Vaguely interesting (Aug 26)

(1)  “The chimpanzees used a combination of partner choice and punishment of competitive individuals to reduce competition. In the end, cooperation won.”

(2)  “False report probability is likely to exceed 50% for the whole literature. In light of our findings the recently reported low replication success in psychology is realistic and worse performance may be expected for cognitive neuroscience.”

(3)  The self-interested roots of nationalist socialism: Turns out that white people who rely on government benefits like the idea of prioritizing government benefits for white people.

(4)  If you ask people raised-religious-but-no-longer-religious why they’re no longer religious, they tell you super-illuminating things like it’s because they no longer believe it, or it’s because they disapprove of organized religion. (Dear Researchers: Humans don’t generally have conscious insight into why they do complicated things. Ask them hard questions about personal motives and you’ll get banal self-presentation.)

(5)  “At the moment, … every state is predicted to vote for the same party as in 2012 except for North Carolina, which flips from red to blue. (Because only two states, North Carolina and Indiana, voted differently in 2008 and 2012, FiveThirtyEight also forecasts a duplication of the 2008 outcome in every state but one.)”

Trends in personal income

It’s really hard to make meaningful comparisons of income over time. There’s the obvious issue of inflation and deflation—people have more dollars now but each dollar buys less of lots of things (e.g., housing and food) though more of others (e.g., technology). The usual fix is to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or something similar to adjust incomes for purchasing power across a basket of goods and services.

But other important factors keep changing as well. We often hear about long-term trends in median household income, yet we don’t have the same households as we did a few decades ago. According to U.S. General Social Survey (GSS) data, for example, the typical household had 3.3 people in the 1970s compared with only 2.5 in the early 2010s. Flat household incomes would actually imply rising living standards given shrinking households. And household incomes are particularly tricky to measure consistently given changes in the tax code, spousal support, governmental cash benefits, governmental non-cash benefits, and so on.

Even just trying to compare individuals’ earnings from work over time is remarkably challenging. Some patterns imply higher personal incomes. For instance, folks with 4-year college degrees tend to make a lot more than folks without them, and the percentage of full-time workers with 4-year degrees basically doubled from around 18% in the 1970s to around 36% in the early 2010s. Older workers tend to make more money than younger ones, and the average age of full-time workers has increased by a few years over the past decades. People working longer hours make more, and full-time workers have been working a couple/few more hours on average (though this trend was interrupted by the Great Recession).

On the other hand, some worker trends imply lower personal incomes. Whites tend to make more than non-whites, and the percentage of the full-time workforce that is non-Hispanic white has declined from around 85% in the 1970s to around 66% in the early 2010s. Men tend to make more than women, and the percentage of the full-time workforce that is male has declined from around two-thirds in the 1970s to just over half in the early 2010s.

So what’s really going on with income trends? Here, I look at the basic question of how pre-tax, CPI-adjusted, personal cash incomes from full-time workers have changed over time, taking into account education, gender, race, hours worked, and age. What groups of full-time workers have seen incomes decline or rise over the past 40 years?

I used GSS data from 1972 to 2014. I took their CPI-adjusted personal income item, adjusted it further into 2016 dollars, and capped it at $250k (otherwise it has some big outliers). I then examined the role of education, gender, race, hours worked, and age, including looking for ways in which the links between these factors and income have changed over time.

Here’s the big picture. The full-time income gap based on race hasn’t moved much. The gap between men and women has shrunk. The gap between the college-degreed and the less-educated has grown. The gap between those working longer and shorter full-time hours has grown. The gap between older and younger workers has grown. Add all these together and some groups on average have had substantially declining incomes over the past 40 years (e.g., less-educated men who don’t work long hours), while others have had substantially rising incomes (e.g., older degreed women who work long hours).

