Sanders Supporters Aren’t To The Right Of Clinton’s (Thoughts On Post-Pub Review)

Unless you include likely Republican voters as Sanders supporters. A couple of weeks ago, political scientists Chistopher Achen and Larry Bartels published a NY Times op-ed claiming that Sanders supporters aren’t more liberal than Clinton supporters. Achen and Bartels were trying to knock down the idea that voters primarily choose candidates based on issues–as opposed to “inherited partisan loyalties, social identities and symbolic attachments.”* But political science about a presidential campaign isn’t just an academic interest: it gets used–and misused.

The Achen and Bartels column was also used to justify attacks on Sanders supporters: they are supporting him for tribal–and thus irrational–reasons (especially with their 18-29 year old girly brains, amirite?). The other point was to knock down the left’s ideas. After all, if those ideas are supported for symbolic reasons, then they don’t have to be engaged seriously.

By this point, anything said about Sanders or Sanders supporters should be taken with a boulder of salt. The Achen and Bartels column is no different. Fortunately, their data weren’t privately held data, but the publicly available ANES data. And there’s a major problem with their analysis (boldface mine):

But here’s one part of the 2016 ANES pilot study that may undermine Achen and Bartels’s conclusions. The study asked Democrats, independents, and Republican respondents alike to say which Democratic primary candidate they preferred: Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, “another Democratic candidate,” or none.

More than twice as many Republican respondents chose Sanders as chose Clinton.

That means that in analyzing this group of Sanders “supporters,” Achen and Bartels were examining a group that may well have been farther to the right than actual Sanders voters. We don’t believe that the ANES Republican respondents were actually Sanders backers. We think it’s far more likely that they just strongly dislike Hillary Clinton….

Republicans who said that they preferred Sanders over all the other Democratic candidates didn’t actually like him. They gave him very lukewarm ratings, an average of 53 degrees. But they really, really disliked Hillary Clinton, rating her at a very cold 15 degrees. By contrast, Democrats and independents who preferred Sanders over the other Democratic candidates rated him, on average, at 84 degrees.

In other words, to find out what policies Sanders voters support, we’ll do better if we leave out Republicans’ beliefs entirely. Analyzing only the beliefs of the Democrats and independents who support Sanders will give us a more accurate picture.

Here’s how views on childcare support breakout when Republicans are removed:


BUT BERNIEBROS AND TEH SEXISMZ! That’s right: male Clinton supporters are less likely to favor paid leave to parents of new children. Sanders supporters are also more likely to oppose ‘religious freedom’ exemptions to employer-funded contraception. And race too:

Among Democrats and non-Republican-leaning independents, in fact, white Clinton supporters were more inclined than white Sanders supporters to say that blacks are “lazy” or “violent,” and that black people should work their way up “without special favors.”

Now, onto post-publication peer review. While Andrew Gelman argues that dueling op-eds get the information out there, to me, that’s a real problem. When you’re dealing with something many people actually care about (unlike much science sadly), you have to get it right. Achen and Bartels claims got it wrong by including Republicans–at the very least, they needed to be explicit in their inclusion of Republicans. But, as Digby likes to write, once this column is published, “it’s out there.” It’s not as if the NY Times is going to link to the Washington Post.

I have no idea if peer-reviewers would have caught this, but I feel very confident in saying that the NY Times editorial board is not competent when it comes to data analysis. If they were competent, the inclusion of Republicans would have been mentioned. Of course, if that had happened, the op-ed would have had far less importance–many people would have rightly asked why would one include Republicans. Something to consider when bashing peer review: the absence of peer review can be very pernicious.

Getting it wrong can be very harmful, especially when it has public and political ramifications.

*I think what happens is people choose a candidate based on a handful of issues (sometimes even just one) and then engage in highly motivated reasoning to justify (or at least ignore) everything else.

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2 Responses to Sanders Supporters Aren’t To The Right Of Clinton’s (Thoughts On Post-Pub Review)

  1. Two responses in one day?

    First, look at the favorable response % on the policy issues. There is, literally, about a dime’s worth of difference here, as Achen and Bartels point out in their reply today. And, as they point out in their response today, Hare and Lupton haven’t weighted their sample properly. They are essentially double counting.

    Second – and this is far more important – American voters are notorious for their ignorance of policy issues and their lack of anything like a coherent ideological view of politics. (They aren’t alone; this indifference shows up everywhere.) Saying that Bernie’s troops are backing him for other reasons isn’t dissing them; it’s pointing out that they are like most voters, even in primaries that tend to attract partisans. Why people get all worked up about this is understandable; nobody wants to look like they don’t pay attention to public affairs. But most of us don’t. We go with partisan identification and group characteristics. I mean, it is what it is.

  2. but I feel very confident in saying that the NY Times editorial board is not competent when it comes to data analysis.

    they should hire some contributors with experience in data analysis…. 🙂

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