Part 5—By tribal law, survey says Only One Thing:
Why do people answer survey questions the way they do?

More specifically, why did people answer that one survey question in that "deplorable" manner? We refer to the question shown below, a question from last year's General Social Survey:
Question from the General Social Survey:
"On the average African-Americans have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. Do you think these differences are because most African-Americans just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty?"
According to Hillary Clinton, responses to that survey question establish her claim that half of Donald J. Trump's supporters were "deplorable," perhaps "irredeemable."

In her new book, What Happened, Clinton describes her claim as "well-documentated reality." According to Clinton, the documentation is found in these responss:
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
Were half of Donald J. Trump's supporters "deplorable," perhaps "irredeemable?" Mother Courage has said, in a published book, that yes, they actually were, she was right about that all along!

It's "well-documented reality," she has said, based on those responses. Over Here in our liberal tents, we have been made very glad.

In our view, there's a minor problem with that attempt at documentation. It stems from the large numbers of other respondents who answered that survey question in the exact same way.

Below, you see the way African-American respondents answered that question last year. After that, we offer a fuller set of percentages, showing how many members of various groups gave the deplorable answer:
Responses by African-Americans:
Yes: 46.3 percent
No: 51.3 percent
Don't know: 2.4 percent

Percentages giving the deplorable answer:
Republicans: 53.3 percent
Hispanics: 46.9 percent
Blacks: 46.3 percent
Whites: 39.8 percent
Democrats: 34.4 percent
We liberals can all feel good on one score! Among the specified groups, the highest percentage of Republicans gave the "deplorable" answer.

That said, blacks and Hispanics weren't far behind Clinton's "deplorable" group—and more than a third of Democrats gave the wrong answer too!

These numbers may start to suggest a problem with Clinton's sweeping denunciation of the very bad people Over There. They leave us asking that question again:

Why do people answer survey questions the way they do?

Let's get specific—why did so any black respondents answer that survey question that way? To state the obvious, we can't give you an answer to that. But it leads us to this next question:

Why didn't Hillary Clinton mention these numbers in her book? We'll give you the two most obvious possible answers:
1) She never reviewed the full data set.
2) She's happier when she calls The Others names.
In Answer 2, we encounter a capsule history of the trillion wars the human race has waged in the years since we crawled from the swamp. Answer 1 reflects the way our contemporary discourse tends to work.

Why did so many black respondents give the "wrong" answer to that survey question? Beyond the suggestions we've already trailed, we won't bother trying to answer.

We'll only say that "creative" questions of this type—"inkblot, Rorschach-style survey questions—may tend to generate much more heat than light. Over Here in our liberal tents, our more excitable tribal players have spent the past decade cherry-picking responses to survey questions in the way that was executed here:

We damn The Others for their responses. As we do, we lack the honesty to tell the world that our infallible, flawless selves strongy tended to answer the question the same darn way.

(We have especially tended to do this with survey questions on the so-called "social issues," where black and Hispanic respondents will often tend to give the same answers for which we damn Those Southern White Crackers as hopelessly backward and stupid. This can make it look like we aren't especially honest. More often, we're just too lazy, too dumb and too unskilled to have examined the full data sets. In fairness, these data sets are often withheld or disappeared by our fiery liberal "thought leaders.")

Why did so many people, in so many groups, answer that survey question that way? Why did so many blacks and Hispanics give the "deplorable" answer?

We don't know how to answer those questions. That said, we humans have a lot of images and ideas clanging around inside our heads. Having said that, we'll also say this:

Once you head down the road of telling us who is deplorable, you may have a very long hike trying to find your way back.

Ever since the dawn of time, members of tribal groups have been declaring The Others deplorable. In recent years, this has become a near-obsession Over Here, among our less than impressive, but self-impressed, liberal tribe.

We especially like to spot the racists! As has always been the norm, we tend to find them under every bed, just so long as we look Over There.

This need to denounce The Others is an age-old moral and intellectual sickness. We thought William Saletan may have had a minor case of this particular flu in this recent piece at Slate.

Saletan is perfectly smart. That said, his opening passage wasn't (headlines included):
SALETAN (8/29/17) What Trump Supporters Really Believe/
The president’s racist base, by the numbers

Since the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Trump has been curiously deferential to racists...

Why is Trump so solicitous of bigots? Conventional wisdom on the left says that it’s because he’s a bigot himself, and also because bigots are an important part of his base. But is that second part true? How many of Trump’s supporters are racists?