The charts below show regression-based income estimates for various groups of full-time workers, broken down by whether they have 4-year degrees or not, whether they’re male or female, whether they work longer hours or not, and whether they’re younger or older. Using regression-based procedures allows estimates that assume constant values for race (so, all the reported group numbers assume the same racial composition), education (so, all the numbers for degreed folks assume the same rates of graduate education and for non-degreed folks assume the same rates of high-school graduation and college attendance), hours worked (so, all 45+ hour groups assume the same number of hours worked and all <45 hour groups assume the same number of hours worked), and age (so, all 35+ groups assume the same age composition and all <35 groups assume the same age composition). This is as close as I can come to making this an apples-to-apples comparison—looking at how similarly situated workers have had changing real incomes over time. I put the various groups into two charts, the first for degreed workers and the second for non-degreed workers.

IncDeg(Technical notes: The sample size is 7,405. Results are weighted.)

The big stand-out in the chart above is degreed women who work 45+ hours and are 35 or older. For this group, plugging in various constant values as I described above, those in the mid-1970s were making around $55k (in 2016 dollars), while those in the early 2010s were making around $93k. That’s just a really big deal. Other groups of degreed women have also seen rising incomes, though more modestly, increasing around $10k from the mid-1970s to the early 2010s. Degreed men, though, have generally had relatively flat incomes on this apples-to-apples comparison, with the exception of those who both work longer hours and are older, whose incomes increased by around $14k. Overall, the news has been good for degreed full-time workers.

The next chart is non-degreed workers. Here, overall, it’s not good news. Most groups have had declining incomes on an apples-to-apples comparison. It’s been particularly bad for non-degreed men, especially for those who don’t work long hours—at ages 35 and older, incomes declined from around $65k in the mid-1970s to around $47k in the early 2010s, and for those younger than 35 the decline was from around $43k to $29k. Longer-hour-working younger men also declined from around $48k to $37k. In other words, these are all groups that lost around a quarter of their former incomes. There was only one non-degreed group that showed a meaningful gain in income—older women who work longer hours, who went from around $40k to $47k from the mid-1970s to the early 2010s.

IncNoDeg(Technical notes: The sample size is 18,381. Results are weighted.)

So many pieces to these puzzles

Several important social trends interact with these changes in income. More women and fewer men, and more older people and fewer younger people, are working in the first place—both trends that are probably related to changes in incentives from available incomes. More young people (especially non-degreed young people) are living with their parents—something probably related to higher work rates and incomes for older women combined with declining work rates and incomes among younger folks.

Marriage has been declining, particularly among the less educated—male income levels probably are in part a cause and in part an effect here. And fertility has been declining—something probably related simultaneously to declining marriage rates, reduced male work and incomes, and, most obviously, higher female education and work rates and incomes.

This says something about how hard these issues—incomes, work rates, education, living arrangements, marriage, fertility, etc.—are to analyze. It’s just a ridiculously complicated array of interconnected and constantly changing social patterns. Any analysis too simple will be laughably incomplete; anything too in depth won’t be understandable to non-cyborgs. Pity the social scientist.

Clinton’s high-education women vs. Trump’s low-education men

You can’t look at the income charts above without thinking of the current presidential election. The big story this year appears to be that Clinton is drawing particularly increased support from college-educated white women while Trump is disproportionately holding non-degreed white men. The former are among the biggest winners from income changes in the last few decades while the latter are among the biggest losers.

It’s a reminder that Trump’s message of making America “great” “again” isn’t just about race, religion, and gender, but education as well. In a time that has not yet passed from living memory, older non-degreed men were able to work a 40 hour week and make pretty good money. Their non-degreed sons and grandsons face a very different world. Those of us who are generally on the winning side of recent trends might rightly oppose Trump and his positions, yet this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the genuinely disorienting decline in the relative social position of his supporters. Trump will probably lose this election, but the social realities propelling his candidacy will remain.

Vaguely interesting (Aug 18)

(1)  The quandary of testing political knowledge in online surveys in the age of Google.

