Uncommon Talents: Research & Critical Thinking

I’m a person who likes to do research on topics that interest me, but I like to do research in general even when it isn’t a topic that interests me too much.  If I’m making specific argument in a discussion, I want to make sure that I’m not being biased and that I’m using confirmed data. 

The problem is that I find few other people are willing to do the same kind of research.  Most people just believe what they want to believe.  Many people even seem to assume that the facts would agree with their opinions if they ever bothered to look at the facts.  This kind of righteous self-certainty annoys me, but even moreso it just perplexes me.

I realize people have limited time to do research for themselves.  That is fine.  But if that is the case, then shouldn’t the person refrain from making any absolute claims.  Instead of making declarations, shouldn’t they use language such as “I think…”, “I suspect…”, “My best guess is”…, “It would seem reasonable…”, or “I could be wrong, but…”.

Often, though, it seems that the less data someone has the more certain they declare their ‘knowledge’.  What bugs me even more is that many people are willing to directly dismiss or generally act dismissive towards the data that another person presents.  They’ll ask you to cite every fact you present all the while refusing to present any facts of their own.  It’s easy to be dismissive.

In response, I’ll sometimes do the detailed research and present specific quotes from specific sources, but it usually doesn’t change anything.  If the person truly wanted to know the facts, then they could’ve done the research for themselves.  Or could they?  I sometimes think that many (most?) people lack certain intellectual skills such as how to research data and how to think critically about it.  Research takes effort and understanding it well requires much intelligence and education (which would include self-education).

I think, however, there is also a systemic failure of education in the US.  I went to public schools.  I can tell you that I learned very little of my intellectual skills from my schooling.  Most of what I learned came from my parents and from simply reading and thinking a lot.

There is also would seem to be a cultural factor, but I’m not certain as my knowledge of other cultures is limited.  What I’ve observed is that many people believe it’s more reasonable to deny something without facts than to claim something without facts.  This is obviously wrong as any denial of a claim is simply another claim stated in the negative.  To deny a belief in God is no more reasonable than to claim a belief in God.  Neither theist or atheist has objective data, and so the only reasonable conclusion is agnosticism. 

All in all, I do think atheists and scientific-minded people tend to be more reasonable than those prone to religious extremism (whether it’s Christian fundamentalism or New Age woo).  Most scientists in the world agree that Darwinian evolution and Climate Change are accurate appraisals of reality.  This is based on science from around the world funded by many different organizations.  However, religious folk and other rightwingers are willing to deny the evidence without offering any of their own counter-evidence.  To put it simply, this isn’t a rational response.

How can the rationally-minded educated class reach this large segment of society that gladly throws out all evidence without even looking at it much less trying to understand it?  Even intelligent rightwingers will deny science which is even more bewildering.  I guess it makes sense that unless you’ve been educated in science you’re less likely to understand science.  Getting a college education (in business management for example) won’t necessarily make you any better prepared for understanding science.  Most of the people who go into scientific fields are liberals (with independents being the next largest group and conservatives being a small percentage).  The question is why do conservatives mistrust science?  The only way you could mistrust science is by mistrusting objectivity altogether because science is the best method humans have in determining objective facts.

It might not be that most people are incapable of being rational.  It could be that either they have psychological reasons not to use rationality in certain contexts.  Psychological research shows two key factors: (1) People are good at compartmentalizing different cognitive functions and different parts of their lives, and (2) People are good at rationalizing their behavior and conclusions.  The unconscious mind has more influence on us than does our conscious mind.

The question, then, is why do some people become more capable of intellectual skills or at least more identified with being an intellectual.  What makes someone willing and able to question social norms and ‘commonsense’ assumptions?  What motivates someone to look critically upon all statements?  If this isn’t a ‘natural’ ability (i.e., not common), then why do a few people learn to excel at it?  And why are some people willing to admit intellectual limitations (their own and that of the human species in general) and some aren’t?  Will intellectual ability always be held by a minority?  Is it possible to teach the average person effective critical thinking skills?  If it is possible, why have we as a society chosen not to do so?

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Acharya S: Religion, History, Human Rights

Recent articles of interest from Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock):

dead sea scrolls imageDead Sea Scrolls prove Bible unoriginal

Certain ideas in the scrolls also appear in the New Testament, meaning, of course, that the impression of Christianity as a “divine revelation” appearing whole cloth miraculously from the very finger of God is clearly erroneous. Read more…

first human rights charter persian cyrusFirst ‘Human Rights Charter’ is Persian

 A 2,500-year-old clay cylinder bears what has been called the world’s “first human rights charter” and was inscribed under the direction of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE. In the Greek Bible (Isaiah 45:1), Cyrus is called “Christ” (“…τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ…”) or “the Lord’s anointed” for his role in rescuing the Jews out of the “Babylonian Captivity.” Read more…

fort hood holland islamFrom Fort Hood to Holland, Islam wins

 The entire world is evidently so terrified of the religion of peace that it is capitulating to Islamist demands in the most bizarrely in-your-face and transparent manner. Wow! To completely omit the name and religion of the Fort Hood shooter in the official report! Read more…

discovery proves egypt's religious popularityDiscovery proves Egypt’s religious popularity

 In my book Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, I utilize thousands of ancient texts as well as the testimony of many highly credentialed authorities to show that the gospel tale and much Christian tradition are solidly based in pre-existing myths and rituals, in this case revolving around the ancient Egyptian religion. Read more…

US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism

“America is conservative in fundamental principles…
But the principles conserved are liberal
and some, indeed, are radical.”
 ~ Gunnar Myrdal

“Conservatism is the blind and fear-filled worship of dead radicals”
~ Mark Twain

 – – –

There are many polls that show most Americans self-identify with the label of ‘conservative’. I’ll first show you the self-identification data before I share other data which undermines the simplistic interpretation of America being a conservative nation.

But it should be pointed out here at the start that ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are relative terms that exist on a spectrum. So-called ‘conservatives’ from earlier last century (such as Eisenhower) were in many fundamental ways more progressively ‘liberal’ than many so-called liberal politicians today (such as Obama), a topic that gets analyzed in another post of mine (Back to Our Future: David Sirota on the 80s). And what gets called ‘conservative’ nowadays is more radical than it is traditional. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere: What gets called fiscal conservatism doesn’t seem very conservative. The meaning of conservative is to conserve, to maintain social order, to uphold institutions of authority, to resist radical change. Accordingly, what Americans call fiscal conservatism seems radically liberal in essence. Conservatives of the more traditional bent clearly are not the base of the Republican Party. Some have argued that America doesn’t have a truly conservative tradition. In The Liberal Tradition in America, Louis Hartz wrote:

But how then are we to describe these baffling Americans? Were they rationalists or were they traditionalists? The truth is, they were neither, which is perhaps another way of saying that they were both. [ . . . ] the past became a continuous future, and the God of the traditionalists sanctioned the very arrogance of the men who defied Him. [ . . . ] one of the enduring secrets of the American character: a capacity to combine rock-ribbed traditionalism with high inventiveness, ancestor worship with ardent optimism. Most critics have seized upon one or the other of these aspects of the American mind, finding it impossible to conceive how both can go together. That is why the insight of Gunnar Myrdal is a very distinguished one when he writes: “America is … conservative… . But the principles conserved are liberal and some, indeed, are radical.” Radicalism and conservatism have been twisted entirely out of shape by the liberal flow of American history. [ . . . ]  The ironic flaw in American liberalism lies in the fact that we have never had a real conservative tradition.

The contest of ideologies in American society hasn’t been between traditional conservatism and radical liberalism. Rather, it’s been a contest between John Locke’s self-oriented liberalism and Thomas Paine’s social-oriented liberalism, the former often defending class divisions (in defense of the ownership rights of the ownership class) and the latter challenging them.

Anyway, here is the data which many use to confirm their belief about America’s inherent conservatism. 

