Part 2—The problem with inkblot questions:
Last year, respondents were asked an unfortunate question as part of the General Social Survey (GSS), "a sociological survey created and regularly collected since 1972 by the research institute NORC at the University of Chicago."

NORC has been asking this particular question for decades. With apologies, the question goes like this:
Question from the General Social Survey:
"On the [sic] average (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"
That strikes us as perhaps an unfortunate question. A few of our reasons are these:

For starters, the GSS asks this question about African-Americans and about no one else (as best we can tell). Respondents aren't asked to answer a similar question about Hispanics, or about Appalachian whites, or about lower-income people in general.

Rather plainly, the question plays to a stereotype about that one group of people. That said, NORC's researchers have been asking that question for a great many years.

Arguably, there's another obvious problem with that loaded question. Stating the obvious, most African-Americans have already "pulled themselves up out of poverty," or were never there to begin with.

The large majority of African-Americans aren't currently living in poverty. It may be that these individuals have already pulled themselves out of that state, or it may be that their forbears did; or it maybe that their families have no history of poverty at all.

As such, this question seems to imply a fact which isn't in evidence. Then too, the question is groaningly imprecise, in the following sense:

Respondents are asked if most African-Americans have what it takes "to pull themselves out of poverty." Stating the obvious, that would depend, in a given case, on the depth of poverty in which a given person was mired, and on the state of the economy at some point in time.

When times are flush, it's relatively easy for a person to pull himself out of poverty. In other circumstances, whether in this country or around the world, it may be very difficult to do so, perhaps essentially impossible.

For ourselves, we wouldn't answer a question like that if were taking an survey like the GSS. It's the type of question we call an "inkblot question"—a question which mainly serves to record a respondent's flash reaction to a question which doesn't exactly make sense.

Ignoring the way that question is built upon an insulting stereotype, the question is highly imprecise. It stands in contrast with the simpler types of question which are used in highly coherent surveys. One such question would be this:

"If the election were held today, would you vote for Hillary Clinton, or would you vote for Donald J. Trump?"

That's a clear, straightforward, highly familiar type of survey question. Everyone understands what it means. It will generate zero confusion.

By way of contrast, the question about those lazy blacks is built upon, and meant to trigger, an ugly stereotype. Beyond that, it's so full of fuzzy logic that the only clear-thinking answer would be this:

"I don't understand your question."

Or, a bit less perfectly, the most frequent correct answer of all:

"I don't know."

For ourselves, we don't have the slightest idea whether "most blacks," or most whites, have what it takes to pull themselves out of some definable level of poverty in some definable circumstance. Neither does anyone who went ahead and answered that question last year.

We don't have the slightest idea how to answer a question like that! We also don't know why a competent researcher acting in good faith would want to ask that question.

We don't have a ton of respect for "researchers" who dream up such questions. We think it reflects a bit poorly on the NORC brainiacs that this question has remained in their famous national survey down through all these years.

We've mentioned several problems with an "inkblot" question like that, in which we're asked for a snap reaction to an extremely imprecise imagined state of affairs. Now, we'll mention another problem:

Respondents' answers to questions like that will almost always generate much more heat than light! Routinely, their answers will end up being used by partisan players of some type to present some picture of the world which serves some tribal narrative.

So it is when Hillary Clinton cites respondents' answers to that question in her new book, What Happened. Rather, when she cites the answers given by one lone group of respondents, even as she omits the answers given by everyone else.

In her book, Clinton gives an accurate account of the way one group of respondents answered that inkblot question. Once again, here is CNN's Dan Merica, recording what Clinton says:
MERICA (9/12/17): Clinton writes that she handed Trump a "political gift" in September when she told an audience of supporters that "you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables."

Her admission of a mistake isn't without equivocation, though.

Clinton writes that she was "talking about well-documented reality," citing a 2016 study by the General Social Survey that found 55% of white Republicans "believed that blacks are generally poorer than whites 'because most just don't have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up and out of poverty.' "
According to Merica, Clinton discusses the way one group of respondents answered that inkblot question:

Clinton discusses the way "white Republicans" answered that question. Beyond that, she says their answers show she was right when she said that half of Donald J. Trump's supporters can be listed as "deplorable" (and perhaps as "irredeemable") because they're "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it."

Presumably, those white Republicans displayed their racism when they answered that inkblot question. So it seems Clinton has said.

For today, we'll only say this. Clinton's basic account of their responses seems to be basically accurate. Yesterday, we showed you the fuller set of responses to that question by "non-black Republicans," and by Republicans in general. Once again, their responses broke down like this:
Responses to particular question, 2016 GSS
"On the average (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most (Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans) just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"

Responses by non-black Republicans:
Yes: 53.1 percent
No: 43.1 percent
Don't know: 3.7 percent

Responses by Republicans overall:
Yes: 53.3 percent
No: 42.8 percent
Don't know: 3.9 percent
That's the way Republicans responded to that question. On the basis of those responses, Cliton dropped one of our liberal tribe's favorite bombs on tens of millions of heads.