(2)  “Ironically, however, the most likely outcome is that despite all the discontent, anger, and disdain for politics and politicians roiling the electorate in 2016, something close to the status quo will prevail: a Democratic president with politics nearly identical to Obama’s facing Republican House and perhaps Senate majorities adamantly opposed to the president but hamstrung by internal divisions over policy and tactics.”

(3)  “More than one-quarter of Americans who voted in 2012 did so in ways other than visiting a polling place on Election Day.”

(4)  “According to the study, if white and black drivers were held to the same standard, there would have been more than 30,000 fewer searches of black drivers (or one-third of searches of black drivers) and 8,000 fewer searches of Hispanic drivers (or more than half of searches of Hispanic drivers) over the six years in the data set.”

(5)  “The point of acknowledging the possibility that economic factors have contributed to Trump’s rise is not to excuse his supporters’ decision to back a hateful demagogue. Rather, the point is to identify the conditions that allow such demagoguery to flourish.”

White partisan affiliation

Over the next few months, we’re going to be hearing a ton about whites with and without college degrees. While whites generally favored Romney over Obama in 2012, recent polls suggest that college-educated whites are leaning towards Clinton, while the majority of less-educated whites remain in the Republican column.

The reasons for the increasing educational divide among whites relate in part to the fact that Trump’s white nationalist positions are most popular with less-educated whites. But they also relate to ongoing demographic shifts. Take a look at the charts below, which show party affiliation using Pew data from 2013 to the beginning of 2016, broken out between whites with 4-years degrees and whites without 4-year degrees.

As shown in the first chart, before Trump became the Republican standard-bearer Democrats were already in a strong position with college-educated whites who are non-Christian women (folks like Green party nominee Jill Stein), non-Christian men (folks like Democratic runner-up Bernie Sanders), and non-evangelical Christian women with postgraduate educations (folks like Hillary Clinton). A key point to keep in mind is that, over time, the proportion of college-educated whites who are women and/or non-Christians has been on the rise. Thus, all else being equal (e.g., assuming relatively consistent patterns of turnout and stable party patterns), this would predict that college-educated whites would likely show an increased Democratic skew in 2016, just given the higher numbers of women and non-Christians relative to men and Christians.

PewWCol(Technical notes: The sample size is 19,402. Results are weighted. “White” means non-Hispanic white. “Evangelical” includes non-Catholic Christians who self-identify as “born again or evangelical” along with Mormons.)

For whites without college degrees (the chart below), religion is also a big deal, which predicts more Democratic support over the years given the decline of Christianity among whites. But it’s also the case here that Republicans are more popular among those with higher incomes as well as with men. Incomes are higher in 2016 than they were in 2012 (in part simply because more people are working), predicting more Republican support among less-educated whites this time around. And the flip side of college-educated whites have increasing proportions of women over time is that less-educated whites have increasing proportions of men, also predicting marginally more Republican support among non-college whites in this election.

PewWNoCol(Technical notes: The sample size is 24,541. Results are weighted. “White” means non-Hispanic white. “Evangelical” includes non-Catholic Christians who self-identified as “born again or evangelical” along with Mormons. Income is yearly family income from the prior year.)

We’ll need boatloads of data before we can really know the details of what’s happening in the 2016 election. It isn’t enough just to know that Democrats are gaining among high-education whites, given that we would have expected some degree of change here just re-running the 2012 election with the 2016 population. Some of the shifts in this election will be subtle changes in the dividing lines of the party affiliation, some will be subtle changes in relative proportions of preexisting demographic splits, and some will be election-specific (including ticket-splitting and changes in turnout from a variety of factors). This is complex terrain, so don’t expect a tidy answer anytime soon.

Vaguely interesting (Aug 12)

(1)  Most young adults from religious households stop going to church and many drop their religious affiliations; those who become parents and/or married are most likely to rejoin.

(2)  In the U.S., there are now big education-based differences in marriage and divorce, but the patterns aren’t showing up clearly in Europe.

(3)  “We propose that human social cognition is structured around a basic understanding of ourselves and others as intuitive utility maximizers.”