In 2010, Conservatives Still Outnumber Moderates, Liberals

 Political Ideology -- 2010 Half-Year Update (1992-2010 Trend)

Liberal-Conservative Self-Identification 1972-2008

  ’72 ’74 ’76 ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Extremely Liberal 1 2 1 2 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 1 2 2 2 2 3
Liberal 7 11 7 8 6 6 7 6 6 7 8 6 7 7 9 12 9 10
Slightly Liberal 10 8 8 10 9 8 9 11 9 8 10 7 10 9 9 9 8 9
Moderate, Middle of Road 27 26 25 27 20 22 23 28 22 24 23 26 24 28 23 22 25 22
Slightly Conservative 15 12 12 14 13 13 14 15 15 14 15 14 15 15 12 10 12 12
Conservative 10 12 11 11 13 12 13 13 14 10 13 19 15 13 15 21 16 17
Extremely Conservative 1 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 2 3 3 3 2 3 4 3 3
DK, Haven’t Thought 28 27 33 27 36 36 30 25 30 33 27 24 25 23 27 22 25 25
  















PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 3.1
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

This data makes conservatives think their beliefs and policies are the norm of American society (that they are the ‘Real Americans’) and that therefore liberals are radicals who don’t understand what America stands for. Similarly, conservatives make the allegation that the mainstream media is ‘liberal’, implying that liberals are elitists who are out of touch with the average American. The liberal media allegation is particularly ironic considering that it’s the mainstream media that has failed in challenging the false claim of a conservative majority and failed to report on all of the polling data that disproves this false claim. 

Dispelling the Myth of Conservative America
By Shahdabul Faraz

As expected, Republicans have used these poll results to assert that the American people are, and always will be, unfriendly towards liberal ideology. This is, however, a blatant lie. 

In reality, the country is solidly center-left on the political spectrum. While this does directly contradict the above poll results, one must understand that the word “liberal” has been violently under attack for decades. 

The highly effective, right-wing propaganda machine has successfully demonized the word “liberal” almost out of existence. Instead of defending the word, those on the political left effectively abandoned the term “liberal” and settled on “progressive.” The combination of constant right-wing attacks coupled with a lack of defense from those on the left has unfortunately tarnished the “liberal” brand. As a result, the American people are naturally hesitant to self-identify as being a liberal.

Much of the traditional media has failed to critically analyze this 2009 Gallup poll as well as other similarly misleading ones. Republican politicians have taken advantage of this failure by actively promoting misinformation on air. In an interview with MSNBC airing November of last year, former Representative Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., confidently stated, “[America] is a center-right nation.” Apart from a few prominent liberal commentators, there has been a lackluster effort to counter this falsehood. As a result, the failure of the media has allowed what was once misinformation to become conventional wisdom.

Even without analyzing what these labels mean, it’s obvious that the picture isn’t so simple. Plus, merely looking at the years between 2005 and 2008 hardly gives a large context in which to determine if there is any stable pattern or trend.

Is America really becoming more conservative?
By E.J. Dionne 

First, those Gallup numbers: Forty percent of Americans describe their political views as conservative, 36 percent as moderate, and 20 percent as liberal. “This marks a shift from 2005 through 2008, when moderates were tied with conservatives as the most prevalent group,” Gallup reported of its study based on combining16 surveys for a sample of 16,321. 

The shift from 2008 is hardly startling. Conservatives were up three points from 2008, moderates down one and liberals down two. On the other hand, the country was ever so slightly less conservative in the most recent third quarter of the year than it was in the second quarter: According to Gallup, the conservatives’ advantage over moderates went from 6 points in the second quarter to 3 points in the recent quarter. It’s not exactly clear which way the trend is running.

Of course these are all small shifts, and that’s the point: We are not going through some ideological revolution.

The complexity begins to show more clearly when comparing to other similar polls about self-identified labels.

In the 2009 Post/ABC News surveys, moderates still lead conservatives. The average for the year: 39 percent moderate, 36 percent conservative, 22 percent liberal. In only one survey did the conservatives “lead” the moderates, by 38 percent to 36 percent. Conservatives will be happy to know that was in the most recent survey.

At Pew, Keeter divided his surveys in half, from January to the end of June and from July to the present. 

In the January to June surveys (involving 10,630 interviews), the Pew numbers were: 37.9 percent moderate, 36.9 percent conservative and 19.7 percent liberal

In the Pew surveys since July, there was a shift (of 1.6 percent) toward the conservatives. The numbers were: 38.5 percent conservative, 35.5 percent moderate and 20.1 percent liberal.

Keeter described the 1.6 percent shift toward “conservative” as “on the borderline of statistical significance” and the movement as “glacial.”

And if you add in a few more choices of labels, the data becomes even more interesting.

It’s important to note that there is a debate over what these ideological labels actually mean to voters. And polls that give respondents the chance of calling themselves “progressive” produce a substantially larger number on the left end of the spectrum, since many who won’t pick the “liberal” label do call themselves “progressive.” A study earlier this year by the Center for American Progress found that when progressive and libertarian were offered as additional options, the country was split almost exactly in half between left and right.

So, even without looking at any specific issues, we can see there is no obvious conservative lean to the American public. I could argue (as I’ve often done) that ‘progressive’ isn’t necessarily left and ‘libertarian’ isn’t necessarily right. But, as far as I can tell, for most people these labels are mostly thought of that way. According to common understanding, left labels and right labels are about equally popular.

Before I get into the deeper analysis, let me show some data that further demonstrates the complexity of the issue. The mainstream perception is that the Democratic Party is the ‘liberal’ party. I disagree with this considering that, based on Pew data (Beyond Red vs Blue), liberals are only about 1/3 of the Democratic Party (with conservatives & moderates each about a 1/3) and about 1/2 of liberals are independents, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend the mainstream perception is correct. Based on those assumptions, how would the following data be interpreted (with higher numbers equaling higher positive feelings which correlates to campaign victories)?

Average Feeling Thermometer Toward Parties 1978-2008

  ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Democratic Party 62 61 63 62 63 61 61 59 54 59 60 59 ** 58 57
Republican Party 55 57 54 58 57 59 55 52 57 53 50 54 ** 54 48
Net Pro Dem. – Pro Rep. 54 52 55 52 53 51 53 54 49 53 55 53 ** 53 55
Both Parties 59 59 58 60 60 60 58 55 56 56 55 56 ** 56 54
‘Parties in General’ ** 55 56 55 57 ** 53 ** 51 52 ** 53 ** ** **

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 2B.2
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

So, if most Americans are actually conservative and the Democratic Party is actually liberal, then why does the Democratic Party have higher positive ratings than the Republican Party for more than a decade? Either Americans aren’t so conservative or the Democratic Party isn’t so liberal. I’d argue it’s both. 

Now check out this data.

Average Feeling Thermometer Toward Liberals and Conservatives 1964-2008

  ’64 ’66 ’68 ’70 ’72 ’74 ’76 ’78 ’80 ’82 ’84 ’86 ’88 ’90 ’92 ’94 ’96 ’98 ’00 ’02 ’04 ’08
Libs 53 50 51 43 54 54 52 ** 52 46 56 53 52 55 51 50 52 52 54 51 55 55
Cons 57 56 57 53 61 61 59 ** 62 53 60 58 61 60 56 61 60 56 59 58 61 60

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 3.2
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

If Americans are so conservative, then why do they have a decently positive feeling rating toward what they perceive as ‘liberals’? The positive feelings for liberals hasn’t dropped below 50 in several decades. That ain’t too shabby for a supposedly conservative population.

People are free to self-identify any way they so choose, but labels are meaningless if objective definitions and deeper issues aren’t considered. My point is that other data doesn’t support the conservative interpretation of the ‘conservative’ label (as it’s being used by most Americans). There are many ways to interpret the data as it’s confusing and sometimes seemingly conflicting. Some fair-minded analysts have concluded that Americans aren’t entirely conservative or liberal, rather that it depends on specific issues. I respect such cautious objectivity, but I would point out some relevant factors that demonstrate a specific direction in which the country is leaning.

