Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You are What Your Demos Say You Are

For a former political science major like myself this article is manna. Kurt Andersen breaks down and analyzes the demographic trends in the Democratic primaries. He reveals the myths, the inconsistencies and the variables that have occurred thus far. I loved this part, discussing our habit of voting in demographic blocks:

Thus does poli sci begin to resemble a harder science—quantum physics: Each of us voters is like a subatomic particle, our individual behavior at any moment “indeterminate,” never absolutely predictable, but as a practical matter, in the aggregate over millions of repetitions—electrons spinning, voters voting—we behave in a supremely predictable fashion. Matter does not spontaneously dissolve because the atoms all happen to move apart at a given moment, and 65 percent of southern college graduates (give or take 4 percent) will vote for Obama. It seems we possess only free-ish will. “Yes we can”? Yeah, maybe, but only if it has been decreed in advance, by the demographic gods.

We’re biased and, even if we know it, we’re not free to escape it. While Andersen does go on to show how the conventional wisdom about Clinton’s and Obama’s supporters is mostly wrong, I am fascinated by his assertion that the measurables of who we are (gender, age, education level, region) are more consistent and dependable predictors of voting patterns than the immeasurables (personality, political attitudes, life experience, etc).

Do our demographics drive our personalities and attitudes or are we just innately followers, most comfortable when voting in line with our immediate cohorts? This is the kind of thing us political science junkies can spend hours if not days discussing.

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