(4)  “Republicans are running out of rednecks … to protect their advantage in some parts of the South, where a large minority voting base gets Democrats within sight of a majority. But in parts of the country where voting habits, residual unionization, and down-ballot strength have kept Democrats competitive among non-college-educated whites, there’s more room for Republicans to grow their vote, so long as they are not outgunned by minority and upscale segments of the electorate.”

(5)  Drew Linzer’s handy chart on state-level presidential polling averages.

Clinton’s rise fueled by college-educated white women

A decent array of recent national polls have released various demographic splits. Each individual poll is typically too small to allow for reasonable estimates of particular groups—the samples usually contain around 900 registered voters—so detailed analyses based on single polls should be taken with a tablespoon of salt. But we’re now getting to the point where we can average across these polls to give a tentative analysis of how the demographics of the election this year are taking shape differently from the 2012 election.

The chart below shows my analysis of five polls fielded from July 29 to August 4. Some demographic categories were available from all five polls (women, men, and whites) while the others are from only three of the five. It’s not enough data to be highly confident in the numbers—here, take it with a teaspoon (rather than a tablespoon) of salt—but it’s something.

The big story is that whites with college degrees appear to be shifting rather dramatically. According to the 2012 exit polls, 43% of the two-party vote from college-educated whites went to Obama and 57% went to Romney. In the recent 2016 polls, in contrast, Clinton is gaining 54% of the two-party support from college-educated whites with 46% for Trump. Looked at another way, there was a 6-point gap between college whites and non-college whites in the 2012 exit polls, but in the recent 2016 polls that gap has tripled to 18 points.

ClintonTrump1(Technical notes: The percentages from the 2012 exit polls are the percent voting for Obama divided by the percent voting for either Obama or Romney. The percentages from recent 2016 polls are based on head-to-head Clinton vs. Trump numbers from those registered to vote. Each 2016 poll was adjusted so that its results equated with the RealClearPolitics national average from Aug. 9. The 2016 percentages are the adjusted level of support for Clinton divided by the total adjusted support for either Clinton or Trump, averaged across available polls.)

The demographic anchors of the two parties—non-whites on the Democratic side and white evangelicals on the Republican side—don’t appear to have shifted between 2012 and the recent 2016 polls. But we do see a widening gender gap from 8 points in 2012 to 15 points recently.

In sum, who are the folks driving Clinton’s rise? They’re people who roughly fit her own demographic: College-educated white women who aren’t evangelical Christians. Indeed, in our book, Kurzban and I gave the name “Hillarys” to a closely related demographic—high-education white women who are Christian but who don’t go to church weekly. So far, it looks like Hillarys might be taking the hill.

Vaguely interesting (Aug 6)

(1)  “[W]hen an applicant’s criminal history is unavailable, employers statistically discriminate against demographic groups that are likely to have a criminal record.”

(2)  “[W]hen the context provides sufficient flexibility to allow plausible justification that one can both act egoistically while remaining moral, people seize on such opportunities to prioritize self-interest at the expense of morality.”

(3)  “[S]wings in the polls can often be attributed not to changes in voter intention but in changing patterns of survey nonresponse.”

(4)  “Combine the trend of well-educated voters and Trump’s earning of just 2 percent of support black voters in the AJC poll, and Clinton has a real shot to win Georgia.”

(5)  “Certain hours are more important than others in some jobs — and those jobs have especially high [gender] wage gaps.”

Vaguely interesting (July 30)

(1)  “Multiple laboratories (k = 23, total N = 2,141) conducted replications of a standardized ego-depletion protocol …. [T]he size of the ego-depletion effect was small with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) that encompassed zero (d = 0.04, 95% CI [–0.07, 0.15].”

(2)  “Analysis revealed that in many countries—including the U.S., the U.K., and Japan—the trend of steadily increasing height has either slowed substantially or plateaued altogether.”

(3)  “Not many Arabs sympathize with the Islamic State. The percent agreeing with the Islamic State’s goals range from 0.4 percent in Jordan to 6.4 percent in the Palestinian territories.”

