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The Arkansas paradox

Palko writes:

I had a recent conversation with a friend back in Arkansas who gives me regular updates of the state and local news. A few days ago he told me about a poll that was getting a fair amount of coverage. (See also here, for example.) The poll showed that a number of progressive social issues like marriage equality for the first time were getting majority support in the state. This agrees with a great deal of anecdotal evidence I’ve observed which suggest a strange paradox in the state (and, I suspect, in much of the Bible Belt). We are seeing a simultaneous spike in tolerance and intolerance around the very same issues.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a Russellville Arkansas has become a utopia of inclusiveness, but from a historical standpoint, the acceptance of people who are openly gay, or who are in an interracial relationship has never been higher in the area. At the same time, conservative media has achieved critical mass, racist and inflammatory rhetoric is at a 50 year high, and the reactionaries have gained full control of the government for the first time since at least the election of Sen. Fulbright.

Arkansas is getting redder in partisan terms while looking increasingly purple ideologically.

I’m not sure how to think about this one, so I’m bouncing it over to you, the readers.


  1. Brent Hutto says:

    Finding evidence suggesting a particular state is getting more polarized, especially on social issues, is sort of dog bites man at this point don’t you think?

  2. Thanatos Savehn says:

    Issue pruning.

  3. Adede says:

    All sounds a bit anecdotal.

  4. Terry says:

    Agree with Adede.

    Kind of a list of lazy stereotypes. Might be some truth to some of it, but the tone is very unconvincing. Sounds like cable news talking points.

    “the reactionaries have gained full control of the government”. You mean they were voted into office? Kind of a hysterical way to say that, no?

  5. gec says:

    There’s also a difference between “tolerance” and political behavior, just like any other distinction between attitudes and actions (echoing the recent discussion on the IAT). People might well be more positive toward historically repressed minorities, but that doesn’t mean they will do anything about it. And attitudes do not exist in a vacuum—there may be other issues that people care more about that drive their behavior.

  6. Anoneuoid says:

    I still don’t know who takes these polls. Is it only people who answer telemarketer calls and click on pop-ups?

    Ok, I looked it up a bit. From the “summary report”:

    Between October 1st and October 28th, 2018, Issues & Answers Network, Inc. completed 800 telephone
    interviews among a random sample of adult Arkansans, plus an additional 400 interviews with
    respondents just in Benton and Washington counties (for a total of 521 Northwest Arkansas
    respondents). Sixty-one percent of all respondents interviewed use their cell phones for all or most of
    their calls.
    The survey’s margin of error statewide is +/- 3.5 percentage points, meaning that we are 95 percent
    confident that the actual result lies within 3.5 percentage points (in either direction) of the result our
    sample produced. For the NWA oversample, the margin of error is +/- 4.3 percentage points.
    Employing guidelines established by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, the poll’s
    overall cooperation rate was 21.9%. This is lower than in prior years due to the greater volume of calls
    to cell phone numbers. This figure reflects completed surveys as a percentage of all eligible individuals
    contacted. 6 As in past years, the sample was provided by Survey Sampling International.

    Also, from the protocol I see they terminate the questionnaire if the person doesn’t respond male/female for gender. So the population is people who will answer a telemarketer call and give them personal information.

    Almost everyone I know uses a white list at this point and ignores all unknown calls (unless looking for a job, etc). Really, giving out personal info to a strange over the phone is very unwise at this point. Even answering and giving the unknown caller a voice sample to associate with the number is risky. Some financial services (eg, Fidelity) use “voice fingerprints” as a credential so this is worth money.

    • Phil says:

      Almost everyone you know uses a white list and ignores all unknown calls — I do too, except when I’m expecting a call from an unknown number — and maybe you and many of your friends don’t answer any telemarketer questions — I don’t either — but you and I and our friends are not the world. It’s notoriously hard to know how much bias there is due to people with one or another set of beliefs being more or less willing to answer a poll, and the extent to which that bias changes with time. I agree with your implicit point that we can’t trust the numbers. Maybe we can’t trust the trends either, although I would expect the trends to be more robust than the absolute numbers. But I think polls like this are the best data we have, and it’s hard to see how to get better data.

      • Yeah, I think the main point is that there is some bias, and the secondary point is that the bias may push the sample towards people who are not all that savvy about things like information security, and this probably correlates highly with not being aware of many other things, and having say age bias, and whatnot.

