White conservatives are falling behind white liberals on intelligence

While working on my previous post I decided to poke around the General Social Survey. I’ve been using this resource since 2007 or so. The data goes up to 2018.

The chart above illustrates something that is somewhat important, though not surprising. White conservatives are getting less intelligent in relation to white liberals over time (moderates, as usual, remain the dumbest). Since people always ask for them, I put 95% confidence intervals on it. Intuitively this aligns with data about the realignment of college-educated whites to the Democrats.

The results hold (with wider intervals) if you stratify by sex. The pattern also shows up for all races, but I focused on white respondents to control for confounds (nonwhites have lower WORDSUM scores). WORDSUM is a 10-word vocabulary test highly correlated with IQ.

In any case, I’m presenting the result as is. When I post stuff like this I get comments and emails from conservatives that perhaps on mathematical intelligence they do better. That’s fair. But show me the research on this. Just because your group has a lower average IQ doesn’t mean you do, nor does that mean you are any less of a person if your group does.


Men and women really don’t differ in the generality on abortion

Many years ago I wrote an op-ed which reported the simple and obvious fact that there isn’t a difference between men and women when it comes to abortion as a policy issue. The only reason that the op-ed was written is that the media seem to be under the impression that women are more pro-choice than men. Not really.

Now that abortion is in the news again I thought I’d check the GSS to see if anything had changed in the last few cycles. As you can see, nothing much has (perhaps a tilt toward more support for abortion rights?). Also, the plot above should make it clear: men and women seem to change their opinions in sync. Basically there is broad social consensus impacting both sexes.

The correlation between the two series over the years is 0.83. So your eyes aren’t lying.


The Republicans are becoming the stupid party

Click to enlarge

Recently my wife asked me how stupid Republicans were. I made a comment to the effect that Republicans weren’t that stupid compared to Democrats. But…I hadn’t checked in a while. So I decided to look at the WORDSUM results in the GSS.

WORDSUM is a 10-word vocabulary test that has a 0.71 correlation with IQ.

I crossed WORDSUM with PARTYID and merged the different Republican and Democratic groups together. I looked at Republicans and Democrats, and then also filtered it by just non-Hispanic whites. The date range goes from 1974 to 2018.

As you can see, on the whole, Independents are less intelligent than Republicans and Democrats. This makes sense, as moderates are less intelligent than conservatives and liberals. Though there are plenty of bright people “in the middle,” many times Independents and moderates are just not very smart and don’t have any strong views and principles.

The pattern for Republicans and Democrats makes historical sense. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Republican party was the party of the upscale. This began to change in the 1990s, and in the 2000s a realignment began as many very educated individuals tended to become strongly identified with Republicans. But, there was still parity between non-Hispanic white Republicans and non-Hispanic white Democrats into the early teens. But over the last few years among non-Hispanic whites, the vocabulary scores of Democrats have been increasing and that of Republicans has been decreasing.

None of this is entirely surprising. I simply hadn’t bothered to check the GSS in many years on this topic. But the Republican party’s shift to being the downscale faction is clearly being reflected in these results.

Table below the fold.

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Huge difference in attitudes toward homosexual behavior among Democrats by race

There has been a little hullabaloo in the media about lack of support for Pete Buttigieg in the black community due to the skepticism of his identity as a married gay man. My own prior is to assume that there will be some differences in attitudes, but it will be modest. I come to this position because when I’ve looked at survey data black Americans and white Americans aren’t as different as the stark caricatures make them out to be. Contrary to Republican assertions black Americans are not really socially conservative, though they are more moderate than white liberals (what’s really going on usually is that white liberals are very socially liberal).

So I decided to look in the GSS for the years 2016 and 2018 at a variable with large sample sizes, HOMOSEX. It asks about whether people think “sexual relations between two adults of the same sex” are:

– always wrong
– almost always wrong
– sometimes wrong
– not wrong at all

You can see the result above. The difference in attitudes is huge. I added white Republicans and Hispanic Democrats, and you can see black Democrats are even further in their views than these groups.

Though the sample sizes are smaller when you go into the cross-tabs, here are some demographic slices. Notice that white Democrats born after 1984 almost all think that homosexual sex between adults is “not wrong at all.” In contrast, younger black Democrats are divided. It is less black Americans are homophobic, and more that white Democrats have moved very fast and very far on this once polarizing social issue.

Finally, I ran a logit regression with a dummy variable. It looks like religion and education doesn’t explain all the difference. Probably due to how social consensus on political issues emerges, the separation of black and white social networks has caused this split, as the consensus in the latter has not spread to the former (among Democrats).

Variables for replication: race, partyid(r:1-3;4;5-7)*, hispanic, degree, cohort.

Tables below

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Most liberals and smart people want racists to be allowed to speak

Over the past year or so there have been many worries that liberals are backing off from their support for free speech. Even mainstream figures such as Howard Dean have started to chant the mantra “hate speech is not free speech”. And then you have op-eds from professors such as When ‘free speech’ becomes a political weapon.

But whenever I look at the General Social Survey I see no great change in support for free speech in terms of the patterns. Perhaps something has changed in the year 2017, but I think what we are seeing are vocal and motivated minorities who are drowning out liberal (in the classical sense) majorities.

The GSS has a variable, SPKRAC, which asks:

…consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

The plot at the top of this posts shows that the GSS sample respondents exhibit almost no change year to year on this question.

The GSS also has a variable, SPKMSLM, which asks:

Now consider a Muslim clergyman who preaches hatred of the United States.

If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community preaching hatred of the United States, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

This question has been asked since 2008, and only a minority would allow this person to speak, 41-43 percent.