(4)  “By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.”

(5)  “But while churchgoing Republicans were particularly skeptical of Trump during the primaries, they are firmly in his corner now that the general election campaign is underway.”

White nationalism before Trump

Political parties are messy coalitions that are pretty much constantly changing. They involve various demographic and interest groups with a hodgepodge of policy preferences. When we look at periods in which the policies and priorities of the parties change substantially, we often see that some people cross party lines when voting and, if the changes last, even flip their party identities.

It seems relatively clear that the U.S. is now in one of these periods of heightened change. The Republican party has been relatively more opposed to civil right for minorities since the 1960s, and relatively more opposed to immigration since the 1990s, and relatively more suspicious of Muslims since the 2000s. But these kinds of white nationalist positions haven’t been the party’s main focus. The candidacy of Donald Trump has changed that, at least for the moment.

This Republican shift opens up risks and opportunities for both major parties. Before Trump, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to hold white nationalist views—combining conservative positions on immigration, race, Islam, and related areas—but there have remained substantial internal differences within both parties. So it seems likely that this presidential election will involve some shifts in prior voting patterns.

To get specific, here I’ll look at white nationalist views within the parties in the period immediately prior to Trump, who announced his candidacy in June of 2015. I’m using Pew political data from February 2013 to May 2015. I created an overall measure of white nationalist views based on a couple dozen individual survey questions—the measure is based primarily on opinions on immigration and secondarily on opinions regarding equal rights for blacks, and also contains a few items on views on Muslims, terrorism, and free trade. It’s a combined profile of the essential core of Trump’s campaign.

So, before Trump, who were the Democrats and who were the Republicans for whom this white nationalist agenda had the most and least appeal? Who, that is, should we expect to be most and least likely to cross their old party lines in this election given the new change in policy focus?

I first split the sample into Democrats (including Democratic leaners) and Republicans (including Republican leaners). I then explored the demographic predictors (in each side separately) of positions on my overall white nationalism measure. Based on this analysis, I divided both sides’ supporters into five subgroups, shown in the chart below.

PewPWN2(Technical notes: Sample size is 23,667. Results are weighted. “White” is non-Hispanic white. For ease of visual interpretation, I defined the top 20% of the overall sample on the policy scale as “White Nationalist” and the bottom 20% as “Multiculturalist,” with the other quintiles represented by the three middle categories.)

The big themes: Ethnicity, education, and age

By initially splitting the sample into Democrats and Republicans, there’s already a lot of demographic information built in here. The pre-Trump Republicans are more likely to be whites who are Evangelical, wealthier, and/or men (especially whites with middle-of-the-road levels of education). The pre-Trump Democrats are more likely to be non-whites or whites who are non-Christian, poorer, and/or women (especially whites in these categories who have more education).

When we look within these coalitions at white nationalist views, the main divisions involve ethnicity, education, and age. In both parties before Trump, we see splits such that non-whites, those with more education, and younger folks were less likely to favor white nationalist policies than older whites with less education.

On the Democratic side before Trump, those already most opposed to white nationalist policies were the college-educated, atheists and agnostics, Millennials, and non-whites. But when we look at the group to which none of these apply, we actually we a Democratic group that contains more folks supportive of white nationalist policies than opposed.

On the Republican side before Trump, those who were most likely to oppose white nationalist policies were blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, followed by young folks, followed by Jews and Mormons, followed by those who either have college degrees or are wealthier. The remaining group are the bulk of Republicans, who showed the most support for white nationalist policies before Trump—these are mostly older, less-educated, non-rich, white Christians.

Sometimes the obvious idea goes a long way

So what accounts for Trump’s appeal? What accounts for the recent spate of general election polls showing him doing particularly poorly with minorities, and weaker-than-usual with college-educated whites, but with tremendous appeal to less-educated whites?

