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Posted by on Dec 11, 2009 in At TMV | 9 comments

Spankers for McCain?

Correlation does not equal causation, and all that, but this is a pretty interesting graph.


This comes from an in-the-works book about authoritarianism and polarization in American politics. Here’s the explanation from one of the authors:

In states with lower percentages of people that endorse spanking and washing kids’ mouths out with soap, which is the case in New England and much of the Middle Atlantic, Obama did very well. In states with higher percentages, like Wyoming, Idaho, and Alabama, McCain won big. Even the states that fall somewhat far from the trend line are usually easy to explain. For example, Hawaii, Illinois, and Alaska are all favorite son or daughter states. Several states that are below the line, like Nevada, Indiana, and Ohio, are states that have usually voted Republican in the past.

Of course, we don’t think that spanking kids causes people to vote Republican. We do, however, show in the book that those who view the world in hierarchical terms, a worldview consistent with using physical means to discipline children, are now much more likely to vote Republican. In contrast, those who view the world in more horizontal terms favor Democratic candidates. The psychological terms that match these colliding worldviews are authoritarianism and nonauthoritarianism, which we measure by asking people about their child rearing preferences. Those who favor obedience over self-reliance and respect for elders over independence score high in authoritarianism. Those who favor the reverse are the nonauthoritarians.

I’m not sure that spanking is the best variable for measuring authoritarian views, which the authors say “captures, at its core, a person’s need for order, including a strong preference for cognitive certitude.” But I think the point about certitude—do you prefer black-and-white or grayscale?—aligning with political preference is pretty spot on.

And by that I mean it seems fairly accurate given my own personal experience and limited knowledge of the topic, but I’m open to other possibilities and unwilling to rule out alternative explanations.

Cross-posted at Ablogistan.

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