Campaign watch: Two ways of describing Trump voters!


Puzzled again by the Times:
Once again, we ask a basic question:

What are Trump supporters like? Why do millions of our fellow citizens plan to vote for Candidate Trump?

Yesterday morning, the Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen took a humane approach to this important question. On the front page of the Post, she penned a 2200-word profile of Ralph Case, a 38-year-old Trump supporter from North Canton, Ohio.

There are problems with this kind of reporting, of course. Ralph Case is just one person. Even if McCrummen is able to learn what makes him tick, that doesn't necessarily tell us about the other ten million Trump supporters.

Beyond that, there's no guarantee that a reporter like McCrummen will discern the truth about some individual voter. McCrummen profiled Case in a certain way. Maybe she missed key points.

You can't learn about Trump voters in general from reading long profiles of individual Trump voters. On the other hand, much coverage of Trump voters has involved aggressive denunciations tied to sweeping generalizations.

Often, the sweeping generalizations have a certain predetermined feel. Ironically, that's the way yesterday's analysis piece in the New York Times struck us.

The analysis piece was written by Neil Iwin and John Katz. It appeared beneath this headline:

"The Geography of Trump's Popularity"

For the record, yesterday's piece bore the newspaper's Upshot brand. This means that the piece by Irwin and Katz was supposed to be extra brainy.

It didn't strike us that way.

Below, you see the way the piece began. Were we imagining things, or had the Times already played "bombs away" just by paragraph 4?
IRWIN AND KATZ (3/15/16): The Geography of Trump's Popularity

When the Census Bureau asks Americans about their ancestors, some respondents don't give a standard answer like ''English'' or ''German.'' Instead, they simply answer ''American.''

The places with high concentrations of these self-described Americans turn out to be the places Donald Trump's presidential campaign has performed the strongest.

This connection and others emerged in an analysis of the geography of Trumpism. To see what conditions prime a place to support Mr. Trump for the presidency, we compared hundreds of demographic and economic variables from census data, along with results from past elections, with this year's results in the 23 states that have held primaries and caucuses. We examined what factors predict a high level of Trump support relative to the total number of registered voters.

The analysis shows that Trump counties are places where white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions.
As early as paragraph 4, we didn't quite know what we were reading. It sounded to us like the Times had said the following:

In Trump's strongest counties, an unusual (but undisclosed) number of people describe their ancestry as "American." On this basis, Irwin and Katz seemed to say that voters in these counties are involved in "white identity."

Is that what Irwin and Katz were saying? We've read their article several times. We still have no idea.

In our view, this suggests that their writing was poor. It also suggests that they maybe perhaps had a preconceived bomb they were inclined to deploy.

How does saying your ancestry is "American" connect you to "white identity?" While we're at it, what exactly do our twin eggheads mean by that redolent term?

Irwin and Katz do a very poor job answering that second question. But there it is, a strongly suggestive term, throbbing right in paragraph 4 of their murky report, urging readers of the Times to engage in the pleasing practice of constructing a negative generalization.

Because this piece is an Upshot piece, it's built on egghead procedures. The author have created statistical "correlations" of a type most readers don't understand. Most readers will be poorly equipped to worry about their statistical practices.

On the other hand, readers won't have too much trouble spotting the early insinuation. Our view?

Because we humans are strongly inclined to engage in sweeping negative generalizations, journalists should be very careful not to encourage the practice.

For ourselves, we thought about our own "ancestors" as we puzzled over this murky piece. What would we tell the Census Bureau if we were asked the question the writers describe?

We'd probably decline to answer. As far as we know, our "ancestors" come from various different directions on the two sides of our family.

We wouldn't say our ancestors were "American," although we seem to recall declining to check boxes on official forms when asked to name our "race."

That said, we don't know what we're supposed to think about someone who does say "American." Nor do we know how many Trump voters, even in the counties in question, actually make that choice.

What are we supposed to think about someone who says "American?" Irwin and Katz chose to start their report with that variable. Does anyone have any idea what it's supposed to indicate, mean or suggest?

Instantly, Irwin and Katz seemed to suggest that the answer implies that Trump voters are somehow involved in "white identity," whatever that term is supposed to mean. And sure enough! They also chose to end their report with this same troubling matter:
IRWIN AND KATZ: Despite evidence that some individual Trump voters are driven by racial hostility, this analysis didn't show a particularly powerful relationship between the racial breakdown of a county and its likelihood of voting for Trump. There are Trump-supporting counties with both very high and very low proportions of African-Americans, for example.