Commentators have proposed a number of ideas, but there’s an obvious core here that shouldn’t be forgotten. Before Trump announced his candidacy, the kind of white nationalist agenda he has emphasized was already most popular among less-educated and older whites and least popular among the better educated, minorities, and younger folks. Trump hasn’t completely reorganized the parties’ policy positions, but he has introduced a new prioritization of white nationalist policies. So this will likely lead to some shifts in prior voting patterns.

There’s more going on in this election than just this change in white nationalist policy focus, of course. But sometimes the basics aren’t that complicated. Some people are supporting Trump—even some Democrats—because he’s pushing an agenda they already supported. And some people are opposing Trump—even some Republicans—because he’s pushing an agenda they already opposed.

On discrimination and political correctness

It’s really hard to try to understand what’s driving the debates over discrimination and political correctness without becoming overwhelmed by the powerful desire to paint one’s own political side as reasonable and one’s opponents’ side as corrupt or duped or unthinking. Yet it remains possible to analyze the political conflict without assuming that a huge chunk of the public is unhinged—it’s not pretty or emotionally satisfying, but it’s possible.

The basics

Let’s start with a couple of fundamental points. First, group-based discrimination harms some but benefits others. Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example, writes of plunder—calling attention to the fact that America’s history of racial discrimination hasn’t just been about holding blacks back, but about whites benefiting from subjugated blacks’ labor and property (including various examples from slavery to the recent aggressive marketing of high-interest subprime mortgages to blacks). In addition, of course, a frequent context for discrimination involves competition over college admissions and employment, where someone’s success almost necessarily implies someone else’s disappointment.

A second basic point is that there’s no such thing as a neutral system for allocating general social status or specific desirable positions. We can try to lessen the prevalence of group-based discrimination, but we’re not replacing it with nothing at all or with something handed down by God or Nature. In the past half-century, the main competing allocation regime has been test-based and education-based meritocracy. Gaining desirable positions is now less about race, religion, gender, and so on, and more about how well one does on tests and one’s educational pedigree. Like any allocation regime, meritocracy picks winners and losers in potentially controversial ways—in college admissions, for example, there are constant arguments over the proper role of standardized tests (though we could go much deeper and wonder, e.g., why the people who are already the most knowledgeable should be preferentially admitted into publicly subsidized learning institutions). And, like any allocation regime, meritocracy is subject to its own pathologies and entrenchments.

Relative winners and losers from discrimination and meritocracy

The key to arriving at a view of the non-craziness of public opinion on discrimination and political correctness is to compare the typical winners and losers from the old group-based allocation regime and the new meritocratic allocation regime. The group-based regime primarily favors whites, Christians (particularly Protestants), men, the native-born, and heterosexuals at the expense of others. The meritocratic regime primarily favors good test takers and the highly educated.

The biggest winners from the old group-based regime as compared with the meritocratic regime, then, are whites, Christians, and so on, but specifically those who are poor test takers and poorly educated. In contrast, the biggest winners from the meritocratic regime as compared with the group-based regime are good test takers and the highly educated, but specifically those who are non-white, non-Christian, and so on.

Reviewing a wide range of evidence on public opinion, we see patterns that are consistent with this basic breakdown. At high levels of meritocratic competence (i.e., among those with good test-taking ability and more education), folks really tend to prefer meritocratic policies over group-based ones, and are particularly opposed to group-based discrimination against people with their own group-based features. At lower levels of meritocratic competence, people tend to oppose group-based discrimination against people in their own groups, while favoring group-based discrimination against people not in their own groups—so, for example, immigrant Christians with less education are typically pro-immigrant but supportive of religious discrimination.

Political correctness is about penalizing the coordinating signals of discrimination

Group-based conflict often involves an important set of social signals. I’m talking here not just about group-based discrimination in its traditional sense, but more broadly—for example, this applies to conflicts between political partisans, rival colleges, rival nations, and so on. In group-based conflict, people use demeaning labels for out-groups, tell jokes painting out-group members as stupid and ugly, make wild categorical statements (“They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists…”), display relevant symbols of in-group loyalty (flags and whatnot), and related phenomenon. These signals serve important coordinating functions.