Let’s break this down by ideology and intelligence from the year 2008 onward. The GSS has a variable, WORDSUM, which is a vocabulary test. Respondents receive a score from 0 to 10 (correct). I combined 0-4 as “not smart”, 5-6 as “average”, 7-8 as “above average,” and finally 9-10 as “smart.”

Also I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites to compare “peaches to peaches.”

What the above plot shows is that liberals support free speech for both racists and Muslim radicals. Conservatives are more skeptical of free speech for both groups, but especially the Muslims. You might be curious why moderates seem so skeptical of free speech. That’s because on average moderates are less intelligent than people at the ideological poles, and the less intelligent are generally less supportive of heterodox speech (I suspect it’s because they are too dumb ever to come up with an original and transgressive idea).

But don’t take my word for it.


It’s a very robust pattern that the less intelligent are skeptical of deviant thought. I think it’s partly because they can’t empathize since they don’t have many thoughts.

Below is a table which does a cross-tab of views on speech for racists and Muslims (again, for non-Hispanic whites after the year 2008). You can see ideological and intelligence distribution for various positions. Conservative anti-Islamic and liberal philo-Muslim tendencies are on display. The less intelligent are overrepresented among the censorious.

 Extremely liberalLiberalSlightly liberalModerateSlightly conservConservExtremely conserv
Full sample412103616184
Allow both to speak515123215174
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist718153215122
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim2983915225
Ban both from speaking2994213215
 Not smartAverageAbove averageSmart   
Full sample13403313   
Allow both to speak7343920   
Allow Muslim to speak, not racist6404013   
Allow racist to speak, not Muslim1946269   
Ban both from speaking1448344  

Millennials with college degrees don’t favor censorship

There’s a specter haunting the academy. The specter of “red guards” destroying lives and tearing down Western civilization and all its accomplishments in the interests of antinomian leveling impulses through denunciations and purges. (here is the latest instance; the whole thing leaves me yawning, because too few people have the courage or gall to stand up for what they know is right, so this will happen again and again and again)

I am plain in my view that this is a problem. Some of my friends in the academy agree, but in the end they make different choices about priorities. Others don’t think this is a problem at all (and honestly, they clearly think that free speech is more about speech that they think is acceptable). Ultimately I don’t think that this will end well; I’m most certainly going to be on the other side of people whom I consider friends if and when the end of our current liberal democratic order collapses of its own contradictions.

But this isn’t about that. Rather, it’s about an aspect of it: are Millennials, those born after 1980, who go to college more opposed to freedom of speech than previous generations? Is this what’s driving the flair up of campus events? The answer, as clear in the GSS is that Millennials who have gone to college are not more censorious.

The GSS has a variable, SPKRAC. It asks:

…. consider a person who believes that Blacks are genetically inferior. a. If such a person wanted to make a speech in your community claiming that Blacks are inferior, should he be allowed to speak, or not?

Should this person be allowed to speak? As you can see above there is hardly any difference between people of different generations if they have a college education on this question.* The big difference is between generations among those who have a high school education or less. I think this is simply due to the reality that if you have only a high school education as a Millennial you’re much more likely to be not very intelligent in relation to older generations. The slight decline for college educated Millennials might be due to this effect as well, and more marginal kids are now going to, and finishing, college.

If you do a logistic regression in the GSS you see what I have reported earlier: both education and intelligence have independent and notable impacts predicting support of free speech to a liberal extent. Being a woman usually correlates with lower tolerance of deviant or abhorrent speech. Socioeconomic status, income, and age, don’t really matter too much when other variables are accounted for.

What about politics? The results might surprise you.

As you can see on the whole liberals are the most supportive of free speech for racists. It does look that there has been some regression since the real “greatest generation.” And as I expected moderates are the least tolerant.

Moderates are usually less intelligent (this is easily confirmed with the GSS) and informed, and they’re conformists. Today racism is in bad odor, so their instinct to ban or restrict it is strong, as opposed to the abstract principle of free speech. This impulse probably explains the declines broadly among Millennials.

But the results at the top indicate that university education may actually inoculate a bit against this! (remember, it’s not just intelligence, as university education had an independent effect on opinions in the regression)

There’s something going on. It’s a problem. Perhaps a big problem. I do think it ultimately threatens the credibility of the academy in a way we haven’t seen in generations. But it’s not because the majority of students agree with driving speakers they don’t like off the campus or banning speech they find hurtful. A minority of students are loud, mobilized, and active. Sometimes minorities can shape history….

* I limited the sample to non-Hispanic whites. I used the variables SPKRAC, COHORT and DEGREE. I recombined some. E.g., COHORT(r:1800-1945″pre-Boomer”;1946-1964″Boomer”;1965-1980″GenX”;1981-*”Millennial”). Adding groups besides non-Hispanic whites didn’t change the qualitative result, though support for free speech declines among minorities.


Less intelligent people want to exclude racists from the public square


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 allowed39241715221720
2: Should probably be allowed12242421222215
3: Should probably not be allowed26201922192422
4: Should definitely not be allowed23324043373843

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.

1: Should definitely be allowed2113
2: Should probably be allowed2221
3: Should probably not be allowed2023
4: Should definitely not be allowed3643

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 churchMore than once a week
1: Should definitely be allowed202319142115131413
2: Should probably be allowed212127241316262220
3: Should probably not be allowed211720182824182423
4: Should definitely not be allowed373934443745434044

A modest difference.

Next, highest educational attainment:

No HSHSSome collegeCollegeGraduate
1: Should definitely be allowed714112632
2: Should probably be allowed1420232927
3: Should probably not be allowed2023211920
4: Should definitely not be allowed5943452621

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:

1: Should definitely be allowed8101216243036
2: Should probably be allowed13221824263433
3: Should probably not be allowed27202322211818
4: Should definitely not be allowed52484738291812

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.