Don't hire writers that don't have political numeracy
I am so tired of reading David Brooks, a man who makes 5-10x what I do, make such stupid mistakes
What to do when you write about politics but don’t know anything about political science
Become a token op-ed writer for the New York Times, I guess.
The takeaway: No, 35% of Americans are not moderates, David Brooks. No, Bret Stephens, moving left on economic policy is not what lost Hillary Clinton a key number of votes among working class whites in the Midwest. Racism and hostile sexism did. And that’s why Democrats’ increasing liberalness (on economic policy)—which has been overstated by media outlets like the one that employs Brooks and Stephens—is not what would doom them. Being on the right side of the conversation re: diversity sadly could.
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One more time to correct the record, Mr Brooks. This paragraph is just so divorced from the actual research on the subject that it should be chalked up as factually incorrect, journalistic malpractice, or both.
Yes, just over a third of Americans describe themselves as moderates. But here’s the rub: “Moderate” doesn’t actually mean moderate.
In their book 2017 “Neither Liberal nor Conservative”, political scientists Nathan Kalmoe and Donald Kinder write that calling oneself “moderates” has little correlation to moderate policy preferences. In fact, the self-identification is a poor measure entirely. The authors calculate that answers to the question Brooks cites are just 63 percent predictive of what the same voters would say two years from now. In other words, these identities are not actually reflective of what policies people prefer. And they’re malleable. They’re bad. Don’t use them. Especially don’t use them to make errant comparative claims about policy preferences.
Brooks then launches into a laundry list of policies on which he disagrees with the liberal Democratic position. This is the same thing that Stephens does in his post-debate column this week. But Kalmoe and Kinder also have another lesson in their book for the two writers: The average American voter is so divorced from such nuanced ideological conversations that the columnist’s arguments implicitly fall apart. For Jill and Joe Schmoe, policy differences largely don’t matter. They are “innocent of ideology”, Kalmoe and Kinder (and Phil Converse before them) write.
Brooks and Stephens seem to forget the one thing that Democrats might be losing ground on: racial animus. Stephens at least touches on this when addressing Donald Trump’s skill at using populist (read: “nationalist”) messaging to appeal to voters who feel that “they” are coming to take “our” jobs, money, land, etc. Except Stephens is actually buying right into those arguments. He spends much of his article talking about “us” vs “them”. I’d like to submit that this is dangerous rhetoric and the Times shouldn’t be publishing it, even if he is making a point.
Stephens’s column also proves one of my other points, which might sound a bit like a familiar refrain to some of you. Being a “working class” white isn’t what drove some Obama voters to Trump, but being white did. Although they belong to radically different income and social classes, poor midwestern laborers shared something with Stephens: a desire for a white welfare system. This is evident in that Republican voters largely aren’t that opposed to “liberal” economic proposals, so long as they only provide benefits to people who “earn” them or are “contributing to society”.
To close, I’ll note that Stephens also argues that moderating on policy is what won Democrats the House in 2018. If you paid any attention at all to what Democrats campaign on last year—health care and Donald Trump—then you know that is false.
Don't hire writers that don't have political numeracy.