One way to think about political correctness is that, at its core, it’s an effort to disrupt these kinds of coordinating signals, specifically with regard to group-based discrimination on the basis of, at a minimum, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, and sexual orientation. This effort primarily involves imposing tangible costs on discriminatory signalers. Distinguished professors and heads of major companies can be fired for a sexist joke, a racist text, or an underling’s racist email.

Like any complex system of social guidelines, the boundaries of political correctness are fuzzy. There are paradigmatic violations—e.g., blatant instances of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, or homophobia—but also lots of grey areas. These grey areas exist both in terms of what counts as offending actions (e.g., debates over micro-aggressions) and what kinds of groups political correctness should cover (e.g., whether something like weight discrimination should be treated like racism and sexism). The very serious consequences of violating norms of political correctness make such boundary issues particularly important. There are also concerns that, like any blunt instrument of power, political correctness can be distorted to serve other agendas—becoming, say, a generalized tool to silence conservative political views or a way to penalize criticisms of Israel.

A multi-sided fight over discrimination and political correctness

Overall, one should expect stronger levels of support for political correctness from those who simultaneously gain under meritocracy but lose under group-based discrimination—people with higher levels of meritocratic competence (better test takers with more elite educations) who also have traditionally subordinate group identities (e.g., non-whites, non-Christians, women, gays and lesbians). On the other side, one should expect stronger levels of opposition to political correctness from people who combine lower levels of meritocratic competence with traditionally dominant group identities (white, Christian, male heterosexuals).

But matters grow more complex when we consider non-paradigmatically situated folks. One set are people who combine lower levels of meritocratic competence with a mix of dominant and subordinate group identities—think, for example, of less-educated people who are black Christians, Latino immigrant Christians, white non-Christians, and so on. At lower education levels, these folks tend to express pro-discrimination views regarding areas where they’re in dominant groups (so, e.g., black heterosexual Christians at lower education levels often favor school prayer and oppose gay rights) but also anti-discrimination views regarding areas where they face discrimination (e.g., these same black heterosexual Christians often have strongly liberal views on racial issues). One shouldn’t expect such cross-pressured opinion-holders to support generalized notions of political correctness—instead, their support and opposition will typically be more selective.

Other non-paradigmatic folks combine high levels of meritocratic competence with largely dominant group identities—highly educated white guys, mostly. So, you know, just to throw out some random names: Ross Douthat, Jonathan Chait, Conor Friedersdorf, Jon Haidt, and so on. Here, we might see people with a genuine commitment to meritocratic rules, but who also can be leery of the reach of political correctness. This will be particularly true when they think that proponents of political correctness seek to extend its reach into a kind of anti-meritocratic burden specifically on white males, conservatives, and so on. It’s really just the same general tendency that produced political correctness in the first place—namely, folks who do well under meritocratic rules are particularly sensitive to discriminatory threats against people with their own characteristics.

Explanatory space

Here, I’m trying to make sense of the rough battle lines—why the professoriate, elite media, and big business have generally embraced very strong anti-discriminatory norms, why these norms are particularly opposed by many less-educated white Christians, why some folks are strongly committed to anti-discriminatory norms but also express growing concerns over the reach of political correctness, and so on. One key, I think, is to consider a broad range of non-crazy personal interests.

But I understand that this isn’t what most people want to hear. What they want to hear is that their own side in this multi-sided fight is rational and just, while their opponents are unbalanced and immoral. They want to hear about the outrageous anecdotes that prove their opponents’ madness.

Yet I hope there’s space to attempt non-hand-waving explanatory work, to try to figure out what might lead people to give offense and to be offended, to situate these conflicts within wider psychological and political theories. These explanatory attempts might not securely embrace one’s preferred moral story, but neither do they prevent such stories. They don’t prevent anyone from defining and defending their own political positions.

Social science for the pleeps