It’s hard to make sense of which positions are liberal and which conservative. There are both liberal and conservative arguments for and against various aspects of government. Being for government isn’t inherently liberal, but having a more trusting attitude toward government, especially democratic government for and by the people, does seem to be more liberal (as a general principle, liberals are more trusting of almost everything). The issue for conservatives is more about which authority one should submit to (government, church, etc) which isn’t the same as the liberal sense of trust (one major thing liberals distrust is the submitting to any authority without question and for reasons of fear). Confusing though it may be, there are certain issues that seem more fundamentally liberal such as human rights (for all people, inclusive of those who have been traditionally disenfranchised and oppressed throughout history: minorities, immigrants, women, gays, etc). As Robert F. Kennedy stated it in his Day of Affirmation address (1966):

“The essential humanity of men can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its people.”

These liberal rights are the rights of the living, quite distinct from the conservative rights of unchanging principle (or even Divine Law); or, to put in American political terms, a living constitution that is increasingly inclusive of all people vs a constitutional originalism where the constitution is treated like the Ten Commandments. A core issue of disagreement between conservatives and liberals (in the US) is whether human rights (i.e., equality) are based on ownership rights (i.e., liberty) or vice versa (those who traditionally have had power and property of course emphasize liberty, often meaning freedom from the demands — ‘mobocracy’ — of those who lack power and property). This has been a divisive issue since the beginning of the country, having played out in the very wording of the Declaration of Independence. As Gunnar Myrdal explained, in An American Dilemma (pp. 8-9):

For practical purposes the main norms of the American Creed as usually pronounced are centered in the belief in equality and in the rights to liberty. In the Declaration of Independence–as in the earlier Virginia Bill of Rights–equality was given the supreme rank and the rights to liberty are posited as derived from equality. This logic was even more clearly expressed in Jefferson’s original formulation of the first of the “self-evident truths”: “All men are created equal and from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and unalienable, among which are the preservation of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The key values of the ideological divide are the basis of the key issues of society and politics. As such, determining the key issues is important in distinguishing liberalism vs conservatism in the American population. Key issues are important because they are the wedge issues that decide elections. What is telling to my mind is that it’s specifically the key issues of American politics that have been strongly moving leftward. I would conclude two things. First, the majority of Americans are definitely not right-leaning in any clear sense and there isn’t any evidence that the center of public opinion is shifting rightward. Second, however one might add up all the various issues, the majority of Americans are progressively liberal or becoming more progressively liberal on many if not most of the key issues. 

A large part of the confusion comes from the fact that a major political shift happened in the middle of last century. This shift altered the way Americans understood politics. At that time, conservatives gained control of the political narrative (which was assisted by the assassination of several popular voices and key figures of progressivism; sadly, conservatism ‘won’ by progressivism being literally killed).

Kennedy’s assassination, so soon after that of Martin Luther King, spread a deep pall of hopelessness over many Americans. [ . . . ] Political scientists who studied national polling data before and after Robert Kennedy’s assassination believed that his chances of winning the election were substantial. “One cannot help but be impressed,” notes one such study, “by the reverberations of Kennedy charisma even in the least likely quarters, such as among Southern whites or among Republicans elsewhere. . . . There is evidence of enough edge . . . to suggest that Robert Kennedy might have won election over Richard Nixon, and perhaps with even greater ease than he would have won his own party’s nomination.”
The Liberal Hour, Mackenzie & Weisbrot

With the last of the great progessive leaders of that era gone, the political narrative shifted. And it’s the political narrative that determines how people perceive the world and how they label themselves.

Some details need to be given to explain the ideological and labeling confusion that followed. Out of this era of assassinations and riots, it was actually the neo-conservatives (not traditional conservatives or Goldwater classical liberals) who captured power. Reagan was the penultimate neocon, former union leader and progressive Democrat who, using his actor’s skills, had become a corporate spokesperson and eventually a Republican politician. Reagan took the progressive language he had learned earlier in his life and put it to use in promoting the neocon narrative (e.g., Morning in America). Conservatism became all about a starry-eyed vision of capitalist progress and the American Dream became a greed-driven ‘meritocracy’ (with the government portrayed as the problem and with the lone businessman portrayed as the agent of moral reform; not what you can do for your country but what you can do for yourself).

With its progressive language usurped by neocons, the remaining progressives had a hard time competing. All of the most charismatically inspiring progressives were dead and so there was no one capable of challenging the neocon rhetoric. So, for the last 40 years, there hasn’t been any major political figures genuinely speaking for the progressive vision… or, at least, few progressive leaders who were charismatic enough to capture the public imagination. On top of that, I’d argue neither has there been any major political figures genuinely speaking for anything vaguely resembling the conservatism of the past. The only ideology that has been able to challenge neo-conservatism is neo-liberalism which is hardly an inspiring alternative. In the process, the Democratic leadership has merely become a watered down version of the Republican neocons. And the mainstream media just parrots the rhetoric from inside the Beltway. Is it surprising that the average American today is apparently clueless about what labels mean?

When words lose their meaning – I do not think ‘conservative’ means what you think it means
By AzBlueMeanie 

The media villagers lazily recite the Gallup polling to assert that America is a center-right country ideologically.

Political scientists, however, know better. The old classifications of liberal, conservative and moderate have long since lost their meaning.The decades long far-right media assault to demonize “liberals” has caused many liberals to defensively identify themseleves as “progressives.” The “liberal” brand of the Democratic Party has been watered down by conservative corporatist Democratic organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, New Democrats, Third Way, Boll Weevils and Blue Dogs, etc. Today’s Democratic Party is not the party of FDR and Truman, or LBJ.

I have said many times that conservatives today “are not your father’s GOP.” Conservatives today are the John Birchers whom Republican conservatives like William F. Buckley kicked out of the GOP for being too extremist, and the theocratic Christian Right whom “the father of movement conservatism,” Arizona’s Sen. Barry Goldwater, rejected as being too extremist. Think about the irony in that for a moment. This is the man who famously said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”

The media villagers collectively suffer from amnesia and cannot recall that the Republican Party once had a liberal wing and many moderates. They have since been purged from the Republican Party by its extemist fringe, but they are still out there in the electorate.

When respondents are given more options from which to identify their political beliefs and, more importantly, when polled on specific issues, a surprising and seemingly contradictory result emerges (only because of media mislabeling). Americans are far more left-of-center in their beliefs on specific issues, even self-identified conservatives. These “liberal” beliefs are in fact the “centrist” or “moderate” position of  large majorities of Americans.

The following are words which express the liberal-minded faith in America’s inevitable progressive direction and the hope that we Americans can live up to our collective potential. This was spoken by Robert F. Kennedy to the Senate and so he was more specifically warning the political elite about would happen if they attempted to thwart rather than embrace this era of social change.

“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution which is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
~ Robert F. Kennedy

It should be clearly noted that this progressive direction isn’t anything new. I’d argue that the continuing progressive revolution is the central story of America and of post-Enlightenment Western civilization in general.

People seem to have short memories when it comes to history. The labor movement and the creation of the first unions preceded the American revolution. In fact, all of the working class riotings and organizing in Britain and Europe at that time were behind much of the revolutionary fervor in America. It was Paine who first described the progressive vision of a “Free and independent States of America” (i.e., the unified vision of liberty and equality, of individual freedom and collective betterment), and it was Paine who was first inspired by the working class movement in England. The ideal of progress wasn’t just discovered in the 20th century. If the founding generation didn’t care about progressivism (i.e., social progress), they wouldn’t have fought a revolution to create a new kind of democratic republic.

 – – – 

No one should be surprised that America’s progressivism, which began before America was even a country and which inspired the American Revolution, still continues to this day and will continue for as long as the American Dream continues. America was founded on and remains defined by the seeking of improvement, individual and collective. To oppose progressivism is to oppose America and all that America stands for.

