Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Divided Country

Bob Cohn over at The Atlantic has an article describing how we are divided as a country, perhaps more divided than ever.  It's got graphs and everything.

Well, not quite everything.  The article doesn't actually provide much evidence that we are divided, or what we're divided about, or whether it was really worse in 1980 or 1880 or 1780.  It mostly just asks whether people think so.  For example, most knuckleheads - uh, I mean respondents - believe that gun control is the most divisive issue in the country.  I suggest this is because the issue has been in the news more recently, so at a surface level it is one of the first things that comes to mind.  It is also, I would contend not coincidentally, not an economic issue, such as unemployment, debt, spending - and therefore a topic that many media sources would prefer to focus on.

Well, disagree with that part if you wish, it's not central to my argument.  It's the seeking of opinions rather than facts that gets dangerous.  Ask yourself: would a majority opinion on whether global warming has reversed, and whether it is more related to sunspots than CO2, change the actual temperature even 0.1 degree? (Celsius or Fahrenheit, your choice.)  So too with asking a consensus on whether we are politically divided or not. It's only mildly related to the reality.

The reality, however, requires thought, effort, objectivity, and research.  Apparently that's a little daunting for Cohn.

HT: hdb*chick


james said...

You'd have thought that the re-enactment of Gettysburg in the news lately might have reminded his respondents that there are more dramatic divisions than red/blue and other sorts of Firing Line.

But maybe "history" sorts of things aren't quite real? Not as real as whatever's on TV, for instance.

And without any sense of history, I'd be just trying to decide if political debate is more fraught now than back in the 60's when I wasn't paying attention.

Luke Lea said...

When you consider how low information most people are -- think of all those Jay Leno sidewalk interviews -- it's a wonder most people have an opinion about anything, or that pollsters take their "opinions" seriously on various relatively arcane questions (climate change, economic policy, etc.). I suppose there is a wisdom of crowds, but I don't know . . .

Luke Lea said...

Addendum: with most polls I think it is a question of putting words into people's mouths. As in "which of the following do you think is closest to the truth . . ."