One of the strongest predictors of Trump support is the proportion of the population that is native-born. Relatively few people in the places where Trump is strong are immigrants—and, as their answers on their ancestry reveal, they very much wear Americanness on their sleeve.
As Ronald Reagan might have said, there they go again!

In their penultimate paragraph, the boys manage to associate "some Trump voters" with "racial hostility." As they close, they snidely say that "they very much wear Americanness on their sleeve."

Their closing statement is overtly snide. Also, it doesn't parse. Who is the "they" to whom the writers refer in that closing sentence? Technically, they seem to be referring to "people in the places where Trump is strong."

Technically, that seems to be the boys' antecedent. That said, might we suggest who they're really discussing in their snide closing remark? Aren't our brilliant Upshot eggheads really discussing Those People?

McCrummen profiled one Trump voter. We thought her work was quite humane.

The New York Times took a different approach. In our view, the gruesome newspaper was mining the same old vein.


  1. Some wear their politics on their ARM not their sleeve!

  2. "There is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else." -- Theodore Roosevelt

    "We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation." -- Sarah Palin


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  3. Just one obscure factoid I might mention. The Ralph Case of the article is likely descended from John Case (1616) and Sarah Spencer (and by that connection to Princess Diana). They were married in 1657 in Simsbury. If he thinks he is American, rather than English, perhaps it is because some of his ancestors have been here more than 350 years.

    Of course, in the modern discourse from some people, since he cannot say they have been here 35,000 years that makes him just as much of an immigrant as somebody who came here illegally 3.5 days ago.

  4. Is "white identity" a "redolent term"? Can a term be "redolent" without being "redolent of (something)"? Well, "redolent" isn't a word I normally use, but my reading of the dictionary suggests that "redolent" means "reminiscent" or "evocative". Presumably Bob means "redolent of racism" or some such.

  5. Bob's criticism is right on point. This article is from the "baffle 'em with bullsh*t" school. E.g., the article shows the correlation coefficients of 10 variables closely linked to Trump support. Nobody can tell what any number means.

    E.g., the correlation for "Support for George Wallace 1968" is 0.47. What does this number mean? It can't mean that 47% of Trump voters also voted for Wallace in 1968. Most voters are too young to have voted in 1968.

    If the article had simply told us what % of Trump voters are white or what % voted for Wallace, we could make some sense of that. But, the reader can't possibly understand the significance of any particular correlation percentage. I strongly suspect that the Times reporters don't know what the significance is, either.

  6. Bob, oh, Bob,
    What you protest, as you well know, is the old Southern Strategy that shifted every sheriff, almost every legislator, almost every governor in the former Confederacy from Democrat to Republican ("I didn't leave the party, it left me"). It is disingenuous to claim that the NY Times guys are fools, when they are merely stating a banal fact. The Trumpsters for the greater part are moral morons who mostly might even give up their draft dodger status to enlist in militias that would bring this tinpot Mussolini to power ... or then again, maybe they wouldn't. But you can bet they would claim they did once the revolution made the trains run on time. Bob, these kids at the NY Times are striving to express a banal truth without breaking too far into "opinion" as versus "news." I remember having the same problems covering George Corley Wallace, not to mention LBJ's glorious war in Vietnam. Sometimes you just have to lay out the facts, perhaps too simply for some, perhaps too annoying for others. They did little else here. Perhaps it is time to criticize the Trumptsters of our world and pay less attention to those who are trying to make sense out of our current yokel Brown Shirts (see, you can say it, if you are not so fixated on contrarianism). You are too valuable a press critic, and damn near the only one left, to waste your time on this obsession of damning those who, as all news articles must, simplify the issues by putting classes of people into camps. There literally is almost no other way to do it.

  7. It would have been nice if McCrummen had found out from Ralph Case how he gets his medical care. Does he have insurance? Who pays? Does he have an Obamacare policy? Because getting a drip from an IV in your arm is not cheap. His candidate, Trump, has vowed to repeal Obamacare. (And replace it with pretty much nothing.) How does Ralph Case feel about that? McCrummen forgot to ask.

  8. I know two Hispanics who are Trump supporters. They're both very decent people who buy into his policy rhetoric.

    1. And like all blacks who voted for Bush, they will get Cabinet positions in a Trump administration

  9. The funny thing is, these people think accusing Trump supporters of "racism" will be effective in any way. The label has no power anymore, except to motivate those who are sick of SJW's to vote against them.

  10. Why would any white person not support the left? So many good people over there, such as the affirmative-action club at Harvard whose discussion about whether white people are morally obligated to kill themselves went viral yesterday.

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