew Gelman: Richwine also gets into a tight spot when he associates conservativism as "following tradition" and liberalism with "non-traditional ideas."
As opposed, say, to identifying conservatives as those who also use INGROUP, AUTHORITY, and PURITY for basis in moral intuitions. Essentially, Richwine looks to be trying to disown the Religious Right portion of conservatism so that the whole of conservatism's big tent membership (such as free market fans) do not get tainted by association.
Posted by: abb3w December 5, 2009 1:47 PM
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