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 2629, 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 theirconsumption of themost 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.