      • Anoneuoid says:

        The poll is fine for drawing conclusions about the type of people who answered the poll. I just don’t think any conclusions drawn about it should be assumed to generalize to the general population.

        This problem seems worse than just “bias” (like Daniel said). This is selecting for people who would do something I would actively advise against anyone ever doing.

        Also, they said 20% cooperation rate, is that the percent of people who answered the phone that completed the survey? Or the percent of numbers they called that resulted in a complete survey?

        20% seems too high for the latter. And where are these phone numbers coming from anyway?

        • Buster Friendly says:

          “Embrace uncertainty” is fine advice, but terrible dogma. At a certain point, blanket skepticism just becomes nihilism. Judging from comment history, Anoneuoid’s default contrarian priors may be somewhat maladaptive.

          The poll is biased (they all are), that does not make it meaningless. The trend seems reasonable if we consider that many people do not vote based on issues, they vote based on culture.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            Judging from comment history, Anoneuoid’s default contrarian priors may be somewhat maladaptive.

            I’m hardly some sort of solipsist. What comments do you think indicate something “maladaptive” about my approach?

            I will say it is definitely maladaptive in the environment of modern academia, which selects for people who can generate apparent “discoveries” at a rate that is impossible using valid science (performing direct replications and making predictions that could discriminate between various possible explanations). Of course this problem is not limited to academia though.

            My standards are essentially the same as I see scientist use by reading what they wrote before NHST became a thing… before the current age of false promises and stagnation set in. Just as a few examples, currently we have (sorry for being lazy and lapsing into lay sources at one point):

            1) opposite of progress on Alzheimer’s
            – went from the acetylcholine deficiency theory to amyloid theory. The first actually lead to useful treatments, the second has lead to none.[1]

            2) opposite of progress on cancer
            – now it is “many diseases”; progressive science makes things easier to understand by discovering universalities
            – all sorts of fake claims of progress by misinterpreting lead time bias as due to the care. This same fallacy also leads to a positive feedback claim of “early detection saves lives”[3]
            – New epidemics of some cancers, eg skin cancer[4] caused by recommending people wear sunscreen that blocks only UVB.[4]

            3) Lack of progress in dealing with stroke or brain injury.[5]
            – The last advance was the adoption of CT scans, which is more an engineering advance

            4) lack of progress in physics
            – apparently physicists have only been able to “prove” what they “already knew” since the 1970s.
            – Actually I sent Andrew an email awhile back about how I noticed they are misusing NHST to reject MOND. Essentially they seem to be publishing observations for 100 galaxies with uncertainties and if a single one disagrees at 0.05 with the prediction of MOND they say it doesn’t work, obviously they should actually expect 5% to be “reject” if MOND was true. I wouldn’t be surprised if this same misuse (essentially not adjusting for multiple tests) has been inappropriately rejecting all sorts of promising theories. Meanwhile ad hoc “saves” make the accepted theory more and more flexible, until eventually it can never be rejected (which is the only way for a theory to survive if you use that method to filter theories).

            So I see very little real evidence that progress is being made across many fields. Obviously one area where we are seeing progress is semiconductor/etc engineering as evidenced by the cheaper and faster computers. I’m not too familiar with it but would bet this is because NHST plays little to no role there.

            And this problem is entering the public consciousness. Eg, via the endless stream of “coffee is good for you, no it is bad for you” press releases. It is only a matter of time before it “clicks” and something has to give, but I have no idea when that would be.


            • Anoneuoid says:

              Some better sources for the skin cancer stuff:

              In the U.S. in 1935, one’s estimated lifetime risk of melanoma was 1 in 1,500 [4]. In the U.S. in the year 2000, the lifetime risk of melanoma was estimated at 1 in 75 persons. In Australia, the lifetime risk has been estimated at 1 in 25 [4]. These stark numbers have placed melanoma in the category of an “epidemic.”


              In the US, new Food and Drug Association rules require sunscreen manufacturers to evaluate their products not only on sun protection factor but also on broad spectrum UVA protection by the end of 2013. New labeling requirements will also be instituted.


