It's The Culture, Stupid

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 12:26

For about two and a half years, I have been convinced that our political / ideological differences in America are largely caused and underwritten by identity and cultural divides. Factors such as race / ethnicity, religious orientation and church attendance are greater indicators or how someone will vote and think about politics than anything else. My argument isn't that ideological and income factors don't matter, but rather that the ideological ramifications of cultural identity institutions are the primary driving forces in other ideological outlooks on the world. That is to say, the relationship of individuals to the religious, ethnic, and sexual institutions in which we live will have a great impact on an individual world view than anything else we experience, including the ecosystem of political parties, advocacy organizations, candidates, consultants and media that form the national industry of politics. The point of all this is that if you want to change our national ideological orientation and, say, produce a truly progressive government, it is necessary to change the institutions which produce that ideology much more than it is necessary to produce better progressive political machinery.

As such, it is with great interest that this morning I read over the Norman Lear Center and Zogby International survey on correlation between popular culture and political attitudes. Here is methodological info on the survey:

he survey -- conducted June 2629, 2007, including 3,939 adults nationwide and carrying a margin of error of +/ 1.6 percentage points -- revealed that America's entertainment tastes are as polarized as our political views. Using statistical clustering analysis, we created a political typology based on how respondents evaluated 48 statements about political values. The typology revealed three significant clusters of respondents: "conservatives," as we decided to call them,make up 37% of the national sample, while "liberals" comprise 39% and "moderates" 24%. The same respondents were asked about their entertainment preferences, including theirconsumption of themost highly-rated TV shows and networks;popular movies, sports, music, books, art and theater. We discovered that just as there are conservatives, liberals and moderates, there are people with red, blue and purple taste.

One of the things that I really like about the survey is that ideological variances were thrust upon people after they answered a battery of questions, rather than simply asking them if they identified as liberal, moderate or conservative. Being something of an elitist, I am convinced that at least half of the population doesn't actually know what their ideological orientation is, but instead chooses to identify with certain terms (conservative, moderate, liberal, libertarian, progressives, etc) for reasons primarily relating to fashion. Better to determine their ideological orientation on your own, and then see what differences arise. And here is what the poll found:

People with a "red" entertainment preference think a lot of programming is in bad taste and doesn't reflect their values. They don't like a lot of things on TV, but their two favorite channels are Fox and Fox News. They like sports, especially football and auto racing, and they watch news and business programming. They don't like most contemporary music and they don't watch VH1 or MTV. They don't much like late-night TV. They like to go to sporting events, and when they do go to the movies - which is rarely - they seek out action-adventure films. They're not big book readers, but when they do read, they prefer non-fiction. When they read fiction, they often select mysteries and thrillers. They are more likely to listen to country and gospel than other people, but their favorite music is classical. They don't play a lot of video games, but when they do, Madden NFL and Mario are their favorites. They think that fictional TV shows and movies are politically biased, and they believe they can predict a person's politics if they know the person's entertainment preferences.
People with a "blue" entertainment preference like many of different types of programming, even if it doesn't reflect their taste or values. They shy away from a lot of primetime programming, especially game shows and reality TV, but they like comedies, drama, documentaries, news, and arts and educational programming. They love 60 Minutes, PBS, HBO, Comedy Central and The Daily Show. They go to the movies, where they often see comedies, and they like to go to live theater and museums and galleries. They read books more often than most people - they prefer fiction to non-fiction, but their favorite genre is politics and current events. They enjoy entertainment with political themes, and they feel like they learn about politics from entertainment. Sports are less interesting to them, but football is their favorite, and they're more likely to follow soccer than other people. They like lots of different kinds of music (except country) and they watch MTV and VH1. They play video games a lot more than other people - Mario and The Sims are favorites.

People with "purple" entertainment preferences like all the broadcast networks and a lot of primetime programming, including police procedurals, game shows and reality programming. They watch a lot of Fox News and they like daytime and children's programming more than other people. Moderates like to read non-fiction, including self-help books and biographies, but they like mysteries and thrillers best. Rock music is their favorite - they don't like classical or folk music as much as other people. Their favorite video games are Mario, Donkey Kong and Madden NFL. They don't seek out entertainment with political themes and they are far less likely to read books about politics or current events than other people. They are less likely than other people to think that they can predict a person's politics based on their entertainment preferences.

