Tribe watch: Jonathan Chait sees an absolute difference!


Tribal delusions and war:
We've often said that our own liberal tribe has started to ape the very bad practices of players like Rush and Sean.

Jonathan Chait disagrees. In a new post, he reviews a discussion by Jonathan Rauch of our failing political culture.

To Chait, conservatives are Goofus and we liberals are still Gallant. For starters, consider this passage:
CHAIT (6/22/16): The more closely we look at the composition of the two parties, the more obvious it is that only one of them truly exhibits the tendencies [Rauch] describes. Over the last decade, writers like me, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, and Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have written about the growing asymmetry between the two parties. The GOP, but not the Democratic Party, is fully identified with an ideological movement. The almost-all-white Republican Party is far more ethnically monolithic than the polyglot Democratic Party, and more ideologically monolithic, too—more than two-thirds of Republicans identify themselves as conservative, while fewer than half of Democrats call themselves “liberal.” (Self-identified moderates and conservatives comprise a majority of the party’s supporters, albeit a shrinking one.) Democratic voters rely on news sources that, whatever their unconscious bias, strive to follow principles of objectivity and nonpartisanship. Republican voters mostly trust Fox News and other party organs that merely amplify the party’s message.
That's straight outta Goofus and Gallant! Goofus mostly trusts Fox News and other party organs. By way of contrast, Gallant relies on news sources which sometimes display unconscious bias despite their good intentions.

Liberals, please! Our direct counterpart to Fox News is MSNBC. It's silly to think that MSNBC displays only an "unconscious bias," nothing more, despite its good intentions.

Already, Chait is displaying a severe myopia. In the passage we highlight below, the pundit goes over the edge.

Except as an example of Hard Dogmatic Tribal Vision, the highlighted claims makes zero sense. That is especially true when you click Chait's link:
CHAIT (continuing directly): The political scientists Matt Grossmann and Dave Hopkins have found that Democrats tend to conceive of their policies in concrete terms, while Republicans present theirs in ideologically abstract terms. The pragmatic deal-making Rauch venerates is simply far more compatible with the style of the modern Democrats than the Republicans...

A series of polls have all found that Democratic-leaning voters want their leaders to compromise, while Republican-leaning voters do not. Many Democrats feel frustrated with the system, but they want to make it work. Republicans do not feel this way at all.
According to Chait, "Democratic-leaning voters want their leaders to compromise, while Republican-leaning voters do not." In case that flattering tribal contrast wasn't stark enough, he proceeds to make his claim absolute:

"Republicans do not feel this way at all."

Republicans don't feel this way at all? To anyone but a hard-core believer, the claim sounds absurd on its face. It turns into a species of lunacy when you click Chait's link to review his supporting data.

Holy tribal belief! Chait links to this survey by Pew from October 2015. The relevant passage says this:
PEW (10/12/15): Partisan compromise is viewed less positively by Republican primary voters than by Democratic ones. Just 41% of possible GOP primary voters say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who will compromise with Democrats.
Beneath that passage is a chart which tabulates the responses from Democratic-leaning voters. In the corresponding figure, 62% of Democrat-leaners say they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who will compromise with Republicans.

It's true! In Pew's survey, Democratic voters were more likely to favor compromise. But as anyone can see, respondents from the two parties were much more alike than different.

This wasn't a case where 100% of one group said yes to some proposition while 100% of the other group said no. This wasn't anywhere close to that. But this is the only survey to which Chait links—and in this survey, responses from the two groups were much more alike than different.

(More alike than different? The large majority of Democratic voters could be matched with a Republican voter who answered the relevant question in the same way.)

Chait makes a very basic type of interpretive error here. He sees a pair of statistics in which one group favors A (on balance) while the other group favors B (on balance).

He then takes this (somewhat minor) difference in degree and describes it as a difference in kind. Quite explicitly, he turns it into an absolute difference.

"Republicans do not feel this way at all," he says, making a claim which is flatly false. As he does, he ignores an additional fact—a lot of Democrats didn't respond to the relevant question in the way he favors.

Chait took a relatively minor difference in degree and turned it into an absolute difference in kind. In recent years, we've seen an endless array of liberals making this type of error.

In fairness, it's a very old type of error. People have always thought this way as they happily marched toward the war their tribal loathing helped start.


  1. Note the implied accusation of racism, where Chait refers to the "almost-all-white Republican Party".

    1. David, I can not discern what you instruct to note. If helpful for you David, I offer this:

      Democratics and Republicans probably suffer similar rates of racist members. Without a doubt, Republicans do not represent the majority of any other race other than whites; largely due to their economic policies. Democratics represent whites and all other races. Republicans do not want people to rely on government, regardless of their background or condition. Democratics understand that government is the best and most fair way to help those in need. Note that race refers to the color of skin and nothing else.

      Similarly, Somerby ignores the significance of how differently Democratics and Republicans view compromise. Recall Obama offered a compromise of ten to one budget cuts to tax increase that the Republicans scoffed at and rejected.

  2. Delete implied. Delete "almost-". No, that DOESN'T mean saying the Republican Party, if all white is racist. YOU SAID IT, no one else did.

    1. Why do you think Chait included "almost-all-white" in the article? Just a random fact that doesn't imply anything?

      Your response is like the comedian that tells an obvious sexual double entendre then says to the audience, "get your mind out of the gutter!"

    2. Go away! FROM INSIDE Chait's mind and while you are at it, go away from hure![sic]

  3. Chait's argument is bad, but a better one is that a majority of Republicans don't want compromise, and therefore keep electing more hard-liners. Accordingly, the parties aren't similar. Also, although MSNBC is following the Fox model, it's nowhere near as popular or influential.

    1. I rarely disagree with Bob but you are closer to what I feel is going on in what you say. "Conservative principals" are their way or the highway. And they are certain about what they think they are right about... until all things come crashing down, and then they blame UNNAMED Liberals for everything wrong.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerJune 23, 2016 at 12:30 PM

      I generally feel that anyone who believes something absolutely must surely be wrong. There is always room for doubt and those who have no doubts have no credibility with me.

  4. From Pew's report on partisanship yesterday:
    Most Republicans and Democrats want compromise on their terms. Majorities of Democrats (62%) and Republicans (58%) say their party should get more of what it wants on the key issues facing the nation. Partisans with colder feelings toward the other party are even more likely to say their own side should get more of what it wants.

    1. You hit the NAIL on THE HEAD. Pew is totally CORRECT... among-st the people PEW TALKED TOO!

    2. David the Guitar PlayerJune 23, 2016 at 12:35 PM

      This question means almost nothing. Of course I believe the group I belong to has the better argument and, thus, my group should normally prevail in any debate. The question of accepting compromise is much more important.

  5. MSNBC is now unwatchable, between Morning Joe and Rachel..

    No Liberal I know is influenced by MSNBC.

    Williams is just a boring nothing.

  6. Fox is extraordinarily influential simply because it's the ONLY conservative-leaning news channel; whereas liberals are divided among who-knows-how-many channels. If the tables were turned and MSNBC was the only liberal-leaning channel, then MSNBC would be getting Fox-like ratings since liberals would have nowhere else to turn for what they consider unbiased reporting and likeminded commentary.

    1. "conservative-leaning"

      Spin much? Try, the voice of the far right for decades.

    2. Sure, why not. But the point is, the *only* voice of the right.

    3. "...whereas liberals are divided among who-knows-how-many channels."

      None. When it comes to economics.

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