              Previous studies have suggested that sunscreens provide little to no benefit against melanoma because the sunscreens may be primarily devised to prevent sunburns that are mainly caused by UVB [Autier et al., 1995, 2011a]. It has been proposed that the use of sunscreens that contain only UVB filters may therefore result in greater UVA exposure because the use of the sunscreen allows individuals to remain in the sun for longer periods of time without being burned. This hypothesis, and the current lack of effective UVA filters in many countries including the U.S. [Sargent and Travers, 2016], may provide a cogent explanation for why sunscreen users may experience an elevated risk of melanoma [Autier et al., 2011a,b].


              • Anoneuoid says:


                Worldwide, the countries where chemical sunscreens have been recommended and adopted have experienced the greatest rise in cutaneous malignant melanoma, with a contemporaneous rise in death rates. In the United States, Canada, Australia, and the Scandinavian countries, melanoma rates have risen steeply in recent decades, with the greatest increase occurring after the introduction of sunscreens.13-17 Death rates in the United States from melanoma doubled in women and tripled in men between the 1950s and the 1990s.18 The rise in melanoma has been unusually steep in Queensland, Australia, where sunscreens were earliest and most strongly promoted by the medical community.19 Queensland now has the highest incidence rate of melanoma in the world.20 In contrast, the rise in melanoma rates was notably delayed elsewhere in Australia,20 where sunscreens were not promoted until more recently.

                The SPF of sunscreens concerns solely their ability to absorb ultraviolet B (UV-B) light.21 Even sunscreens with high SPF factors can be completely transparent to ultraviolet A (UV-A),21 which includes 90% to 95% of ultraviolet light.22 UV-A blocking ingredients, which have commonly been added to most sunscreens since 1989, block only halfthe UV-A spectrum and provide a protection factor against delayed UV-A induced erythema of only 1.7 at usual concentrations.23 Both UV-A and UV-B have been shown to mutate DNA and promote skin cancers in animals.24 25UV-A also pene- trates deeper into the skin than UV-B.26 Because of the energy distribution of sunlight22 and filtering by the outermost layers ofthe skin,26 melanocytes receive up to 70 photons of UV-A for every photon of UV-B.


                I think this sunscreen thing is quite the ignored scandal, btw. The medical industry has escaped all culpability for giving what even now the FDA admits was bad advice for many decades.

            • Nick Adams says:

              1. As a class of drugs, the anti-cholinesterase inhibitors have been uniformly disappointing.
              2. Recent development of monoclonal antibodies and checkpoint inhibitors has greatly improved the treatment of a number of cancers (e.g. pembrolizumab for unresectable melanoma).
              An association between sunscreen use and melanoma is very unlikely to be causal.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                1. As a class of drugs, the anti-cholinesterase inhibitors have been uniformly disappointing.

                And yet, the replacement theory has somehow been even worse than that. It rose to the level of dogma, even though it has been less productive than the theory it replaced! This is an indication of severe malfunction somewhere.

                2. Recent development of monoclonal antibodies and checkpoint inhibitors has greatly improved the treatment of a number of cancers (e.g. pembrolizumab for unresectable melanoma).

                Source? This type of claim always reminds me of the Steve Jobs situation. If you take headlines at face value you assume he died of pancreatic cancer because he didn’t use the treatments offered to him by the medical establishment. If you look further you see he was:

                1) Receiving all sorts of recommended treatments from them like surgical resection and a liver transplant
                2) Lived just as long after his original diagnosis as expected from the literature (~50% survival at 8 years)
                3) May have not even had pancreatic cancer to begin with since the symptoms he had were also shared with AIDS (some supposedly leaked documents indicated he had tested positive for HIV-1).

                So I never just believe the headline claims.

                An association between sunscreen use and melanoma is very unlikely to be causal.

                Why do you say this?

        • >And where are these phone numbers coming from anyway?

          My understanding is that random digit dialing is common. You maybe select certain area codes, and then random digit dial them, but because people move around and retain their number these days, you can’t directly target locations as well, some people in that area code may live elsewhere now, and some people in that region of the country may have different area codes on their cell phones.

          • Anoneuoid says:

            That makes sense, I was wondering why the mentioned cell phones as a contributor to lower “overall cooperation rate”. Many people were probably disqualified for not living there anymore.

            I guess in the end the question is whether this type of data is so misleading as to be worse than useless. I definitely think in other cases no data would have been preferable.