This isn't the most groundbreaking information out there. Conservatives like NASCAR? Liberals like PBS? Who would have ever predicted such groundbreaking revelations? Moderates like lowest common denominator reality programming? Stunning. Still, I think this survey is another useful indication that our political differences in this country are broad and culturally based. Political divides are not simply surface divides, but range across our lifestyles in multi-faceted ways. One can reach across the aisle and bring liberals and conservatives together about as easily as one can create a concert that appeals to fans of divergent types of music. That is to say, this is not simply a matter of a lack of outreach: deep, underlying cultural differences are the source of our political disagreements. This has always been obvious to ideological one-party states, which have always sought to control cultural outputs within their borders.

The political survey they created is also interesting. I usually don't like such surveys, but this strikes me as a little better than most.

Chris Bowers :: It's The Culture, Stupid

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Mario the Uniter (4.00 / 2)

They don't play a lot of video games, but when they do, Madden NFL and Mario are their favorites.

They play video games a lot more than other people - Mario and The Sims are favorites.

Their favorite video games are Mario, Donkey Kong and Madden NFL.

This just proves my theory about theSuper Mario Brothers:
If you want the world to "sing in perfect harmony", don't buy the world a Coke, buy it a Wii and a copy of Super Mario Galaxy!

Mario/Luigi '08!!!!!!

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Damn, You Beat Me To It! (0.00 / 0)
This is what Obama ought to be doing, if he's so convined he can work with Dick Cheney and the neocons--challenge them to a Super Mario marathon!

And instead of spending money on tv ads and the like, just hold massive week-long competetions, renting halls throughout the land.

He could truly revolutionize politics as we know it.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
well (0.00 / 0)
at least until princess toadstool violates habeus corpus in what she claims is a strategy to properly root out potential turtle spies

[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure (0.00 / 0)
that Bowser is the one who has regularly violated the Habeas Corpus rights of Princess Peach.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
Peach & Bowser (0.00 / 0)
Bowser might take away habeas corpus, but Peach is apparently into mass genocide.

Our Dime Understanding the U.S. Budget

[ Parent ]
A False Distinction (0.00 / 0)
While I agree with the general thrust of this diary--as you say, quite a surprise about NASCAR and PBS, who knew?--I have to take exception to this formulation:

if you want to change our national ideological orientation and, say, produce a truly progressive government, it is necessary to change the institutions which produce that ideology much more than it is necessary to produce better progressive political machinery.

I know what you're trying to get at, but the very act of distinquishing between "political machinery" and "institutions which produce that ideology" is part of our problem as progressives.  Indeed, liberals still think that media should be "objective" while conservatives have never imagined that the media are anything other than ideology-producing institutions, and as such, perfectly contiguous with political machinery.

Thus, it's no surprise that Clear Channel has almost completely banned Springsteen's new album.  That's precisely how conservatives operate.  And always have, when given the opportunity.

It's precisely the perspective of a Gramscian culture war that cuts through this sort of false dichotomizing:  All institutions have ideological functions, although these are expressed in different ways.  And a successful ideological struggle marshalls as many of them as possible, consciously connecting them together.

A Deeper Misunderstanding

Your diary you linked to quotes extensively from a piece by Ruy Teixeira, in which he cites a number of "myths" beginning with:

The Framing Myth. Associated with Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, the framing approach assures Democrats they need not change what they say, but how they say it--how they "frame" their message. As Josh Green pointed out in his devastating Atlantic piece on Lakoff, this framing is typically a reshuffling of tired old rhetorical cliches and shows no signs of being any more politically effective than the Democrats' previous unframed appeals.

There are two things wrong with this. First, it totally misunderstands the nature of Lakoff's argument.  It is somewhat valid as a critique of how other insiders have misunderstood Lakoff. but it has nothing to do with that Lakoff is about.  As I pointed out in a diary the weekend before last, Lakoff wrote a paper --The Mind and The World: Changing the Very Idea of American Foreign Policy [PDF]--for the Frameworks Institute and their Global Interdependence Initiative (GII) about reframing foreign policy in which he argued that we don't even know what we stand for--and, incidentally, that's why Gore lost the foreign policyh debate with George Bush (and, hence, the 2000 election.)