– – –

In making my case for a progressively liberal (or liberally progressive) America, I’ll now share data from various sources showing a different interpretation is required to make sense of actual public opinion.

 – – – 


Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority

poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.

This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.

As we noted last August, support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years. Below is an update to the graph from last year’s article, which charts the trend from all available public polls on same-sex marriage going back to 1988.

Marijuana Legalization: Poll Suggests Public Support Growing

Data compiled by the Pew Research Center and drawn primarily from the General Social Survey has found a consistent trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but no poll so far has shown a majority in favor.

In a poll released Tuesday by CNN, 41 percent of American adults said they favored legalizing marijuana, while 56 percent opposed. Another poll, conducted early last month by the Pew Research Center, found 45 percent of adults supporting legalization and 50 percent against it.

[ . . . ] Demographic trends show that the movement to embrace legalization will likely continue: Both recent polls reveal younger respondents as the most likely supporters. In the Pew poll, the majority of 18-29 year olds (54 percent favor/42 percent oppose) and a slim plurality of 30-49 year olds (49 percent support/47 percent oppose) said marijuana use should be legal. In the new CNN poll, about as many respondents under 50 said they supported legalizing marijuana (49 percent) as opposed it (50 percent).

New Poll Confirms Country is Clearly Progressive
Cenk Uygur 

When asked what’s the first thing they would do to balance the budget, Americans had an unmistakably clear answer — raise taxes on the rich. It came in number one by a mile, with a whopping 61 percent.

If that wasn’t progressive enough, cutting defense spending came in number two, with 20 percent.

And if all of that wasn’t clear enough, when asked about cutting Medicare, only 4 percent were in favor of it. Only 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as a way to balance the budget.

I thought the country was center-right? That’s what all of the pundits tell us 24/7 on television. What happened now? Do those answers look center-right to you? They look decidedly center-left to anyone with a pulse.

[ . . . ] Well, apparently the American people disagree with Washington’s priorities. If the Democrats, Republicans and the president persist in trying to cut Social Security in the face of these numbers, then we will know that we have lost our democracy altogether. That the people in power couldn’t give a damn what we want. That the take over of the American government by the corporations, the rich and the powerful is complete.

America: A Center-Left Nation

The idea that America is a center‐right country whose citizens are skeptical of, if not hostile toward, progressive candidates and policies has long been a staple of political commentary. There would be nothing problematic in journalists’ relying on this notion if actual evidence existed to support it. The truth, however, is that in most policy areas, it is progressive ideas that enjoy majority support. At a time when Democrats control not only the White House and both houses of Congress but a majority of governorships and state legislatures, as well, the picture of America as a center‐right country has become particularly hard to sustain.  

The term “center‐right” itself is based on questionable premises. It comes from the notion that combining the “right” ‐‐ self‐described conservatives ‐‐ with the “center” ‐‐ self‐described moderates (or in a partisan context, Republicans with independents) ‐‐ creates the center‐right majority of the country. But on issue after issue, and in growing percentages over time, nominal independents or moderates increasingly mirror the opinions of nominal Democrats or liberals. The majority is center‐left; it is the right that is isolated. 

[ . . . ] It is one of the most fundamental ideological divides between the left and the right: Conservatives purport to believe that government should be as small as possible and favor market‐oriented solutions to social problems; progressives, on the other hand, see government playing a more vital role in meeting basic social needs, including infrastructure, economic security, education, and health care. As the most recent National Election Study (NES) data demonstrate, clear majorities of the public recognize the importance of a well‐run and well‐funded government to their lives and to the security and prosperity of the country, and, indeed, want it to do more.  

On all three of the following measures, the public has moved in a more progressive direction. The number saying the government should be doing more things increased by 9 points from the 2004 study, the number saying government has gotten bigger because the problems have gotten bigger increased by 3 points, and the number saying we need a strong government to handle today’s economic problems increased by 5 points.

The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth

When asked for evidence, advocates of the idea that America is a conservative country will often cite the fact that polls show more people labeling themselves as “conservative” than “liberal.” This is certainly true, as data from the NES show:

Yet there are a number of reasons to conclude that the data on self-labeling tells us relatively little about the actual ideological positioning of the public. First, as political scientists have understood for more than 40 years, most Americans simply don’t think in ideological terms. To take one example, the national election studies has asked respondents in the past, “Would you say that either one of the parties is more conservative than the other at the national level?” The number answering “the republicans” seldom exceeded 60 percent when the question was asked in the past; after a 12-year hiatus, the nes asked the question again in 2004, when two-thirds of the public, an all-time high, gave the correct answer. This means that, at a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can’t name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable gauge of their actual beliefs on issues.

Is One Party More Conservative 1960-2008 (source)

  60 62 64 66 68 70 72 74 76 78 80 82 84 86 88 90 92 94 96 98 00 02 04 08
Yes
Dems
11 ** 14 ** 9 16 15 ** 17 ** ** ** 15 ** 12 18 12 ** ** ** ** ** 17 16
Yes
Reps
61 ** 59 ** 63 51 57 ** 54 ** ** ** 53 ** 57 44 57 ** ** ** ** ** 68 67
No
Both
Same
Don’t
Know
28 ** 27 ** 28 33 28 ** 29 ** ** ** 32 ** 31 38 31 ** ** ** ** ** 15 17

         

PERCENTAGE WITHIN STUDY YEAR
Table 2B.5
Source: The American National Election Studies
Link to the ASCII text version of this table   

There is an understandable assumption within Washington that if survey respondents answer the ideological self-placement question by choosing “liberal” or “conservative,” then their positions on issues roughly correlate with those of the Democratic and republican parties, respectively; and that if they choose “moderate,” then their issue positions are midway between those of the two parties. But in fact, this is not the case. According to the NES, 56 percent of those who call themselves moderates associate with the Democratic Party, while only 31 percent associate with the republican Party. As one of the authors of this study wrote previously:

“And it isn’t just party identification; on issue after issue, moderates have opinions almost exactly mirroring those of liberals. In the NES survey, 4 percent of liberals say we should increase spending on Social Security, as do 8 percent of moderates—while only 47 percent of conservatives agree. Eighty-eight percent of liberals and 84 percent of moderates say federal funding on education should be increased, compared to only 58 percent of conservatives. Seventy-three percent of liberals and percent of moderates want more spending for child care—but only 8 percent of conservatives agree. Sixty-two percent of liberals and 57 percent of moderates want to spend more on aid to the poor, compared to only 9 percent of conservatives.”5 

Another reason people don’t use the liberal label is that the term “liberal” has been victim of a relentless conservative marketing campaign that has succeeded at vilifying liberals and liberalism. The consequence is that only strong liberals are willing to identify as such. But many people who hold liberal issue positions call themselves moderates, or even conservatives. As Christopher ellis wrote in a recent study of ideological labeling, “[M]any conservatives are not very conservative”:

“…nearly three-quarters of self-identified conservatives are notconservative on at least one issue dimension [size and scope of government, or abortion and homosexuality], and considerably more than half hold liberal preferences on the dominant dimension of conflict over the size and scope of government. Simply put, many conservatives are not very conservative”54 

When people do use ideological labels, they often apply them inconsistently. In 1967, Hadley Cantril and lloyd Free famously observed that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.”55 They didn’t like the idea of government, but they liked what government does and can do.

As all the data presented in this report make clear, whatever Americans choose to call themselves, on issue after issue—economic issues, social issues, security issues, and more—majorities of the public find themselves on the progressive side. And on many of the most contentious “culture war” issues, the public has been growing more progressive year after year. Much of the news media seems not to have noticed. But the facts are too clear to ignore.

Poll: 70 Percent of “Tea Party Supporters” Oppose Medicare Cuts

(data from a McClatchy-Marist poll)

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Progressivism Goes Mainstream
New research on ideology refutes the conservative myth that America is a “center right” nation.
By John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira

How do we make sense of all this righteous anger? Are conservatives tapping into a deep-seated aversion to progressive government among the electorate? Hardly. Not unlike the characters in Rand’s various fantasies of libertarian anarchy, conservatives today are living in an alternative universe. And the sooner they wake up to this reality the better off they will be.