            An example i have personal experience with is firefox. Over the years they began adopting AB testing and telemetry rather than just using rational design principles and listening to what their users were saying. This has lead to them making decisions that annoy their “nerd” userbase making them less likely to install on their parents/etc devices. Also it simultaneously resulted in removal of any distinction between firefox and its main competitor (chrome)from the perspective of the rest of the users. As a result of these poor decisions, their marketshare has plummeted. And they were told all along this was going to happen, but decided to “listen to the data” instead.

            The same failure mode is definitely possible for surveys like this, but is that actually happening?

          • Clyde Schechter says:

            I haven’t done random digit dialing in a long while now, and that was back before cell phones were in widespread use. But at least back then, you would get a census of residential exchanges within the area codes you wanted to sample. You might choose to sample all the exchanges, or you might pick a random subset as primary sampling units.
            Then you would generate random integers between 0001 and 9999 to complete the phone number. You also needed a plan for calling back numbers that did not answer, with any initially unanswered number being called back at various times of the day and various days of the week (including weekends and nights) to account for people with different kinds of daily routines. I imagine that nowadays this is much more automated than it was back then, but I suspect the underlying approach is unchanged.

            That said, I think the issue of bias in the sample is different, and probably worse, than it was before. I have both a landline and a cell phone. The cellphone reception in my house is mediocre, so I would prefer not to use it there. And for outgoing calls I generally do use my landline. But I have been getting an average of 15 spam calls incoming on my landline for many many months now. I can’t afford to waste time dealing with these calls, even if just to walk over to the phone, pick it up, identify it as a spam call, and then hang up. So I don’t answer it anymore, unless I have a pre-arranged call with a specific person at that specific time. Before I adopted this regimen, I almost always responded to surveys, at least to surveys that didn’t appear to be sales calls in disguise. Now these people never reach me. I’m inclined to agree with Anoneuoid here that the people who are being reached on landlines now are highly skewed to people who are naive and gullible. It is hard to believe that those traits do not have fairly strong associations with responses to social and political questions.

            • Andrew says:


              Just to follow up on this: The main motivation of survey organizations is, I assume, to keep getting business. And for that all they need is 1000 or so respondents for each survey. Even if the survey is not so representative, that’s no big deal for most purposes, as we’re generally looking at trends. Indeed, pretty much the only time a survey org is put on the spot is when they poll an election, because then they can be compared to what really happens. So they’re under some incentive to do adjustments that will work well for the who-do-you-plan-to-vote-for question—or, at least, to get similar results to all the other polls so they don’t stand out.

            • Data I’ve seen suggests that spam calls are now something like 50% of cell phone calls, so for the most part no one answers their cell unless they recognize the number. That’s also true for landlines if you still have them and are moderately savvy.

              In my household we have 2 home numbers that run through a computer PBX, two cell phone numbers that go to me, or my wife, and a business line that goes through a PBX. So in theory you could reach me by at least 4 numbers, 5 if I answer my wife’s cell… but in fact you can’t reach me at all if you’re a polling company.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Anoneuoid said,
      “Even answering and giving the unknown caller a voice sample to associate with the number is risky. Some financial services (eg, Fidelity) use “voice fingerprints” as a credential so this is worth money.”

      Yikes! Old folks like me get a lot of scam calls; I guess I need to find a better way to weed them out than answering the phone and then deciding whether to hang up or say no if they seem like a scam.

      • Anoneuoid says:


        As noted above I don’t answer any number I don’t know. Even then, I have actually gotten a call from a number I did know that was a telemarketer. They just randomly generate spoofed phone numbers and use them to call similar numbers (same area code and first 3 digits) in the hope of eventually hitting on a number the callee knows.

        Apparently there is some FCC regulation preventing the telcos from blocking this spoofing stuff… I would definitely switch to a provider that just dropped all calls w spoofed phone numbers if they could exist.

  7. Nick says:

    Without stopping to read the polls themselves, my expectation would be that this has to do with whether people who declare themselves to be indifferent on social issues are in the numerator and/or denominator when calculating the proportion of those who support progressive social policies.

  8. Dzhaughn says:

    Palko is standing with a hunter on each side of him. The target is moving from right to left. Palko (played here by Wally Shawn) shouts “Inconceivable!” when the hunter on the right side hits the target and the one on the left misses.

