At the Post, youth being served: Yesterday, the Washington Post published a rather tangy analysis piece in its Outlook section.
The essay was written by Alexander Agadjanian. He was identified as a "research associate" in the "MIT Election Lab."
What made the essay so tangy? According to Agadjanian, Candidate Biden scores well among Democratic primary voters who exhibit sexism and racism. That's a rather unflattering claim to make about Candidate Biden, and about the Democratic electorate.
As noted, Agadjanian was identified as a research associate at the MIT Election Lab. As we suspected from reading his article, he's also a very young person. He graduated from college in June of last year (Dartmouth, class of 2018).
We've often noted the remarkable youth of many contemporary journalists. We'll guess that most Post readers wouldn't suspect that they're getting such tendentious analyses from people so young and so inexperienced when they thumb through the high-profile Outlook section.
As upper-end journalists go, Agadjanian is very young. Of course, that doesn't mean that anything he wrote in his piece was misleading or wrong.
That said, what made us suspect that he was quite young, even before we googled him up? It was his tendency toward true belief and shaky analysis in the regions of race and gender.
What did Agadjanian actually say about Candidate Biden and his supporters? Below, you see two passages which give the gist of his claims:
AGADJANIAN (9/8/19): Democratic voters who score high on a scale that measures sexism...gravitate toward Biden and Sanders and away from Warren and Harris—which is not shocking. But another Biden metric is more surprising and even paradoxical: He attracts the largest proportion of voters who score high on a scale that measures anti-black prejudice, while also garnering the most support, by far, among black voters.How strange! Agadjanian notes that Biden currently "garner[s] the most support, by far, among black voters" in Democratic primary polling. But in a highly unflattering appraisal, he also notes that Biden benefits greatly from "anti-black prejudice" on the part of primary voters.
Anti-black racial resentment also dictates, in different ways, preferences for Biden, Warren and Harris. All else being equal, Biden’s vote share increases by 27 points going from the least to the most racially resentful primary voter. Meanwhile, more racially progressive Democrats—especially racially progressive whites—side heavily with Warren, which makes sense, given her messages on the campaign trail, such as explicitly calling the U.S. criminal justice system racist. Anti-black prejudice, not surprisingly, dampens support for the leading black candidate, Harris. It appears not to affect backing for Sanders.
The youngster treats this as a paradox. He never describes the extent to which the "anti-black prejudice" he alleges may be coming from Biden's black supporters themselves, although we'll guess that a substantial chunk of it could be.
The problem lies in the way this very young person determines "anti-black prejudice" on the part of Democratic voters. He describes his remarkably shaky method in this rather sad, rather youthful passage:
AGADJANIAN: To gauge anti-black sentiment, I made use of two questions designed to establish levels of racial resentment—questions that approach the issue of racism indirectly, in an attempt to prevent people from defaulting to answers that they know are socially preferred. One question probed whether the survey taker agreed that slavery and discrimination have made progress difficult for black Americans; the other asked whether blacks should learn to work and live without “special favors.” About 20 percent of likely Democratic primary voters scored on the higher end of these prejudice measures (that is, above the neutral point on the scales), but responses on the high and low ends still substantially predicted candidate choices.Using pre-existing survey data, the youngster looked at voters' responses to two (2) questions. On the basis of voters' responses to those two questions, and on the basis of nothing else, this very young fellow began tossing claims of "racism," "prejudice" and "anti-black sentiment" around.
The youngster looked at answers to exactly two (2) questions! Sadly, one of the questions said this:
The question asked "whether blacks should learn to work and live without 'special favors.' ”
According to this very young person, voters' answers to that question helped us see if they're racist, or if they hold anti-black prejudice. Judgment was rendered on the basis of only two questions in all!
It's amazing to think that the Washington Post would publish such childish (if familiar) work. We say that for the following reason:
We don't know what the non-racist answer to that question is supposed to be!
Are liberals really supposed to say that blacks should be given "special favors?" We'll guarantee you that many black respondents answered that question in the "anti-black prejudice" way!
Are blacks supposed to be granted "special favors?" Is that really the current liberal/progressive/Democratic Party position?
Is that the way "affirmative action" is now supposed to be understood? Because that very much isn't the way progressive thinking has framed such matters in the past.
The use of this loaded question goes back decades in "social science" research. Perhaps the question was sensible, and was devised in perfect good faith, when it first appeared.
By now, the question functions as a trap, except among our truest believers. Just what is the progressive position supposed to be?
Are liberals and progressive really supposed to say that blacks should receive "special favors?" If so, please don't tell Donald J. Trump, because he could have a field day with such affirmations in the coming year.
Agadjanian's essay struck us as childish and silly. It also struck us, again and again, as the work of youthful true belief—of someone who hasn't yet broken free from the bubble-wrapped conceptual field invented by our assistant, associate and adjunct professors over the past many years, years which finally ended with Donald J. Trump in power.
(In our usual insightful manner, we began to "resist" the next day.)
Should black citizens receive special favors? Many black voters will quickly say no. Just a guess: that helps explain why you rarely see responses to such questions disaggregated by race.
MIT's youngster will register those black voters as part of Biden's anti-black support. At the same time, he'll express his puzzlement over the way Biden is supported by black voters and by anti-black voters at the same time.
We don't think much of either question Agadjanian used in this, the latest hunt to let us tribal true believers see Where The Racists Are. But that second question has been a stinker for decades. Our academics tend to be too bubble-wrapped to understand this point.
We'll offer one more opinion:
When newspapers like the Washington Post publish the work of very young people, they should consider saying so in their identity lines.