The 2008 presidential election not only solidified partisan shifts to the Democratic Party, it also marked a significant transformation in the ideological and electoral landscape of America. In two major studies of American beliefs and demographic trends–the State of American Political Ideology, 2009 and New Progressive America, both conducted by the Progressive Studies Program at the Center for American Progress–we found that the president’s agenda reflects deep and growing consensus among the American public about the priorities and values that should guide our government and society. Not surprisingly, conservatives are the ones who are out of line with the values of most Americans.

Interactive Map: A New Progressive America

New Progressive America

Between 1988 and 2008, the minority share of voters in presidential elections has risen by 11 percentage points, while the share of increasingly progressive white college graduate voters has risen by four points. But the share of white-working class voters, who have remained conservative in their orientation, has plummeted by 15 points.

[ . . . ] These trends will continue. The United States will be majority-minority by 2042. By 2050, the country will be 54 percent minority as Hispanics double from 15 percent to 30 percent of the population, Asians increase from 5 percent to 9 percent and African Americans move from 14 percent to 15 percent.

Other demographic trends accentuate progressives’ advantage. The Millennial Generation—those born between1978 and 2000—gave Obama a stunning 66 percent-to-32 percent margin in 2008. This generation is adding 4.5 million adults to the voting pool every year. Or consider professionals, who are now the most progressive occupational group and increase that support with every election. Fast-growth segments among women like singles and the college-educated favor progressives over conservatives by large margins. And even as progressives improve their performance among the traditional faithful, the growth of religious diversity—especially rapid increases among the unaffiliated—favors progressives. By the election of 2016, it is likely that the United States will no longer be a majority white Christian nation.

Geographical trends are equally as stunning. Progressive gains since 1988 have been heavily concentrated in not just the urbanized cores of large metropolitan areas, but also the growing suburbs around them. Even in exurbia, progressives have made big gains. Progressive gains were only minimal in the smallest metropolitan areas and in small town rural America and only in the most isolated, least populated rural counties did progressives actually lose ground.

[ . . . ] As the country is growing and changing, so are the American people’s views on what government can and should do. This is shaping a new progressive agenda to go with the new demography and the new geography, starting with the likely diminution in the culture wars that have bedeviled American politics for so long. While cultural disagreements remain, their political influence is being undermined by the rise of the Millennial Generation, increasing religious and family diversity and the decline of the culturally conservative white working class. Culture wars issues, which so conspicuously failed to move many voters in the last couple of elections, will lose even more force in years to come.


State of American Political Ideology, 2009
A National Study of Values and Beliefs
By John Halpin and Karl Agne

The growing progressive movement in the United States finds itself at a historic and propitious crossroads. With large Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress and an ambitious new president who campaigned and won election on promises of bold changes—both serving a citizenry that is deeply frustrated with the status quo and desperate for new leadership at all levels of our society—the potential for true progressive governance is greater than at any point in decades. Driven by a rising generation of young 18- to 29-year-old “Millennial” generation voters whose vast numbers and unique worldview have already made a significant impact at the ballot box, our country is embracing many core progressive values and shows a real commitment to a progressive vision of government, international affairs, and economic and political policies that could transform the country in a way that has not been seen since FDR and the New Deal.

The 2008 presidential election not only solidified demographic and partisan shifts toward the Democratic Party but also marked a significant turn in the ideological landscape of the electorate. After nearly three decades of public acceptance of the Reagan-Bush model of conservatism—limited government, tax cuts, traditional values, and military strength— a broad and deep cross-section of the American public now holds markedly progressive attitudes about government and society.

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Weakness of Conservative Opposition to Health Care Reform
By Ruy Teixeira

In recent polls, more of the public opposes than favors the health care reform bills in Congress. Conservatives would have you believe that the opposition plurality in these polls is a result of public distaste for a big government takeover of our health care system. Not so. In a December CNN poll, a total of 55 percent either favored the Senate health reform bill outright (42 percent) or opposed it at this point because its approach to health care isn’t liberal enough (13 percent). Just 39 percent said they opposed the bill because its approach to health care was too liberal.

NBC/WSJ poll: Voters deficit-worried but wary of cuts
By Mark Murray

As politicians in Washington — and across the country — seek to cut spending to reduce their budget deficits, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the American public is divided about how far they should go.

In the poll, eight in 10 respondents say they are concerned about the growing federal deficit and the national debt, but more than 60 percent — including key swing-voter groups — are concerned that major cuts from Congress could impact their lives and their families.

What’s more, while Americans find some budget cuts acceptable, they are adamantly opposed to cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and K-12 education.

And although a combined 22 percent of poll-takers name the deficit/government spending as the top issue the federal government should address, 37 percent believe job creation/economic growth is the No. 1 issue.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, says these results are a “cautionary sign” for a Republican Party pursuing deep budget cuts.

He points out that the Americans who are most concerned about spending cuts are core Republicans and Tea Party supporters, not independents and swing voters.

“It may be hard to understand why a person might jump off a cliff, unless you understand they’re being chased by a tiger,” he said. “That tiger is the Tea Party.”

Public Proposes Federal Budget Dramatically Different Than House or White House

Full report(PDF)
American Public Shows How it Would Cut the Budget Deficit

An innovative study has found that when a representative sample of the American public was presented the federal budget, they proposed changes far different from those the Obama administration or the Republican-led House have proposed.

The biggest difference in spending is that the public favored deep cuts in defense spending, while the administration and the House propose modest increases. However, the public also favored more spending on job training, education, and pollution control than did either the administration or the House. On average the public made a net reduction of $146 billion–far more than either the administration or the House called for.

While there were some partisan differences in the magnitude of spending changes, in two out of three cases average Republicans, Democrats and independents agreed on which items should be cut or increased.

The public also showed readiness to increase taxes by an average of $292 billion–again, far more than either the administration or the House.

“Clearly both the administration and the Republican-led House are out of step with the public’s values and priorities in regard to the budget,” comments Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), which conducted the study.

American Public Shows How it Would Cut the Budget Deficit

Full report(PDF)
Questionnaire with Findings, Methodology (PDF)

Through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, on average, respondents cut the discretionary budget deficit projected for 2015 by seventy percent. Six in ten solved the problem of the projected Social Security shortfall through adjustments in payroll taxes, premiums, and benefits. The projected Medicare shortfall was also dramatically reduced.

The Political Ideology of the Millennial Generation
A National Study of Political Values and Beliefs Among 18- to 29-Year-Old Adults
By John Halpin and Karl Agne

Of all the storylines emerging from the historic 2008 elections perhaps none has more impact on the future of our country than the rise of the Millennial Generation. These young 18- to 29-year-old Americans born between 1978 and 2000 represent the largest and most diverse generation in American history. Last year, their record turnout and overwhelming support for Barack Obama—as well as Democrats up and down the ballot— delivered a decisive victory and signaled a turning point in our country’s political history.

What is most important about these voters is not their current predilection for Democratic candidates, however, but rather the deeply held progressive beliefs underlying their voting preferences. The progressive beliefs of these young adult voters could recast the core ideological battles that have defined our country’s post-Vietnam political discourse.

The presidency of George W. Bush marked the formative political experience for many of these younger Americans, and the results are not good for conservatives looking to gain support among this critical segment of the electorate. The combined effect of Bush’s social policies, the war in Iraq, his tax cuts, and the collapse of the economy clearly had a strongly negative impact on the ideological views of Millennial voters. Younger Americans today express broad and deep support for a progressive worldview on government, society, and world affairs and are ambivalent to outright hostile to many core elements of the conservative worldview.

Case in point: Of the 21 values and beliefs garnering majority support in our recently completed national study of political values and beliefs among young adults, only four can be classified as conservative.

