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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Dubious Survey

A new study from the Center for American Progress purports to show "the state of American political ideology." It rests on a survey that asked Americans to comment on 40 statements "about government and society split evenly between progressive and conservative beliefs." For each statement, respondents answered on a scale ranging from "totally agree" to "totally disagree."

Unfortunately, the survey instrument is fatally flawed. Take the following statement: "Government investments in education, infrastructure, and science are necessary to ensure America’s long-term economic growth." For this statement, "totally agree" purportedly represents the liberal or "progressive" position, and "totally disagree" represents the conservative position. There are a couple of problems with the item. First, the word "investment" is spin-speak for "spending," a rhetorical device to increase agreement. Second, the dichotomy makes no sense. The issue between liberals and conservatives is not whether government should support education, infrastructure, and science. It has done so since the Founding era. Rather, the two sides part company on other questions:
  • Should the federal government or the states take the lead role?
  • How much should each level spend?
  • What is the appropriate mix of controls and incentives?

For another statement, "Changes in the traditional American family have harmed our society" the study asserts that conservatives "totally agree" and liberals "totally disagree." Really? Divorce has changed the traditional American family, but does any sensible liberal regard this change as beneficial?

The study poses a good question: how has the ideological landscape changed? Alas, it does not offer a coherent answer.