We can't tell you why those people answered that question the way they did. Unlike Clinton, we can't peer into their souls and assure you that the 53.3 percent of those respondents were "deplorable/irredeemable."

We can do this:

We can show you the way respondents from other groups answered that inkblot question. We can show you how Democrats answered that question. We can show you how Hispanics answered. We can even show you the numbers for respondents who were"black!"

Clinton has told us how one group responded to that inklblot question. Tomorrow, we'll show you what other groups of people said.

As we do, we'll get a chance to marvel at how widely deplorable we the people actually are. On Thursday, we'll take a look at some of the data William Saletan skipped.

Tomorrow: Blacks and Hispanics and Democrats oh my!


  1. Well, race-mongering is, basically, the trademark of your 'tribe', Bob. This is your tribe's standard M.O. This is, more or less, what your 'tribe' is all about.

    And, for that matter, you do it yourself: I read you claiming that percent of 'hispanics' doing this or that is a 'very important topic'.

    So, what the fuck are you complaining about here?

    1. Conservatives are NOT pieces of shit due to their race. They are pieces of shit, due to their ideology.

    2. Republicans have a black ones in too. I don't know if it hurts or helps

  2. Only 33 percent of us are deplorable sexist, racists to their 50%. We are less deplorable by volume.

  3. Somerby is taking the question at face value and pretending it is not designed to evoke that ugly racial stereotype and measure endorsement of it. What is wrong with him?

    Clinton is right to consider the ugly racial attitudes displayed on the right "deplorable" and the people gleefully expressing their racial animosity "deplorables". It didn't help her politically because Trump's base doubled down on their racism. It didn't lose her any votes on the left either but her enemies and a hostile press made hay.

    Where does Somerby fit? He is dumbly pretending to misunderstand social science research in order to bash Clinton. Why? Because she is getting some positive attention for her book? Why?

    Somerby seems perfectly willing to pile on the heap of Clinton critics -- shame on her for accepting social science research! Lock her up! What is wrong with Somerby?

    1. "Why?"
      Because Somerby has bought every right-wing trope about "liberals" hook, line, and sinker.

      Hey Bob, they are lying to you.

  4. Democratic party donor, 2012: "Obama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals"

    Bill O'Reilly: Slaves were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government

    1. It wasn't a Democratic donor asshole:

      From the article you linked:

      "More often than not, fears like these manifest as loathing for the current administration, as evidenced by the recent wave of Romney fund-raisers in the Hamptons. “Obama wants to take my money and give it to do-nothing animals,” one matron blurted at a recent party at the Pierre for Dick Morris’s Screwed!, the latest entry into a growing pile of socioeconomic snuff porn geared toward this audience."

    2. Oh right. I forgot, the Democratic donor said this:

      “It is kind of a problem in America that so many Americans believe if they elect a different president, everything is going to be fine. This whole idea of American exceptionalism, that we’re the greatest, when people don’t have health insurance, don’t have housing,” he says, swinging past the guesthouse, which has 360-degree views of the bay, and the staff house, which does not. “There are all these people in this country who are just not participating in the American Dream at all,” he says. This makes him uncomfortable, not least because they might try to take a piece of his. “Right now, for some bizarre reason, a lot of these people are supporting Republicans who want to cut taxes on the wealthy,” he says. “At some point, if we keep doing this, their numbers are going to keep swelling, it won’t be an Obama or a Romney. It will be a ­Hollande. A Chávez.”

    3. Democrats are racists by the millions. Less so than Republicans though. I can give "evidence" of this "truth" from a leading liberal writer.

  5. It's a mistake to take that question literally. It's really meant to ask, "Are you a racist?" IMHO. The people who wrote the test think they know the correct answer.

    But, suppose someone did try to answer the question as written. Education is perhaps the most important key to economic advancement, particularly in the STEM subjects. Do blacks on average put in the same effort as whites to get educated in STEM? If you think blacks put less effort into this sort of education than whites on average, does that automatically make you a racist? Or, are you a realist?

    1. Education in music or sports, especially basketball and football, are key avenues to economic success. Do whites put in the same effort as blacks to succeed in these fields? If you think whites try less hard to succeed does that automatically make you a racist? Are you aware how stupid this argument makes you sound?

    2. What the fuck are you still doing here Comrade? Shouldn't you be busy somewhere suppressing black votes. Weren't you supposed to be going to NH to check on those 5000 out of state license voters. Goddam, you're a lazy bastard. Get moving or we'll never know the answer.