We may never know the full answer,
since many people don’t disclose their prejudices in surveys. But some do. And among Trump fans, that number turns out to be significant. Overt racists aren’t a decisive share of the electorate, but they’re a substantial part of the president’s coalition. And this gives them far more power than they would otherwise enjoy.
Saletan started with an earnest question and answer. "How many of Trump’s supporters are racists?" he asked.

"We may never know the full answer," he replied.

In our view, that was a saddening call-and-response. Of course we'll never know the full answer to that tribally thrilling question! Compare the question Saletan asks to a second possible question:
A tale of two possible questions:
How many of Trump’s supporters are racists?
How many of Trump’s supporters weigh more than 200 pounds?
In theory, that second question could be easily answered. In theory, we could produce an answer to which we'd all agree.

Saletan's question is different! We all agree on how you determine that someone weighs 200 pounds. We don't agree on how you determine if someone is a racist. There's no established way to form such a judgment—and when Saletan sifted through data from five recent surveys, we'd have to say that he seemed to end up doing some picking and choosing.

Saletan offered a perfectly viable hypothesis. Despite the suggestions lodged in those headlines, he ended up saying that the large majority of Trump supporters can't be shown to be "overt racists." But he said there were enough such people in Trump's base to explain Trump's solicitous behavior toward their kind.

That's a perfectly plausible thesis. We'll only say that Saletan seemed to do some picking-and-choosing when he displayed the survey results which let us know how many "overt racists" can be found Over There.

We'll cite one example, then quit. Here's one passage from Saletan, in which we're shown how many members of Trump's base are in fact "overt racists:"
SALETAN: In the Morning Consult poll, 3 percent of conservatives, 5 percent of whites, and 6 percent of Republicans admit to a favorable impression of neo-Nazis. Among people who strongly approve of Trump’s performance, the number goes up to 12 percent. Remember: These are the people who are willing to tell a pollster that they sympathize with Nazis. The poll doesn’t show how many others are concealing such views.
Among people who strongly approve of Trump's performance in office, 12 percent admitted to a favorable impression of neo-Nazis. Assuming that people understand the term "neo-Nazi," that does sound like a lot.

Please note, though: that's the number of neo-Nazi lovers among people who strongly approve of Trump's performance. Among the roughly equal number of people who somewhat approve of Trump's performance, the number of neo-Nazi lovers drops to five percent.

Overall, the number seems to be roughly 8.5 percent among people who approve to Trump's performance in office. And that still sounds like a lot!

That still sounds like a lot! That said, here are the numbers in that same survey for other groups of respondents:
Percentages who admitted to a favorable impression of neo-Nazis:
People who approve of Trump's performance: 8.5 percent

Liberals: 11 percent
Hispanics: 11 percent
Roman Catholics: 11 percent

Clinton voters: 8 percent
Trump voters 7 percent

Obama 2012 voters: 7 percent
Romney 2012 voters: 6 percent

Republicans: 6 percent
Democrats: 7 percent
We don't know why those people answered that question that way, but that's the way they answered. With that in mind, we can tell you that Saletan's data strike us as somewhat selective. Similar patterns obtain all through the five surveys from which he culled his data.

Our sainted mother often presented us with a stifling bromide when we were growing up. "Ask a silly question, you get a silly answer," she'd Delphically proclaim.

Our academicians tend to clog their surveys with a wide array of questions. Their questions may or may not be silly. But the selective way we use their data to attack The Others may seem deplorable, and utterly brainless, at times.

Saletan offered a perfectly sensible thesis. At the same time, it seemed to us that he was possibly cherry-picking the data he offered in support of that thesis—and yes, the question with which he began was perhaps a bit silly.

As for Clinton, she's adamantly refusing to say that her offhand remark last fall was unwise and unhelpful, full stop.
We fiery liberals have often said that Donald J. Trump can't admit when he's wrong. In the case of that remark by Clinton, he may have found a partner for doubles on our failing society's increasingly crowded courts.


  1. I love how this pathetic loser doesn't even wait for me to weigh in. Bob's attacks on Maddow are too boring and ridiculous to read anymore. He's just not a serious person on the subject of Maddow. Fake Greg seems to be something like a religious nutcase on "Special Victims Unit." Probably obsessed with Maddow too.

  2. I wish Somerby would read his comments because I hate being as repetitious as he is.

    1. Clinton didn't cite only that one question and she didn't base her remark on just that question either. She used that question as an EXAMPLE, hence her words: "for example" immediately preceding discussion of that question. The survey itself contains a number of other related questions that Clinton also discussed but Somerby omits, pretending she only mentioned one. He even italicizing the word one above.