Think Again: Why We’re Liberals: The Polls Speak
By Eric Alterman and George Zornick

The November 2004 National Election Study—which tries to eliminate the “moderate” option—found that 35 percent of those questioned call themselves liberal, compared to 55 percent who identify as conservative. A Pew poll at roughly the same time found 19 percent liberal and 39 percent conservative, with the balance preferring “moderate.” Then a Democracy Corps poll in January 2006 found 19 percent calling themselves liberal versus 36 percent conservative.

These numbers are practically indistinguishable from the average for the past 30 years (20 percent liberal, 33 percent conservative, 47 percent moderate). And yet when “moderates” were questioned by pollsters for Louis Harris and Associates in 2005, they turned out to share pretty much the same beliefs as self-described liberals—they just couldn’t bring themselves to embrace the hated label.

In fact, due primarily to the hijacking of the Republican Party by a coterie of extremist conservatives on issue after issue, a powerful supermajority of more than 60 percent of Americans questioned in these surveys almost always espouse the “liberal” alternatives. And most Americans’ answers, believe it or not, frequently fall to the left of those espoused by many liberal politicians.

[ . . . ] And yet the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington, D.C., in conducting an extensive set of opinion polls over the past few decades, has demonstrated a decided trend toward increasingly “liberal” positions, by almost any definition.

To offer just a few examples of this liberal-in-all-but-name attitude regarding economic and welfare policy, according to the 2006 survey released in March 2007, roughly 70 percent of respondents believe that the government has a responsibility “to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves”—up from 61 percent in 2002. The number saying that the government should guarantee “every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep” has increased by a similar margin over the past five years (from 63 percent to 69 percent).

Two-thirds of the public (66 percent)—including a majority of those who say they would prefer a smaller government (57 percent)—favor government-funded health insurance for all citizens. Most people also believe that the nation’s corporations are too powerful and fail to strike a fair balance between profits and the public interest. In addition, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) say corporate profits are too high, about the same number who say that “labor unions are necessary to protect the working person” (68 percent).

When it comes to the environment, a large majority (83 percent) support stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment, while 69 percent agree that “we should put more emphasis on fuel conservation than on developing new oil supplies,” and fully 60 percent of people questioned say they would “be willing to pay higher prices in order to protect the environment.”

Regarding so-called social issues, only 28 percent of respondents agree that school boards should have the right to fire teachers who are known to be homosexual, while 66 percent disagree. A 56 percent majority opposes making it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion, while 35 percent favor this position.

These findings reinforce previous polls like that in 2004 by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University, which asked voters whether “the federal government should fund sex education programs that have ‘abstaining from sexual activity’ as their only purpose” or if “the money should be used to fund more comprehensive sex education programs that include information on how to obtain and use condoms and other contraceptives.” The condom/contraceptive option won the day by a margin of 67 percent to 30 percent. Unsurprisingly, a similar number (65 percent) said they worried that refusing to provide teens with good information about contraception might lead to unsafe sex, while only 28 percent were more concerned that such information might encourage teens to have sex.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Americans even tend to side with liberals rather than conservatives in their attitudes toward religion. According to a 2006 study sponsored by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress and conducted by the firm Financial Dynamism, 67 percent of voters believe that religious freedom is a “critical” part of their image of America, compared to less than three in 10 who believe the Judeo-Christian faith specifically is critical to this image. Only 20 percent of American voters approve of leaders using the political system to turn religious beliefs into action.

In terms of the role that religious and moral teachings should play in public debate about key issues, American voters do not focus on the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and the kind of topics that so exercise conservative Christian leaders. They would prefer to see their churches lead on issues such as alleviating “poverty and hunger” (75 percent), “homelessness” (61 percent), “government corruption” (58 percent), “terrorism” (56 percent), “the environment” (54 percent), and “health care” (52 percent).

Americans specifically reject the conservative Christian desire to suppress science in the service of religious dogma. Eighty percent of those questioned agree that “faith and science can and should coexist. We can respect our belief in God and our commitment to the dignity of every human life by using our scientific knowledge to help those who are sick or vulnerable.” The same overwhelming number endorses the view that “stem cell research can be a force for moral good rather than a moral failing.”

Liberal and Conservative Trends in the United States Since World War II
By Tom W. Smith

Overall, the post-World War II period has been a time of liberal advance. Liberal trends outnumbered conservative trends by over two-to-one (Duncan, Schuman, and Duncan, 1973; Hamby, 1985; Hoge, 1974; Hoge, Luna, and Miller, 1981; Willits, Bealer, and Crider, 1977). Liberal gains were strongest on such topics as race relations and women’s rights that concerned equal rights for all (Gusfeld, 1981; Rokeach and Ball-Rokeach, 1988; Smith and Sheatsley, 1984) and on abortion, civil liberties, and sexual morality that dealt with individual choice (Caplow et al., 1983; Hoge, Luna, and Miller, 1984; McClosky and Brill, 1983; Mueller, 1988). Topics dealing with material concerns and government regulation were mixed in their trends. Responses to calls for more government action were also quite mixed, with the number of trends in opposition to more government edging out trends in favor of more government. In addition, this role of government dimension had little relationship to liberalism/conservatism. Finally, crime was the one topic that consistently showed little or no liberal growth.

Liberal movement slowed appreciably in the mid-1970s and a number of trends, especially in the areas of abortion, civil liberties, crime, and spending and taxes, slowed, stalled, or even, in a few cases, reversed. But the hosannas from the right and wailing from the left over a conservative tide and the Reagan Revolution (Smith, 1982 and 1985a) are both overreactions. On average, liberal momentum and advance ended on the liberal plateau of the mid-1970s, but no general conservative advance occurred.

Government is Good

If we are asked about this issue in the abstract, 45% of us say we want “a smaller government providing fewer services,” and 42% say that we want “a bigger government providing more services”5 – a pretty even split. But then when people are asked about specific policy areas, much larger numbers of people say they support expanded government services. For example, almost three quarters of Americans say they want to see more federal involvement in ensuring access to affordable health care, providing a decent standard of living for the elderly, and making sure that food and medicines are safe. And over 60% want more government involvement in reducing poverty, ensuring clean air and water, and setting minimum educational standards for school. These are hardly the answers of a people who want drastically smaller government.

Table 1: Public Attitudes Toward Spending on Government Programs8

Should Spend More Spending About Right Should Spend Less Don’t Know or No Answer
Protecting the environment 59.8% 27.9% 7.7% 4.6%
Protecting the nation’s health 66.8% 25.0% 5.6% 2.6%
Halting the rising crime rate 60.9% 28.4% 9.3% 3.0%
Dealing with drug addiction 58.2% 27.9% 9.3% 4.6%
Improving the education system 69.7% 22.1% 6.3% 1.9%
Social Security 55.7% 31.9% 6.3% 6.1%
Solving urban problems 45.5% 29.8% 12.1% 12.5%
The military, arms, and defense 17.5% 46.3% 30.3% 5.9%
Highways and bridges 38.2% 47.1% 9.6% 5.1%
Welfare 16.0% 36.1% 43.3% 4.6%
Parks and recreation 34.0% 55.2% 6.1% 4.7%
Mass transit 31.7% 47.3% 9.4% 11.5%

In Search of Ideologues in America

Figure

Figure

– – –

If you want to look at the public opinions on certain issues, check out some of my other posts:

Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)

Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life

Culture Wars Continuing

Air America: Challenges of Liberal Media

I noticed the news about Air America.

Air America Dies, Failing to Make Transition to Web
By Kate Kaye

In a memo sent to staff today and repeated on the company’s homepage, Air America Media Chair Charlie Kireker wrote, “though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies.”

The company aired its last live program this afternoon, and plans to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon, according to the memo. It blamed a “very difficult economic environment,” along with drastically dropping national and local ad revenues.

I wasn’t a fan of Air America and don’t know much about its history, but I was just now doing a bit of research about it. It seems that it never had much financial backing which is a problem for liberal media. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh became successful because they had massive financial backing to begin with. Both lost money for a long time before making money. Conservative ideology is more welcoming to the interests of big business.  
 