There is, of couse, a superficial sense in which Texiera is right, since Lakoff argues that all sorts of things liberals care about--the environment, human rights,women's rights, children's issues, global public health, etc.--should be packaged together as part of foreign policy.  But because he's not just talking about a strategy, but a vision, and he starts from the root reasons why these belong together, it is simply nonsensical to argue that there is no substantive side of Lakoff's argument.  The fact that he is not specifically prescriptive in telling activists how to change simply reflects that fact that he respects other people's specific expertise--whether academic, personal, professional, or whatever.  It does not mean that he thinks no change is necessary.

This ties back into the main subject of this post, since Lakoff is arguing that liberals already live by the very principles that he is telling them need to be applied to their policial rhetorica and organizing.  It's a sort of Gramscian unified field theory approach.

Ewinforcing this is the second thing wrong with Teixeira's critique.  He utterly ignores that Lakoff is insistent on the importance of political institution building--think tanks, media, the works.  Lakoff is quite clear that we need institutions which fill the gap between an inchoate liberal culture and the campaign-cycle spending on campaigns.  He says this repeatedly--and not just in informal settings.  He said it in Don't Think of An Elephant.  It's not his particular area of expertise, so he doesn't write about it speficifically, but he brings up quite regularly when the discussion turns to what liberals and Democrats need to be doing differently.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Who are the purples... (0.00 / 0)
This is a very interesting study, I'm sorry this post got buried so quickly.

At first as I started looking at the linked PoliticsSurveyData.pdf, I thought that the Purples were just somewhere in between liberal and conservative, not really a separate cluster.  But as you go through, you realize they skew sometimes one way, sometimes the other, in a manner that definitely doesn't fit any of my ready stereotypes.  And in fact, when you get to the latter pages of the report, you see that whoever produced it was fundamentally most interested in who the heck the purples are -- all those little notes in the right margin are about trying to get a bead on that middle group. 

On the belief side of things, looking only at the categories where they skew significantly one way or the other, purples are: anti-government and favor freedom over equality, but believe in the need to help the less fortunate and that corporations should be regulated by the government.  They are pro-abortion pro-immigration, pro-public education, but want tax cuts, a traditionally defined marriage, and are against affirmative action.  They are against wars abroad and want the government to protect the environment, but believe evolution should be taught next to other theories in schools.

On the demographic side of things, they fit no clear stereotype that I can see, but for the categories where they aren't just a blend of liberal and conservative: their race and income are like liberals (less white, less wealthy), but their degree of christianity and church-going are like conservatives.  They are more likely to be women (like liberals) with children (like conservatives).  They travel less than either end, and are more likely to be 30-49 than either, and of course are pretty evenly split by party.

Good luck catering to them and your base!

(Incidentally, I'm baffled why education isn't in here; I'm sure they must have asked.  Back to the NES...)

Hard to say (0.00 / 0)
I'm tempted to say the apathetic, but survey says they're only slightly less likely to vote in national elections than the reds and clues, 96% vs 99%. Maybe their beliefs are swayed by the dominant narrative and conventional wisdom in pop culture, and by that I mean pop culture that's not blatantly partisan.

[ Parent ]
Identity politics is still a strong force (0.00 / 0)
As much as we all would like to think we're individuals, we all have heuristics or mental shortcuts, ways to make (usually accurate) snap judgments about whether someone is "one of us" or not. Fashion and culture make it all too easy. Here's an example. Years ago I bought some (non-offroading) accessories for my truck at a 4 Wheel Parts store. Later that year I started getting junkmail from the Country music station. Real funny. I'll bet that threw off the NSA profiling algorithms.

It's also not surprising the entertainment industry caters to the simplistic black and white worldview of Reds, the apathetic worldview of Purples, and the complex worldview of Blues. The entertainment tastes are pretty accurate except I don't think there's much crossover between country and classical music fans. Maybe that comes from lumping economic conservatives and social conservatives. The video game question was strange because it goes by favorite games instead of categories.

There will always be a few people to break the cycle, but for the vast majority, the paths that people take in life are very much railroaded by the demographics and the institutions that shape our lives. It would be interesting to post this on dkos to solicit stories of people who broke the cycle (Confessions of a Former Dittohead was a good series), but they'll be vastly outnumbered by the people who took the more obvious path.

Which came first, (0.00 / 0)
demographics, or personal identities?

Are demographic categories based on the actions, beliefs, and natural histories of real human beings, or fictionalized descriptions dreamt up by social scientists?