    2. Somerby says:

    "We'll only say that "creative" questions of this type—"inkblot, Rorschach-style survey questions—may tend to generate much more heat than light."

    The survey questions on race are not particularly creative. They have face validity, in the sense that they measure what someone would think they measure, racial attitudes and beliefs.

    Somerby would really get upset about the kinds of questions that have little face validity, such as "Door knobs tend to have germs." used to measure whether someone might make a good fire fighter or not. Those depend only on the fact that good fire fighters tend to answer such a question a particular way, but the question itself has nothing to do with fire fighting.

    An inblot test or projective test is an entirely different matter. First, such a test is not an objective test and it is not scored using numbers the way a survey is. Secondly, it presents an ambiguous image that allows a responder to project internal thoughts and feelings onto the image. A person tells a story about the image and by doing so, unintentionally reveals things he or she may not even be aware of. You could test for racism this way, but this is nothing like the kind of question on that survey. Early inblot texts depended on psychoanalytic theory and sought subconscious conflicts during therapy. Not so much anymore. Inkblot tests have very little to do with psychological testing these days.

    But Somerby readily confuses psychology and sociology here. The survey is sociological, or maybe social psychology (in the hands of a social psychologist). Somerby is criticizing it by referring to psychological instruments, developed for very different purposes and used differential in different kinds of studies.

    That doesn't bother Somerby. He plunges ahead with perfect ignorance, blasting away at things he doesn't want to acknowledge. And why is he resisting the idea that Republicans are more overtly racist than Democrats? It is placing him in the position of being an ersatz climate denier only with respect to social issues. And just as denying reality when it comes to mother nature has consequences, so does denying social reality, because people won't put up with this shit forever.

  3. "As for Clinton, she's adamantly refusing to say that her offhand remark last fall was unwise and unhelpful, full stop."

    Clinton has said exactly this in both interviews and in her book. She even said it shortly after she made her remark and it was blown up into a huge issue by Trump with a major assist from the media. No one listens to what Clinton says, certainly not Somerby.

    1. It was a stupid political move that she admitted as was the example she provided in her book to justify the stupid claim also stupid and ignorant.

  4. The survey results are kinda hard to believe. 5% of black people have a strongly favorable opinion of white nationalists? Really?

    A couple of things I would note.
    1. this is a fairly long survey, so somebody was on the phone being asked questions for 10-15 minutes.
    2. there are obvious opportunities for either trolling or confusion.
    3. somewhat surprisingly the age group 65+ had the highest percentage of those who strongly disapproved of neo-nazis and white supremacists. I am thinking this age group was voted "least likely to troll".

    Of course, the surprising results may be repeatable.

    1. There exist extreme views among some black people who agree that segregation is better and support the ideas of white nationalists that separate states should exist. There also exist people who are unfamiliar with the term white nationalists and may not know what it means, and people who are not taking the survey seriously and responding randomly to the questions.

      You can get small minorities of people to agree that the earth is bigger than outer space, that they are not human beings, and so on. This happens any time you give a survey and is part of the territory.

      Do you know for sure that this was administered as a phone survey? Seems unlikely if it has been conducted for 40 years.

      I don't think it is surprising that the 65+ group most strongly disapproved of neo-nazis because they are the ones who remember WWII and its aftermath.

  5. "More often, we're just too lazy, too dumb and too unskilled to have examined the full data sets."

    And why would you want to do it anyway; clearly it's a 'garbage in - garbage out' exercise...

    Like you said yourself a few days ago: it's all the narrative, facts don't matter.

    As for the neo-Nazis (even real, but mostly imagined, "neo-Nazi" being the favorite liberal slur these days) - they are, clearly an underdog group, with no political power, being attacked from all sides. And people tend to sympathise with the underdog, especially the one who stands firm in the face of hysterical and overwhelming pressure. C'est la vie...

    1. I'll take my knee bone to your lip.

    2. Neo-Nazis have their own Attorney General in Jeff Sessions. That's not powerless.

    3. @3:43 You sound like you're constipated again, Greg. It's worrisome. Try some prune juice, perhaps?

    4. I'll put my foot on your cheek,

  6. Stop beating a dead horse. There are more serious issues to discuss.

    1. I see what you mean but it is serious in that Democrats are losing elections to complete fools. That's very serious that we can't beat someone as goofy and loutish as Trump. It's important to address and talk about the fact we are a total mess and not honest with ourselves about it.