Some think of NPR as being liberal in the way Fox News is conservative, but that isn’t true. NPR is rather moderate and doesn’t have any extremely opinionated talk show hosts. There is no equivalent of Fox News on the left (and certainly no equivalent of talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh). Fox News is successful because it aligns itself both with big business and with the Republican party. Fox News is backed by the largest transnational media corporation in the world and has hired many major Republicans such as Roger Ailes.  
 
I don’t think any liberal equivalent is possible. By definition liberalism isn’t as welcoming of the interests of big business. Also, it goes against liberal ideology to create a network that is the propaganda wing of the Democratic party. Liberals genuinely idealize the notion of media neutrality. You can argue whether they live up to that ideal, but at least they believe in it. Sadly, media neutrality doesn’t make money.

The conservatives are all excited about the demise of Air America. One example is the blog post Air America files for bankruptcy which I responded to.

The failure of Air America isn’t necessarily surprising. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh had major financial backing from the beginning, but Air America didn’t. Fox News was aligned with big business interests as it was created by a big business. Fox News had the financial backing to lose money for years and had the political backing to hire people who worked for the Republican party such as Roger Ailes. As for Limbaugh, his show became popular because it originally was given away for free.

You can only make money if you have money. And you can only get money if you promote the interests of those with the money.

The problem with mainstream media right now is that it’s dominated by corporations, and most of these corporations are transnationals that have no allegiance to any given country. They’re only interest is to make money and not to offer quality news reporting. It’s actually against their interests to offer quality news reporting because that might rock the boat.

I noticed the article Franken’s Time: Why Liberal Talk Radio Fails by Andrew Sullivan. The author starts out with what an appearance of fair analysis but quickly shows he doesn’t have much insight.

“Conservatives, in general, are happy to confess their biases. Liberals like to think their biases are actually reality.”

Close but not quite right. Some liberals may mistake their biases for reality, but there is a strong faction of conservatives that wants to create their own reality. The best evidence of the relationship to reality can be demonstrated by science. Most scientists are liberals and few scientists are conservatives (6% are Republican). Science is the ultimate ideal of factual reality, and it’s a worldview that appeals to liberals more than conservatives.

“So liberal radio – in its purest form – already exists.”

So-called liberal radio is rather moderate in comparison to Fox News. Conservative radio gives voice to ideological extremists with opinions that often aren’t even held by a majority of Americans. The far left progressives don’t have much voice in mainstream media. Mainstream media is mostly pro-war and rarely does investigative journalism about big business. Mainstream media is conservative in supporting the status quo. Read some Chomsky if you want to understand why this is the case.

“And taxpayers subsidize it.”

Public radio actually doesn’t get much public money. It’s mostly funded by donations which is as grassroots as you can get. Fox News, on the other hand, was financed at a loss for years by a transnational corporation. As for NPR, wealthy capitalists have gotten more money from bailouts, tax cuts and government contracts than NPR has ever received from the government.  Heck, even corn farmers probably have been more heavily subsidized than NPR.

“The reason Fox News works is that its anchors and journalists are still obviously angry at being outsiders to the mainstream media culture. So they have an edge. They’re still fighting. They’re still angry.”

Outsiders? That is obviously a joke. Fox News was financed at a loss for years by the largest transnational media corporation in the world. Roger Ailes was hired and he was one of the main spin-meisters for the Republican party. Ailes was known for using race and fake townhall meetings as political tactics in winning presidential campaigns. Besides Ailes, other Republican lackeys were hired.

“And here, of course, is where left-wing populist radio does have a chance. At some point, the media culture may tip in enough of a rightward direction (thanks to Fox, Drudge, talk-radio, etc etc) that the establishment may eventually become conservative.”

The mainstream media has been pro-war and pro-big business for decades. How more conservative can they get? What demographics shows is that the country is finally moving in a liberal direction. The creation of Fox News doesn’t prove that the mainstream media was liberal. What it proves is that moderate conservatism had become so mainstream that extreme conservatism could present itself as something new and different. The only thing that actually changed is that conservatism stopped hiding it’s agenda and became overt in it’s message.

“Al Franken has only really come alive when bashing O’Reilly or Limbaugh. And the reason we listeners or readers or viewers are on his side is because he’s a bit of an underdog up against these multi-millionaire conservative populists.”

If you really want to listen to the underdogs, then pay attention to the socialist libertarians such as Chomsky and Zinn. Even the libertarian movement has been mostly taken over by big business think tanks.

“Alas, the other missing ingredient for liberal media is intellectual firepower. On this, the left has actually gone soft. In academia, left-liberalism is so entrenched its advocates’ debating skills have gone rusty. When you’ve been talking to yourself for decades and imposing speech codes on everyone else, your ability to argue coherently – let alone entertainingly – inevitably wanes. And when you look at the political parties today, it’s only the Republicans who are really still fighting over ideas.”

Well, in academia, most everyone is liberal (except maybe in business management and engineering)… and almost all scientists are liberal. A conservative intellectual is a rare thing. The Republican fight over ideas is in reality a fight over ideology. Republicans deny science when ever they get the chance. What are ideas without facts? The intellectuals who are analyzing our political system are mostly far left liberals who are not included in mainstream media and politics. So, it’s true that the Democratic party isn’t as welcoming to intellectual dissent as it could be… which isn’t to say that the Republican party is welcoming either.

In conclusion, it would be false to call Air America a failure.  Al Franken became more respectable in politics because of his time spent there.  Other people who hosted there such as Rachel Maddow went on to host elsewhere.  Air America had a powerful impact.

Beyond Air America, I was wondering why talk radio is dominated by conservatives. The population in general isn’t dominated by conservatives. And media in general isn’t dominated by the far right that is common on talk radio. So, what is the major malfunction?

One answer given by Nathan Harden (The Death of Air America: Why Liberals Fail at Talk Radio) is the different demographic of radio listeners:

“Conservative talk radio listeners have an average age of 67. Meanwhile, the 65 and over bracket is the Republican party’s strongest demographic. Younger (and typically more liberal) individuals are not as likely to listen to talk radio. […] To find a young audience, you have to turn to television, which offers the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.”

As such, maybe radio is a losing battle for liberals. Then again, maybe traditional talk radio is dying out anyways as it’s audience ages and so maybe it just doesn’t matter in the long run. There is one theory that young liberals become more conservative as they age, but I doubt that is the case. Demographics prove that the young now are more progressive than past generations of youth. The strong opinions of old people aren’t even shared by most middle-aged people. Old people come from a different time in US history and it’s a time that isn’t likely to ever return.

Another answer is that conservative talk radio is just one format. Even though the terrestrial radio waves are dominated by conservatives, satellite radio has many popular liberal talk radio hosts.  Also, liberals in general are doing well on the internet.  One contributing factor to Air America’s failure was because it couldn’t transition to the internet as the internet was already fully of the likes of The Huffington Post and Daily Kos. Newer technologies such as satellite radio and the internet have more future than terrestrial radio. I’ve read that where both conservative and liberal talk show is available, liberal talk shows compete just fine.

Also, the apparent dominance of Fox News is also skewed.  Liberals prefer many sources because liberals prefer multiple perspectives (a liberal would be ashamed to be called a dittohead). If you add all of the liberal audience from all liberal media, there is no reason to think it would be smaller than the conservative audience.

Despite all of that, the conservative slant of traditional radio isn’t to be dismissed.

The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
By John Halpin, James Heidbreder, Mark Lloyd, Paul Woodhull, Ben Scott, Josh Silver, S. Derek Turner

Despite the dramatic expansion of viewing and listening options for consumers today, traditional radio remains one of the most widely used media formats in America. Arbitron, the national radio ratings company, reports that more than 90 percent of Americans ages 12 or older listen to radio each week, “a higher penetration than television, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet.” Although listening hours have declined slightly in recent years, Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006.

