Skip to content

Political Polarization and Gender Gap: I Don’t Get Romer’s Beef with Bacon.

Gur Huberman writes:

Current politics + statistical analysis, the Paul Romer v. 538 edition:

Economist Paul Romer is criticizing a news article by Perry Bacon, Jr. entitled, “The Biggest Divides On The Kavanaugh Allegations Are By Party — Not Gender.”

My reaction:

I don’t get Romer’s beef. Bacon’s article seems reasonable to me: He (Bacon) lists a bunch of opinion questions where the difference between Democrats and Republicans is much bigger than the difference between men and women. This is no surprise at all. I doubt that Bacon thought this was a particularly newsworthy finding; rather, he’s doing the sort of “dog bites man” reporting, reminding us a huge something—in this case, partisan polarization—that’s out there. In response, Romer does a bunch of throat-clearing about the importance of what he’s about to say, and then . . . says that the partisan comparison isn’t appropriate because it excludes independents (fine, but then you could include “leaners” to the partisans and I’d expect you’d get similar results as what Bacon reported for the pure partisans), and then he pulls out one question where the gender gap is larger than the partisan gap. But that’s just one question, so I don’t see how it renders “objectively false” Bacon’s statement that, “Even on gender issues more broadly, the partisan divide outstretches the gender one.” Romer might be right that Bacon’s claim is wrong, but to assess that claim you’d have to look at more than one issue.

I think Romer’s post would be stronger without the rhetoric: It would be fine to say that Bacon is making a commonplace point (not a problem, as sometimes we have to remind people of things that the experts already know) and then for Romer to add some subtleties such as in that one question where the gender gap is particularly strong.


  1. Terry says:

    There is an even bigger divide than the one between Democrats and Republicans on the Kavanaugh issue: the divide between Kavanugh supporters and Kavanaugh opponents! Close to 100% of Kavanaugh supporters thought he should be appointed to the Supreme Court, while almost no Kavanaugh opponents thought he should. Talk about polarization!

  2. Steve says:

    Romer writes, “If my argument leaves you with the urge to denounce my hypocrisy in looking at one specific question, hence engaging in precisely the sort of cherry picking that I warn against, pause to think about the logic. It takes only one counter-example to disprove any assertion of the form “for all x, P(x) is true.”” Why doesn’t that answer your concern? The claim he is refuting is, ““Even on gender issues more broadly, the partisan divide outstretches the gender one.” That statement is false. I don’t understand why Romer thinks this is a big deal, but isn’t he just clearly correct?

    • Andrew says:


      I didn’t see Bacon make any claims of the sort, “for all x, P(x) is true.” Bacon wrote, “Even on gender issues more broadly, the partisan divide outstretches the gender one.” “More broadly” != “in all cases.”

      • Steve says:

        “More broadly” modifies “gender issues.” I take “even on gender issues” to mean “on all issues even gender issues.” So, Bacon’s claim is “on all issues, the partisan divide outstretches the gender one.” I think that is the precise way to read his claim, but I doubt that Bacon meant to be that precise in a journalistic piece. So, I agree Romer is being a bit pedantic, but even if you are charitable to Bacon, and think he means “generally speaking the partisan divide is bigger than the gender divide,” then pointing out that generally independants are being excluded, and in one instance when independents are taken into account the gender difference is bigger, certainly makes me think that Bacon has not proven his case.

  3. Jonathan says:

    It’s interesting to me that educated, intelligent people don’t want to accept the basic statistical notion that you rank dimensions and those align more or less to large poles, like party ID in a two party system when considering political issues. There is an astounding amount of arguing over ‘my ranking matters more than yours’ and it’s companion ‘you really need to adopt my ranking’. And those are so often followed by the compromiser pointing out ‘we agree on x’ when of course the relative ranking of x matters. You don’t even need to get into how phrases like ‘sexual assault’ inherently contain multiple rankings, sort of like if you said someone was guilty of ‘attempt’ without distinguishing attempted what. Attempted genocide implies you murdered many people but maybe not enough to be called genocide, while attempted littering leads you to Alice’s Restaurant and a typical case of blind justice!

    • jim says:

      And if that weren’t enough, each group is toiling relentlessly to replace the meaning of the others’ ranking with the most evil-sounding strawman misrepresentation possible while creating the most beneficial sounding misrepresentation of their own rankings.

      • Terry says:

        Maybe you two can clarify what is bothering me here. (Or maybe you already have.)

        Why do I feel that comparing the two divides is incongruous? Why should we care that one is bigger than the other? It feels like apples to oranges or measuring in different units. Who cares that a truck is bigger than a giraffe and a giraffe is bigger than a laptop?

      • chemist says:

        I know your intellectually lazy “b-but both sides do the same thing” statement is par for the course, but I think it should be obvious that one side is more demonstrably evil than the other, if you pay attention to current events at all. One side used rogue intelligence agencies, their allies in the media, DC, etc to violate the civil rights of all Americans and prevent Donald Trump from being elected. When that failed, they attempted to unseat a duly elected POTUS using bogus ‘Russian collusion’ allegations based on a web of phony self-referential evidence. You could say that one political party in this country attempted a coup, and we all know what the punishment for that is (or should be).

    • Austin Fournier says:

      I’m sorry, could you clarify what you mean by ranking dimensions? I can’t quite tell whether we’re talking about hierarchical models, factor analysis, or moral values here.

  4. Terry says:

    Ok. Romer himself thinks this question is silly.

    “By challenging the post’s answer to its “which-is-bigger” question, I am not endorsing its premise, that “which-is-bigger” is an interesting or important question. “

    What is going on here?

  5. Brian says:

    Not really the point, but can anyone find the question that Romer is referencing? This file has no question #46:

Leave a Reply