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How conservative are Michelle Malkin and Michael Moore?

I ran into John Barnard a few hours ago and he told me that he likes the blog but he hates the political stuff. So, John, you can skip this one. Although there is a bit of statistics near the end, so if you want you can click through and search for two asterisks (**); I’ve labeled the statistical content, just this once, to make your life slightly easier!

Following Paul Krugman, John Sides considers how one might measure the ideological position of conservative political commentator Michelle Malkin. I’d heard the name but I don’t have any TV reception and didn’t really know what she stood for. Going to her webpage, I see she’s written three books: “Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores,” “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror,” and “Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild.” From her blog, she also appears to have conservative economic views, although it’s hard to separate this from partisanship without going back to posts from previous years.

Krugman wants a “scale of positions on political matters … we might find that only 19 percent of Americans are to the right of Michelle Malkin, while 23 percent are to the left of Michael Moore.” I don’t have enough of a sense about Malkin, but I’m pretty sure that much less than 23% of Americans are to the left of Michael Moore. In chapter 8 of Red State, Blue State is this graph from Joe Bafumi and Michael Herron estimating the ideological positions of congressmembers and voters:

herron1.png

From this graph, it appears that fewer than 20% of Americans are more liberal than the average Democratic congressmember (as of 2006). Accepting the indisputable claim that Michael Moore is quite a bit to the left of the average Democrat in Congress, we can conclude that only a tiny fraction of Americans is to the left of Moore. Maybe 1%.

Bafumi and Herron’s analysis can be disputed on methodological grounds and put into context in different ways (here are graphs showing the breakdown in Republican, Democratic, and battleground states), but I think it’s a good starting point.

Placing Malkin on the ideological scale could be trickier: she’s certainly a partisan Republican and strongly identifies as a conservative, but her book topics on immigration and racial profiling only capture a small subset of the issues usually used to measure ideology. Being “left” or “right” on immigration doesn’t necessarily correlate with positions on economic issues. In any case, if you believe that Malkin is well to the right of the average Republican congressmember, you’ll find from Bafumi and Herron’s graph that far fewer than 19% of Americans would be to her right.

A statistical measurement issue

**Sides does a quick try at placing Malkin’s ideology by adding the responses to three survey questions from the National Election Study, each on a 1-7 scale (from 1=most liberal to 7=most conservative), graphing where Americans stand on these issues (on this combined 3-21 scale), and the seeing how Malkin would compare to this distribution, if her responses were a 6 on each question. I have some problems with John’s graph (the data are discrete and run from 3 to 21, yet his curve seems to have more than 19 different points on it; the y-axis doesn’t go down all the way to zero, making the curve look like the distribution drops down to zero at the extremes when it doesn’t really do so), but I think it’s great that he brings data and specific issues into the picture. In support of his idea, I have a couple of comments. First, the particular method he uses–taking some questions and seeing how someone with an average response of 6 out of 7 would look in the distribution–will be highly sensitive to the number of questions used in the analysis. The more responses you add, the more the person-with-average-score-of-6 will be an extreme in the distribution. If you added the responses to 20 questions on a 1-7 scale, I expect you’d get almost nobody with an average score of 6 out of 7. People’s responses to these different questions are not so highly correlated as we political junkies might expect.

One final point

Moore and Malkin may each be more ideologically extreme than 1% of Americans (or maybe 5% of watchers of the Stephanopolous show). But a lot more than 1% of Americans think Michael Moore has something important to say (and, I assume this is true of Malkin as well).

15 Comments

  1. anon says:

    I'm surprised that the voter ideology curve is not unimodal–just for the unscientific reason that every other distribution I see over all Americans seems to be unimodal. I'd love to see some discussion of what this means.

    I guess there are discrete variables like gender that obviously don't give rise smooth unimodal curves, but I assume that's not what's behind this. Although it would be interesting to see the ideology distribution broken down by gender, race, etc.

  2. TGGP says:

    I believe Lying in Ponds has measures of how partisan different pundits are. That would only give measures relative to other pundits though.

    I just checked out the site (which has not been updated since February) and Malkin is the most partisan Republican listed, moreso than any Democrat. Moore is not listed though.

  3. jonathan says:

    I liked where you said, "It's a good starting point." Fits the content of the blog.

  4. John Barnard says:

    I don't hate the political stuff you post — just don't want to read it! Keep up the many interesting stat-related posts. Thanks for highlighting the relevant stat content in this post — great to see you at JSM.

    Best,

    John

  5. David Kane says:

    1) You ought to love Malkin because she posts statistics papers on her blog.

    2) Her latest book is Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies.

    3) Although it is fair to describe Malkin as extremely conservative, it is just not true that she is a "partisan Republican." She leveled many attacks on Republicans, especially Bush and McCain, over immigration and campaign speech laws.

    After following the discussion at the Monkey Cage, here are two other approaches.

    4) Ask various experts (or, at least, regular Malkin readers) what her answers would be to various questions.

    5) Ask Malkin herself. In my experience, she is quite responsive to sensible e-mails. I would be happy to pass along whatever standard questions you/Sides wanted to ask.