Among radio formats, the combined news/talk format (which includes news/talk/information and talk/personality) leads all others in terms of the total number of stations per format and trails only country music in terms of national audience share. Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, the combined news/talk format is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week.

As this report will document in detail, conservative talk radio undeniably dominates the format:

  • Our analysis in the spring of 2007 of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners reveals that 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.
  • Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
  • A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.

Those aren’t small numbers. The demographics and the technological landscape is changing, but for now conservative talk radio is still kicking ass and taking numbers.

There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.

In contrast, stations controlled by group owners—those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market—were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

Basically, what this means is that deregulation contributed to big business dominating the public airwaves with their conservative ideology. It’s actually more of an issue of diversity, but without regulation there is nothing to ensure diversity.  America is demographically diverse and would choose diverse radio talk shows if they were offered, but it isn’t in the interest of big business to offer diverse programming.

I came across this issue before and wrote about it in an earlier post: Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America.

The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer
pp 32-36

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion  not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

I don’t know what this means for the future, but it does explain how conservative ideology has became so dominant in recent decades. I hope it changes as the demographics keep shifting towards the liberal. Conservatives have a tight grip, though, and they’re not going to give up their position of power without a fight. The corporations that fund the conservative media have deep pockets and the Republican party has proven itself savvy in astro-turfing social movements. Conservatives have been able to challenge abortion and public option even though the majority of Americans support them. How can liberals successfully fight such media control. If conservative corporations ever find a way to control the internet, the liberal movement is a lost cause.

Problems of Income Inequality

It’s interesting that states with low income equality do better. In poor states (where there is greater gap between rich and poor), the poor vote Democrat and the rich vote Republican. In wealthy states (ie. where everyone has a higher income), both the rich and poor vote Democrat.

The way we live now
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/mar/13/the-spirit-level
Lynsey Hanley

“The authors point out that the life-diminishing results of valuing growth above equality in rich societies can be seen all around us. Inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet’s resources.”

Liberal Facts vs Conservative Ideology

Let me start with this video.

The reason I posted that video is because it relates to an interview I heard last night on Diane Rehm (Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie: “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” – http://wamu.org/programs/dr/10/01/20.php#29308; sorry but WordPress won’t allow hyperlinking at the moment).  That interview was about hormone-disrupting chemicals in our food supply.  The major source of this is from plastic in packaging and containers.  I was already aware of this problem from an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax I heard Coast to Coast AM which I wrote about in a forum thread at Open Source Integral (Boys Adrift – http://opensourceintegral.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=1615967%3ATopic%3A13481).  Here is the opening post that I wrote (I would indent or do something to the following but WordPress won’t allow me):

I heard an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax on the radio show Coast to Coast AM. He was discussing his book Boys Adrift. The book focuses on the development of boys, but does so in terms of considering both genders. His basic premise is that for various reasons normal development has been altered in the past generation or so.

The website about this book:
http://www.boysadrift.com/

Here is an excerpt from his book Why Gender Matters and an interview with him on the Today show:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6941270/

The primary problem he sees is the estrogen-like chemicals that leach out of clear plastic bottles. This causes boys to develop slower and not to develop normally, and it causes girls to develop faster. Young men now have majorly decreased levels of testosterone and sperm count than previous generations.

Another major problem is that the school system has tried to treat boys and girls equally in recent decades. Teachers don’t take into account that boys and girls develop differently, and the natural behavior of boys has become unacceptable in schools. To try to calm boys down more like girls, drugs such as ritalin have increasingly been given to boys. This is a twofold problem. Boys are stunted psychologically which is bad enough, but the drugs have long-term consequences on brain development. It causes a part of the brain that relates to motivation to not to fully develop.

So, this means that young men are becoming evermore effeminate and apathetic. Young women are more likely to go to college, get degrees, and get professional careers. Also, with the sexual dynamic messed up, sexual attraction has decreased and along with it so has marriage.

 – – –

 This is a rather sadly ironic situation.  The chemical soup we live in and ingest on a daily basis is creating a generation of youth with various physiological/psychological problems (asthma, obesity, autism, ADHD, and on and on).  What is our collective answer to these problems that society has caused?  To give the kids even more chemicals in the form of drugs that further alters their behavior and biological development.

Anyways, this is no grand insight in and of itself.  Any reasonably informed person already knows about this kind of thing (the question then being how many reasonably informed people exist in the general population).  I do feel critical about the lack of discussion and a lack of action about this kind of thing.  In the Diane Rehm interview, the author spoke about how closely the Bush administration worked with the chemical companies.  Basically, the role of government has been to first protect capitalistic interests and only secondly to protect the average person.

My further complaint is about political ideology.  Why does this kind of thing bother liberals more than conservatives?  A typical response by many conservatives is to defend the ideal of a free market based on an assumption that drug and chemical companies always have the general population’s best interest in mind… or they defend the doctors that prescribe the drugs to children based on the assumption that drug company bribes and propaganda doesn’t influence the behavior of doctors.  Another typical response of many conservatives is to attack parents for all of the problems their children experience or else attack the children for having problems.  What conservatives are reluctant to do is to objectively look at the science… which might be explained by the fact that only 6% of scientists are Republicans.

I still don’t understand.  I understand in theory why conservatives uphold ideology above all else, but I don’t understand it in a deeper way.  These problems are equally experienced by conservative children as liberal children.  Isn’t it common sense that conservatives should be equally worried about how pollution, additives, and drugs are causing their own children problems?

For another example, why would only a liberal write a book like The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen?  The facts he shares aren’t liberal.  Facts don’t have ideology, but why are liberals more interested in facts in the first place?  Why is the desire to stop pollution and oppression a liberal agenda?  Why do conservatives tend to blame individuals and the liberal elite while rationalizing away all problems involving corporations?  Why do conservatives value religion more than they do science? 

I’m truly perplexed.

Is The Media Failing To Cover Wars Properly? w/ Author Fred Exoo

Here is a discussion of one aspect of how conservative is the mainstream media. 

If the media was liberal, then the largest and fastest growing protest movement in history would’ve been widely reported and the Iraq War would never have happened.  The media controls the public perception of public opinion.  That is key.  The powers that be don’t need to directly control public opinion.  They just need to be able to control the narrative.  By doing this, the liberal bias of news has become the perceived reality.

Conservative Reality: Self-referential, Self-enclosed

Conservatives create their own news sources (Fox News, etc), create their own entertainment (Left Behind books and movies, Mormon movies), create their own colleges (along with homeschooling their children), create their own think tanks, create their own ‘science’ (Creation Museum, push for creationism being taught in public schools), create their own politicized version of Christianity.  Conservatives are trying to create their own reality.  Sadly, their self-referential ‘reality’ effects us all. 

I wish the extremely conservative states would actually secede and start their own country.  Without all of the liberal scientists, they’d quickly turn into a third world country… which is apparently what they want.

This Far Left And No Further

For ‘Liberal’ NYT, Taxing the Rich Is a Fringe Idea
By Jim Naureckas

The New York Times is one of the most effective tools for limiting discussion in the U.S. political system. Falsely perceived as a left-leaning outlet, it has the power to make the most reasonable proposals seem ultra-radical by placing them beyond the pale.

[…] In other words, proposals like progressive taxation should be avoided because people might call you a liberal.  This from the daily news outlet that was named by journalists most often when asked to name one that was “especially liberal.”

For the record, taxing the rich is not an idea that has “a chance of winning broad public support”–it already has broad public support.

This is a very important insight. 

Extremely conservative opinions get voiced in the mainstream such as with Fox News, but what is perceived as extremely liberal doesn’t.  The particularly significant aspect is the perception of what is liberal or conservative, what is mainstream or radical.  Some pundits who act like populists may not actually espouse populist opinions.  And some opinions that get denied or ignored in mainstream media might actually be popular opinion. 

Because of this bias, smaller protests on the right such as the Tea Party get positive media attention and lots of it, but larger protests on the left such as the anti-war movement get negative media attention or else little attention at all.