    3. Hillary Clinton has somehow become even more unpopular since the election, now slightly lower than Trump's ratings

    4. I wonder what the connection might be between all the people trashing Hillary, from the President to liberal pundits to so-called liberals (libertarians) like Bill Maher, to the ceaseless right wing noise machine, and Hillary's favorability ratings. I expect they may go up after her book tour. Also Trump's ratings may go down once the indictments start.

    5. AnonymousSeptember 19, 2017 at 3:52 PM -- yes, any serious attempt to answer will sound stupid. Try it yourself, if you dare. Answer the question and explain your answer.

    6. As stated, it is a yes or no question. Maybe it has an strongly agree/strongly disagree graded scale. The obvious answer is No, or strongly disagree.

      People are people. They do not differ because of their skin color. There are individual differences but these are distributed across all people, not correlated with skin color (or nationality or gender or any of the other arbitrary divisions created by culture).

      People who are poor do not enjoy being poor. Poverty is aversive (unpleasant) and all people avoid what is aversive or punishing. Poor people are not poor because they are not trying to escape poverty. Anyone with a shred of life experience and/or empathy knows that. Anyone who has been poor knows it. People in all situations try to improve their conditions, as their natural state. When that is not true, something abnormal is occurring, such as mental illness or external obstacles that discourage effort.

      Throughout human experience, our survival has depended on group striving and cooperation with others. We do not succeed alone. Life or death has depended on group inclusion and coordinated effort, since hunter-gatherer times. This is no less true today. A belief that any person can or should succeed only by individual effort makes no sense at all and is patently ridiculous.

      You may call this response "stupid," but you have already demonstrated that you do not know how to answer the question yourself when the answer should be obvious to a child. A person who will not help others is dangerous to the group and would be shunned in other times and places. So, I think your answer sounded stupid because it is stupid.

    7. Thanks for your answer, Anon 12:07. You say, People are people. They do not differ because of their skin color. There are individual differences but these are distributed across all people, not correlated with skin color (or nationality or gender or any of the other arbitrary divisions created by culture).

      That's politically correct, and it's no doubt what the testers consider to be correct. But, IMHO it doesn't explain reality very well. Various groups of people have achieved very different levels of material success in the US and in other countries. E.g., look at how the Chinese out-performed the Malays when Malaya was a single country. Why is that? Denying that group differences exist doesn't really answer the question IMHO.

      Political correctness makes people stupider. It prevents many conceivable ideas from being uttered or considered.

    8. God is just the figment of dull-witted imaginations.
      Pass it on.

    9. Yes, David, and look at how the Jews always do so well with money and blacks make the best boxers. I think you are on to something.

    10. Dave the Guitar PlayerSeptember 20, 2017 at 12:56 PM

      David in Cal is mixing up cultural differences with racial differences. He thinks you can identify strengths and weaknesses in individual based on race (or nationality, gender, etc.), when in fact the differences he attributes to these factors are actually cultural. Statistically his categorization of individuals may work, but it does a grave disservice to individuals and, frankly, to freedom and democracy.

    11. Within each culture you find huge individual differences too.

    12. "...but it does a grave disservice to individuals and, frankly, to freedom and democracy."

      That's feature, not a bug, of modern Conservative "thought".

  6. There's nothing wrong with trying to measure "racism" or racist attitudes. Racism is a central historical fact in our society. It's interesting to see how these attitudes change over time, if indeed they do change. Bob may be right about the wording of these questions not leading to a coherent interpretation. Perhaps the question could read:
    Which of the following is true?
    A) A higher percentage of blacks than whites are in poverty.
    B) A higher percentage of whites than blacks are in poverty.
    C) an equal percentage of whites and blacks are in poverty.
    D) don't know.
    A second question could delve into the reasons why the respondent picked his/her answer.
    Even if the respondent's answer to question one is factually false, it's still interesting to try to gauge the attitudes that led to this answer.
    And there will always be people who will lie in their answer, even if the question is "Who did you vote for?"

    1. Do you suppose the problem of lying has never occurred to social scientists and that they have no way of dealing with it? Do you suppose they wrote their questions off the tops of their heads without trying them out or thinking about what they were measuring?

      Somerby thinks an undergrad degree in philosophy entitles him to secondguess professionals in all fields but no amateur would question research in physics or biology as readily.

  7. Deplorable is anyone who didn't vote for Hillary. Plain and simple.

    1. You can vote for someone other than Hillary and not be deplorable.
      But anyone who votes Republican? Fuck yeah, they're deplorable.

    2. A vote for someone else is nearly always a vote for the Republican. Remember Al Gore?

    3. Dave the Guitar PlayerSeptember 20, 2017 at 12:46 PM

      I would also add that if you did not vote for anyone, that disqualifies you from having any opinion about how this country is (or is not) being run. I also think anyone who does not vote should have to pay twice as much in taxes as those who take the time to participate, although I acknowledge that currently there are way too many impediments to voting.