  9. There has been a liberal trend in opinions on quite a few issues. It seems to have occurred across almost all social groups, so I expect it’s occurred in Arkansas as well. As far as why Arkansas (and some other places) have moved towards the Republicans at the same time that public opinion has become more liberal, I think that there are two main reasons:
    1. Republican positions have shifted to accommodate the liberal trend on some issues–for example, there’s no talk of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, or even an effort to appoint justices who will overturn the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Republicans may not be happy about same-sex marriage, but they’re no longer fighting it.
    2. Politics has become more nationalized, so there are fewer moderate/conservative Democratic politicians, and fewer moderate/liberal Republicans. Even when there are, voters probably think more about the national leadership and less about the local candidate than they used to (“if you vote for X, you’re voting for Nancy Pelosi”).

    The result is that places where prevailing opinions are more conservative have shifted the the Republicans, and places where opinions are more liberal have shifted to the Democrats.

  10. Bill Spight says:

    Sonny Barger (head of the Hell’s Angels) once took Hunter Thompson (gonzo author and not a Hell’s Angel) to task about a disparaging remark Thompson has just said about another Hell’s Angel. Thompson replied, “But Sonny, I know him.” Having grown up in the Deep South, though not in Arkansas, I know that people in highly conformist societies are willing to make exceptions for some other people to be nonconformist if they know them, or if they are generally known. Also, exceptions are made for one’s own behavior. Rabid racist, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, had a close fishing buddy who was Black. (“But I know him.”) As far as homosexual marriage is concerned, over a couple of generations, as homosexuals have come out of the closet, they themselves have become better known and therefore more accepted, even if the idea of homosexuality has not. As for interracial sexual relationships, around 25 years ago a friend in my hometown told me that they were accepted by Whites for the working classes, now I know that they are generally accepted. The Deep South has become much more socially liberal in my lifetime. Remember that two of the most socially liberal US Presidents since WWII had been governors of Southern states, Georgia and Arkansas.

    As far as politics goes, IMO the apparent paradox is in some part illusion, because of the difference between local politics and national politics. A major factor in the polarization of US national politics in the past 40 – 50 years has been Southern Senators and Representatives leaving the Democratic Party and becoming Republican or their successors being Republicans. But at the local level Republican mayors of today in the South are pretty much like the Democratic mayors of old. They do what they can for their people, the people they know. One of the most progressive ideas of dealing with the homelessness crisis in the US has been implemented in a Red state, Utah. Just give them a home, to paraphrase Nancy Reagan. The Mormons put homeless people in apartments, and it works rather well, I hear. By contrast, the very liberal San Francisco Bay Area is still struggling with the problem.

    So part of the paradox is illusion, I think. But no small part of it is the willingness of conservative conformists to make exceptions, as long as it concerns people they know, and not “all those others”, as Richard Nixon put it.

  11. John says:

    I’m an elderly environmental scientist, not a social scientist, but I don’t need polls to tell me that peoples’ attitudes toward gays has undergone a sea change in the last couple of decades. We have a gay candidate for president who is getting taken seriously, for crying out loud. Why should it be a surprise if people in Arkansas are part of the same trend?

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      “… I don’t need polls to tell me that peoples’ attitudes toward gays has undergone a sea change in the last couple of decades.”


      And I think this is an example of what Bill Spight said above:
      “But no small part of it is the willingness of conservative conformists to make exceptions, as long as it concerns people they know”.
      The more people find out that the very polite boy next door, or their niece, or their favorite teacher, or … is gay, the more they are accepting of gays.

  12. Alex Williams says:

    How much of this can be explained by thermostatic public opinion?

  13. Elin says:

    The full pdf is here Simialar the prior discussion on racial attitudes in the GSS I’m surprised to see the high percentage saying that there is “more to do” on racial equity (gender too). Also some of the other questions about attitudes toward different groups are very interest. Interesting to me that specifically “Does the increasing number of people of different races, ethnic groups and nationalities in AR/NWA makes it a better/worse, or doesn’t it make much difference?” “immigrants in the workplace ” and “openly GLT people in the work place” were much more likely to be described as “harmful” than other groups. To me the willingness to say “harm” as opposed to a polite “no difference” is very telling.

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