Less intelligent people want to exclude racists from the public square

  B SE(B) Probability
SEX 0.739 0.217 0.001
DEGREE -0.302 0.092 0.001
WORDSUM -0.338 0.068 0
POLVIEWS -0.078 0.078 0.317
INCOME -0.026 0.06 0.671
AGE 0.007 0.007 0.283
ATTEND 0.09 0.046 0.05
GOD -0.018 0.077 0.819
Constant 3.341 0.937 0

It’s been a while since I’ve done much GSS blogging. Part of it is that I’ve got only so much attention I can devote to things, and most of my focus has been on the area of science that I’m interested in, and one or two non-scientific topics. The second variable is that I started blogging about GSS data a long time ago (~2008), and there’s only so much interesting stuff you can talk about.

But over the past few years there have been some controversies related to speech in public spaces, and what is and isn’t acceptable. There has also been some chatter that young people today in particular are intolerant of freedom of speech. I’ve wanted to address this, so here I go.

The toleration of racists is in today’s America is like testing a boundary condition. If you are willing to tolerate racist speech if you are not a racist, then you are pretty likely to be a free speech absolutist. I am not interested in rehashing arguments, I support free speech in an absolutist sense personally. Rather, let’s look at some data.

The General Social Survey has a question up from 2014 for the variable RACEMEET that asks:

Should people prejudiced against any racial or ethnic group be allowed to hold public meetings?

The question was asked in 2010 and 2014, and 2,651 individuals answered this. The answer was converted to ordinal, so I decided to probe relationships between variables and the score of toleration through regression. Some independent variables, such as political viewpoint (POLVIEWS), were recoded in an ordinal fashion (so that “extremely liberal” = 1, “liberal” = 2, and so forth, to “extremely conservative” = 7). Others, such as age, do not require any recoding. RACEMEET itself was converted to an ordinal.

The above results suggest that political ideology does not predict your response to this question much once you account for other variables. In fact, I did a query on ideological views first, and the results indicated to me what was really going on.

1: Should definitely be allowed 39 24 17 15 22 17 20
2: Should probably be allowed 12 24 24 21 22 22 15
3: Should probably not be allowed 26 20 19 22 19 24 22
4: Should definitely not be allowed 23 32 40 43 37 38 43

As you can see moderates are relatively skeptical of allowing racists to have a public meeting. All of my analysis of the GSS indicates that moderates are not as smart as more liberal or conservative people.

Let’s go through the variables which were significant predictors above. First, sex.

Male Female
1: Should definitely be allowed 21 13
2: Should probably be allowed 22 21
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 36 43

These results were expected. On the whole women tend to be more skeptical of absolutist free speech positions which allow offensive material to be promoted (women are more skeptical of allowing Communists to speak too in comparison to men, so it’s not because of the ideology of the speaker or viewpoint).

Then church attendance frequency:

Never attends church More than once a week
1: Should definitely be allowed 20 23 19 14 21 15 13 14 13
2: Should probably be allowed 21 21 27 24 13 16 26 22 20
3: Should probably not be allowed 21 17 20 18 28 24 18 24 23
4: Should definitely not be allowed 37 39 34 44 37 45 43 40 44

A modest difference.

Next, highest educational attainment:

No HS HS Some college College Graduate
1: Should definitely be allowed 7 14 11 26 32
2: Should probably be allowed 14 20 23 29 27
3: Should probably not be allowed 20 23 21 19 20
4: Should definitely not be allowed 59 43 45 26 21

The big gap here is between those with college and those without college educations.

Finally, we look at WORDSUM, which is a proxy for intelligence. It’s a ten word vocabulary test. Below in the columns are the number of answers a respondent got correct:

<5 5 6 7 8 9 10
1: Should definitely be allowed 8 10 12 16 24 30 36
2: Should probably be allowed 13 22 18 24 26 34 33
3: Should probably not be allowed 27 20 23 22 21 18 18
4: Should definitely not be allowed 52 48 47 38 29 18 12

I combined those who scored below 5 out of 10 (0-4) into one class. You can see that as score on this vocabulary test goes up, the view that racists should be allowed to meet in public goes up. It’s almost monotonic. The smartest people are more tolerant than the next smartest people who are more tolerant than the next smartest people, with the dumb being the least tolerant.

I made the below chart to illustrate this:

Often when it comes to views associated with “smart” people when you put it into some regression eduction accounts for all of the difference. In other words, the less intelligent educated have the same views as the intelligent educated, and the more intelligent but less educated have the same views as the less intelligent less educated. There are more older people who are intelligent but not educated, so it could be generational too (though in this case age does not seem to matter). A plausible hypothesis is that in many cases it is social milieu. Even if you are not bright, being in college inculcates certain values.

And college is a predictor. But these data show that even if you account for college education the brighter you are, the more likely you favor allowing tolerance for views that most people find intolerable.

6 thoughts on “Less intelligent people want to exclude racists from the public square

  1. The more verbally capable we are the less fearful we are of the magic power of speech from other speakers and, more importantly, the more we feel it wiyhin out control to conquer the speech we don’t like with with our own veey capable speaking abilities.

  2. Is there a meaningful difference between moderate and centrist? I don’t really think I’m “low information” but literally every time I take a politics quiz it comes up as centrist/Bill,Hillary Clinton as being my closest match. I feel like I have fully left and right views that avg. out to be “moderate.”

  3. I think you’re overthinking it. Being in favor of speech you oppose requires higher-order thinking rather than simply a knee-jerk response. You need to sit back and reflect how a restriction on speech against someone you don’t like could come back and bite you in the ass in the future. Dim people are less likely to get this unless they’re led to that conclusion explicitly.

  4. It’s all semantics, but I don’t really think centrism exists outside of the world of politics and the press. What I mean is the centrist paradigm in the U.S. context seems to be that there is some golden mean between the two partisan positions which is the wisest policy course. At its most absurd it can be seen in articles which claim that “sober adult” policies are those where Republicans and Democrats both walk away hating the result. This is silly of course, because even if you presumed a random distribution of the actual “best” policy outcomes, some would fall on the extremes of the right and left. Indeed, probably more ideal policy solutions would fall to either end than the “centrist” policies, because it’s hard to argue, for example, privatizing 50% of Social Security would lead to superior outcomes than either privatizing 100% or 0%.

    Anyway, you may not be the typical moderate. It’s important to realize that the average person who is moderate is basically someone who is so disinterested in politics they can’t bother to inform themselves about the issues at all. Maybe they identify as a Republican or Democrat, but they think about the issues so little they don’t know what the “right” stance for their “team” is. Or they are a true independent and make decisions on who to vote for on nebulous concepts like “leadership” rather than weighing out the issues – basically approaching voting in the same way that a partisan person might approach which soap to buy when at the grocery store. Certainly informed middle-of-the-road people exist, but they tend to be exceptions, not the rule.

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