    Prediction: Malkin is extremely conservative in the limited government sense. She is definitely a 7 in several of those example questions from Monkey Cage. But she is less conservative (but not liberal) on various social issues.

  6. Prof. Gelman,
    I love it when you engage in "quantitative imperialism" (a phrase I was exposed to by TGGP) into traditionally non-quant heavy social science related topics. I think you do so decently here.

    What strikes me about Malkin's latest foray is her body language: it seems kind of rigid, stiff and tense. Beyond easy answers (like, it's a natural response to a hostile MSM) I'm interested into quant analysis into soft observations like that can yield.

    I'm disturbed that you're a social scientist and that you don't follow television (one of the largest cultural mediums) or that you claim to know so little about Michelle Malkin (I hope that's bullshit).

  7. Andrew Gelman says:

    Hopefully:

    The credit for the quantitative imperialism in this case goes to Paul Krugman and John Sides; I'm just following up on their thoughts.

    You're not the first person to tell me that I'd be a better political scientist if I were to watch TV. But there's more to life than being a good political scientist.

    I'd seen the name Michelle Malkin and knew that she was a controversial conservative opinionator, but, no, I've never seen her on TV and didn't know exactly what she stood for.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    If you define voters' political positions by how they vote between Republicans and Democrats, you might get a different sense of the electorate than if you look at how citizens respond to polls about options that neither major party will put forward. Single-payer health care is a good example of the latter.

  9. Prof. Gelman,
    In a broader sense I'm interested in how celebrity pundits match in their positions and the positions of people who share their traits, vs. the traits of people who share their position.

    For example, Michelle Malkin's traits may include female, ancestrally asian, married-to-a-white-man, BMI healthy, x years old, y height, z religious preference, etc. What percentage of ancestrally asian people share her preference against universal health care? What are the ancestral populations that have the highest percentage alignment with her preference against univerthe sal health care?

    This could help lead towards a more quantitative analysis of concepts like authentic representation, uncle tom-ism, etc.

    Also I'm interested in quantitve analysis of how populations police individuals and subcomponents of the population (do any trait cohorts police Michelle Malkin or other celebrity pundits, and how strong or weakly do they police them?)

  10. TGGP says:

    Razib looked into the issue of Asian-American Republicans a little while back and concluded that Christianity was the most important factor:
    http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2008/10/asian_americ

    The left-tilt of asians broadly doesn't seem to be that salient in the public imagination. They might be considered a sort of "invisible" minority often lumped in with whites. The one example I can think of where Malkin's ethnicity would be relevant to her punditry is the defense of internment. Since she's actually Filipino and her relatives would have been under attack by the Japanese back then, it's harder for co-ethnics to accuse her of selling out her people in that instance.

  11. TGGP,
    An interesting data point.
    What do you make of Coulter's diss of the birther attorney? Do you think she was trying to eliminate a potential competitor ("fringe" blonde conservative pundit?)

    Does Michelle Malkin have any class competitors? Does she work as part of a paegant to positively integrate asian (or more narrowly, filipina) women?

    Or are asian women failing to police her for externalizing a controversialization cost onto them while she reaps a publicity benefit?

    (Finally, do you have anything interesting to make of her cheerleader video on youtube?) Prof. Gelman, I won't claim that watching that video will make you a better political scientist.

  12. TGGP says:

    I haven't much followed Coulter's antics since Godless and I didn't know she'd said anything about the Birthers. From what I do know of Orly Taitz, she's a dentist or something rather than a pundit. Coulter is a lawyer and her first book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, is more reflective of that than her later more polemical ones. Or at least that's how I remember it, its been a while since I read them.

    Malkin often points out when liberals make racist/sexist comments about her, but its really just "gotcha" rather than a major interest. I think she accentuates being a woman rather than asian, perhaps because the gender gap is more well known than asian political leanings. She likes to brag that she converted her husband away from liberalism rather than the other way around.

    I don't think asians have much cultural clout. I can't think of an east-asian pundit as well known as Malking, unless you count John Yoo (but he's known for his actions as a public official).

    I haven't followed Malkin in a while, so I haven't seen the video you're referring to. I did see one where after some liberals said she was acting crazy she put on a gorilla mask while speaking extra calm/reasonably. Of course the reason they said that in the first place is because other Hot Air videos are rather crazy.

    On the subject of trying to police your group, what's popping into my head is Marty Peretz' attempt to go after the "Juicebox Mafia". It seems completely ineffective, and I think that's because the Juiceboxers are more in the mainstream among progressives. Another analogy that's being tossed around now is between the Birthers and John Birchers in the Goldwater years. Of course it was really just Welch who was kicked off the bus, since Goldwater was so heavily reliant on rank-and-file Birchers. The more conspiracy-minded paleos claim this was because of Welch's misgivings on the Vietnam war and other aspects of foreign policy.

  13. Andrew Gelman says:

    Francis Fukuyama.

  14. TGGP says:

    Good catch. All the asians we've mentioned are conservative. Who is the most prominent asian liberal pundit?

    The Audacious Epigone has a demographic breakdown of a list of the top 50 american political pundits:
    http://anepigone.blogspot.com/2008/05/demographic

  15. Andrew Gelman says:

    Margaret Cho? Fareed Zakaria?