Do the masses define the demographics, or do the demographics define the people?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I'm Curious (0.00 / 0)
What would be a demographic category based on fictionalized descriptions dreamt up by social scientists?  I'm having a hard time imagining what you're thinking of here.

It's certainly true that some theories have questionable validity--heck with "cold fusion" it's pretty obvious that even the hard sciences have their share of those.  But demographic categories?  I'm not saying you're wrong.  I just can't think of a likely example, and I'd like to know what you have in mind.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
p.s. (0.00 / 0)
I went out to move my car, and something occured to me.  If by "demographic category" you meant Pew's division into three categories, then that's something I understand.

These sorts of divisions are driven by the data, but are somewhat of an art, as there is no agreed-upon way of doing the analysis, which is based on extracting eiqenvalues from (possibly rotated) matrices until you figure you've extracted all the significant pattern you're going to find.

The process is similar both for identifying clusters of voters and for identifying clusters of issues--though each sort of analysis serves a different function, and demographically-oriented researchers rarely do the latter sort of analysis.  But a macro-level example of the latter performed by James Simpson illustrated something that's inherently likely with this methodology.  He looked at long-term data trends (NES, GSS) and found a primary cluster that corresponded pretty much with what one might call welfare state liberalism.  But the second cluster was pretty much a mish-mash of different things that could roughly be called "social issues," but surely not the well-defined agenda that the religious right has crafted.

The same could well be true for demographic clusters as well.  In this case, the first two might be well-defined, but the third one be where the relative incohence sets in.  I haven't made any sort of in-depth study, this is just coming from my generic understanding of how this analysis works and a relatively small sample of examples I've seen.  In fact, some folks who use this approach to issue clustering will intentionally pass over the strongest first eigenvalue in order to get a better overall fit, which will presumably tend to increase the chances that the secondary categories are more internally coherent.  But again, this is just modestly informed speculation on my part.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
It was a genuine question (0.00 / 0)
My response was based off of this line in the previous post:

"There will always be a few people to break the cycle, but for the vast majority, the paths that people take in life are very much railroaded by the demographics and the institutions that shape our lives."

It got me wondering how it could be that demographics could "railroad" anyone down a particular path in their life.  Granted, I can see "institutions" doing so - because these are the creation and construct of other humans and these "institutions" are the gatekeepers (in a sense) of the pathways through life.

Now, I had always figured that demographic categories were determined by empirical observation of the population under scrutiny, or analysis. Truthfully, I hadn't thought much about it - beyond recognizing that, when we are dealing with humans, the names given to these categories (officially, or unofficially) are important in the realm of "identity politics", or "identity culture".  But the cateogories themselves, I had assumed were determined by the characteristics of the people making up the population.

But that line had me wondering- maybe, demographic categories ARE more like institutions - maybe they are created, whole cloth, by those conducting whatever research, or analyses with we are concerned.  Maybe, one can be "railroaded" by demographics, after all.

More importantly - if one can be "guided" down certain paths in life by demographic categories - then perhaps some "social scientist", somewhere has set about designing a "useful" set of demographic categories with which they hope to "guide" our society.  These would be "fictionalized" because they do not describe actual human sub-groups.  That is: such could be the stuff of social engineering.

Sorry, if I'm making too much of a minor point - social science and demographics are not my bag.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Or, (0.00 / 0)
does it just mean that people's lives are, in large part, determined by the other people with which they associate?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Bingo! (0.00 / 0)
It's both association and common experience, I would wager.

It's not that people are robots.  But the forces that shape political destiny have to be pretty broadly shared, and hence reflect broad commonalities.

The factors that make me love Philip K. Dick, Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Skip James, Walt Whitman, and Beethoven's Late Quartets are a good deal more idiosyncratic.  And we all have that side of ourselves as well.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I'll try to explain (0.00 / 0)
I had one freshman sociology class, and I know I use institutions and demographics vaguely.

By demographics, I mean it in the context of Chris Bowers' analysis of the electorate. If you look at just very general categories like white, male Christians or white, male union members, you'll find groups that favor Republicans or Democrats respectively in the 60-70% range. It's a superficial, high-level analysis, but it's still very interesting. You don't get into cause and effect until you drill down into each one.

By institutions, I'm lumping in pop culture and entertainment too. There's a question of cause and effect, but I think pop culture caters to the tastes of its audience and in turn, there's a positive feedback loop that reinforces and validates their attitudes.

[ Parent ]

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