    2. It IS serious, anon 3:14pm, but it isn't that "we are a total mess and not honest with ourselves about it.". (Are you really one of "us"?)
      There are many other factors contributing to the "mess", a mess I would suggest the country as a whole finds itself in, not just "us".
      It's not just that Democrats lose, but that conservatives win. Are there structural issues there? Are there underhanded tactics being pursued?
      Do you think the Repubs are any less screwed up than any other group,
      just because they are winning elections? Do you think the election of Trump represents a triumph for them? Are their tanking approval ratings and
      legislative incompetence examples of success? Are the Repubs honest with themselves, let alone with us?
      When you refer to "we", do you mean all liberals, as Somerby likes to do, or just media figures, or...?
      And Somerby's one-sided critique doesn't really advance liberal causes.

    3. I'm saying we, Democrats, are a total mess. And we are not honest with ourselves about even being a mess not to mention the reasons behind it. Instead of taking responsibility, we turn our focus to Republicans etc. Other messes out there. I guess I am saying we need to take responsibility for our inability to elect a president or majorities. We need to take responsibility for Trump and the class divide and the deteriorating country and culture. It's not totally our fault but we have to take responsibility for letting it get this far out of hand.

    4. We just finished a two-term presidency. How does that make us a mess?

    5. Enjoy feeling bad for no good reason.

  7. Somerby says: "We don't agree on how you determine if someone is a racist. There's no established way to form such a judgment"

    He only says this because he knows nothing whatsoever about social science, about racism, or about the people who study it.

    Philosophy concerns itself with definitions of things. Social science does not define phenomena -- it operationalizes them. That term "operationalize" means that you describe precisely how you will measure something and you then refer to that measurement as what you are studying. So, instead of defining anger, I would describe how I will measure anger and observe it in the world, and that will be what I mean by "anger" whenever I refer to it. So it is with racism. Researchers define how they measure it and that measurement becomes the thing that is then studied.

    Researchers have been studying racism for a long time now, and they certainly know how to measure it.

    But Somerby doesn't understand anything about how social science works empirically. So he pretends that the inability of philosophers to agree on what racism is extends to the sciences, who do not wait for that perfect definition, but study what exists in the world, using the a variety of measures that can and do capture the phenomenon.

  8. Here is a pretty typical example of how sociologists talk about racism:


    1. Thanks very much for the link, Anon. It sounds to me like total BS, but I seriously appreciate seeing an example of what social "scientists" say to each other.

  9. You make me sick with your high and mighty facts.

  10. It amazes me that Somerby is obsessing over these percentages in surveys while there are people out marching and demonstrating who obviously support Nazi and white supremacist views and who show enthusiasm for Trump at the same time. They appeared at his rallies and they wave Trump signs at their own events.

    The only issue here is whether these people exist in the Democratic party in the same numbers as among Republicans. Why isn't Somerby obsessing about what % might be independents? Support for white supremacist and neo-Nazi views is more prevalent on the right. It was a phenomenon of fascism in the 1930s & 1940s and not part of communism, for example. People with such views do not find a home on the left, ideologically or in terms of followers.

    Somerby seems to be trying to muddy those waters. Why? Is this some kind of plan to make people believe that the left and right are too similar to differentiate? Is he trying to tar both parties so that Bernie can step in as savior? Is he just a spoiler for the Russians, trying to stir up distrust of our political process? I don't understand what his purpose is here and he certainly has no point to be made beyond some odd nitpicking of cherrypicked surveys.

    What is going on here?

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerSeptember 27, 2017 at 1:01 PM

      Anon 4:33 - Try to stay focused. Bob's opinion about Nazis doesn't matter. This is a media blog. He points out that very large segments of society have lost faith in the media and their inaccurate reporting on how many people support Nazis is a good example, don't you think?

  11. Bob, you've gotten lost in the weeds. We know that your point is that "our side" needs to drop the identity politics. Okay, we get it. But how?

    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerSeptember 28, 2017 at 12:59 PM

      Telling potential voters that the reason they support Trump is because they hate women. Or that they are racist. Or that they are insensitive to handicapped people. Surely at least some (many?) of Trump supporters are racist or insensitive. However, making these statements is not going to change the opinions for all those other Trump supporters whose choice is not based on racism. In fact, it is likely they will offended that you think they are racist and will not be open to your extremely logical and important reasons why they should not vote for Trump. Not politically smart. Then we lose.