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01 March 2017

Is There Venison in That Indian Curry?

This recent Upshot piece has really stuck with me. Here are the highlights:
Drawing on work in sociology, I tried to measure whether people thought their most powerful connections were to those in their local circles or to those in a broader orbit. For example, I asked people whether they had played softball on an organized team in the last decade, because this is usually done with members of a community. I also asked about hunting, an activity often done with family or close friends. I asked people about the places to which they had traveled in the last 10 years: Canada, Mexico, Australia, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America, and whether they had eaten a meal at an Indian or Japanese restaurant in the last decade.
... The more likely people were to experience other cultures — through travel or food — the more likely they were to vote for Mr. Obama [over Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary], even controlling for things like income, education, personality, racial attitudes and city living. ....
... White Republican primary voters were more likely to vote for one of the other 16 candidates in the race instead of Mr. Trump if they had traveled abroad or gone to an Indian or Japanese restaurant in the last 10 years. ...
Mr. Trump fared worst among white G.O.P. primary voters who had been to Asia, Africa or South America. ... Those who had been to Europe, Australia, Canada or Mexico or had eaten at an Indian restaurant were also less likely to choose Mr. Trump....
In the general election, there were also wide divergences among white voters. People who had been hunting in the last decade favored Mr. Trump by 22 points, while those had played softball favored him by nine points. People who had eaten Indian food favored Mrs. Clinton by 15 points, and those who had been to Europe or Australia favored her by 13 points. These relationships persist after accounting for things like partisanship, income, education and geography.
I have a couple critiques.

First, I do not think softball, hunting, travel, and "ethnic" foods are reasonable measures of local or broad social influence. Playing softball, like bowling in a league, is a form of civic engagement. Hunting, like driving a pickup truck and listening to "country" music, is a statement of cultural identity. Traveling and eating "ethnic" food are measures of cultural capital.

Second, there is an issue of causality to deal with. The author seems to argue that playing softball, hunting, traveling, and exotic dining are predictive of voting behavior because those practices are indicative of one's interaction with others. It seems to be a version of the Contact Hypothesis. Those who are isolated, interacting mostly with those who are a lot like themselves, are more likely to fear the other, to reproduce unfounded stereotypes, and to vote for a candidate who taps into those emotions and beliefs. Those who are more worldly, interacting with foreign cultures through travel, either to another country or to a local "ethnic" restaurant, are less likely to fear the other, to reproduce stereotypes, or to vote for a demagog. There is just as much evidence in the author's research to support the reverse, that those who fear others, hold stereotypical beliefs, and are of a particular political ideology were more likely to vote for Trump and to isolate themselves socially. If the author's assumption is correct, forcing people to interact with foreigners and to travel foreign countries could very well make a difference. If, on the other hand, the alternative is the reality, encouraging contact with other is not likely to overcome the underlying motives and, ironically, might even exacerbate them (see the Backfire Effect).

Still, it's quite interesting research and worth attention.

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