30 October 2014

Filed under situation normal

all fucked up

Most of these are questions that people who have studied voter habits and biases/prejudices have known about for years. They are systematic biases (against foreigners, against the economy having grown, etc). Most of them make no sense except in the light of some variety of prejudicial thinking (the probable population of immigrants or Muslims being absurdly high in most countries). The most interesting part for most people would be the absurdly high numbers of some of the actual statistics (Spain's unemployment rate, South Korea's life expectancy).

Still I found a couple of these interesting because they're not part of typical voter bias statistics versus just a general knowledge of demographic data. The voter bias research shows that usually people can estimate general knowledge data closer than understanding expert fields like economics or international trade. But these sorts of particular knowledge upset even that comfortable bias toward random and meaningless errors because they are fueled by additional bias concerns.

The teen pregnancy rate. 
I suspect people don't actually understand what the birth rate is and how to calculate it as one problem with asking people to calculate this figure. Such a figure is typically very low. Most women are not giving birth in a given year of life, and fewer still are doing so as teenagers. If people but reflected back on it for a moment, what's the probable number of girls they went to high school with who were pregnant while they were in a given school year. That figure, per year, could be very high at some high schools, and very low at others. But it wouldn't be a quarter of each year's class. Or a fifth. Or maybe even a tenth at the very "worst" cases. It would be amazing if it were more than one or two girls per classroom (say a "room" of 30). So it would be maybe 5% at most, and most probably less. That's how people should estimate it. They don't have this heuristic ready at hand to think about it. Further, since
a) people believe this figure is going up (it's not, it's going down) and
b) people hear about this as a problem or as parents worry about this as a problem, they imagine it must be very common in the way that we inflate all things we worry about as likely risks.
c) We're also bad with estimating low probability events generally. We like to tack on to those with media attention and fear (school shootings, terrorists, etc).
It's likely that the number gets inflated in the minds of those guesstimating it.

Parents should be taking some precautions that their teenage children should take some precautions against these unplanned events, but parents should also know it isn't very common that every 4th daughter out there is getting knocked up. Actually getting and staying pregnant is not that simple, on top of that teenagers (while they certainly talk a game otherwise), are probably not having sex all the time. Many aren't having sex at all, or not until their late teens. Birth control itself moving forward will be easier to use (IUDs) or easier to come by (condoms and access through health insurance, or perhaps OTC).

Religion percentages.

This is well known by people who aren't religious apparently how many people are of some religious sect or that, or not at all. But yes, the US is no danger of becoming a secular-atheist-Muslim-satanist country anytime soon. Most all of you Americans are Christian or some derivation there of (including that "spiritual but not religious" component, which is mostly "Christians who don't like going to their church" as far as I'm concerned. I can't say I blame them).

A big percentage of you apparently don't know that and apparently many of those confused souls think they are Muslims instead. Or perhaps secret Muslims are a thing after all. I realize that whole Jesus-Mohammed worship must be awfully confusing, but I think they're distinct enough for most people to tell the difference and know which one they might be trying to pretend they are following some of what they said with some seriousness.

No other religious group makes up more than 1-2% of the American population. Jews are common in a few cities. Muslims are common in a few cities. Buddhists are common in a few cities. Mormons are in Utah. Atheists or nones are kind of all over, but they're not anywhere near as common as people like to think. Either atheist/nones or Christians. Still, 15-20% isn't bad.

I draw attention to these two because Americans are particularly bad at estimating both. Canada is a little worse on the Muslim question (same with France and Belgium).

I would also draw attention to the immigration question. This is pretty predictable as an expressed bias of voters. Voters have an anti-foreigner bias built into to their ideological narratives. Either as "immigrants are dirty, noisy, lazy, criminals", with maybe an exception for certain Asian or European countries depending. Or as "people in those other countries are stealing our jobs", either through outsourcing/trade or as coming here to work dirt cheap. To be honest 13% seemed actually pretty high to me. That's almost 40 million American residents. For a country that doesn't make it easy to come and live here if you aren't born here. It seems possible, but seemed very high given the obstacles. Witness Australia or Canada's much higher percentages, countries with somewhat more sensible and lessened obstacles.

The net effect of this kind of research is that politicians and people covering or writing for politicians probably cannot go broke if they keep betting against the American public being well educated and informed on a given subject. And they all know this. The question mark is who these people are and whether they vote. Many of the ill-informed do not. But on questions like these, there are fewer and fewer people who are not ill-informed, indeed, the plebs could be said to express views which are not only wrong, but support ideological holdings and demand policies opposite to those fueled by an informed reality. All getting and encouraging more people to vote does in those circumstances is further deepen the divide between reality and imagination. The crisis isn't participation (again, roughly 2/3s of us are showing up to vote). It's information.

People think there are legions of immigrants, and that they hold some "foreign" and "dangerous" faiths.
People think crime is going up, by leaps and bounds in some cases.
People think the economy isn't growing, or that inflation or unemployment are absurdly high.
People think foreign aid makes up an absurd portion of our government spending (or, worse, that Medicare and Social Security do not).

In some cases they think these things because they are actively misinformed by others. The media runs a lot of crime stories, or covers immigration or the economy a lot, and perhaps on these issues it is to blame for misleading the public. In most cases though the public think these things because that's what they want to think. One of the misinterpretations of a lot of "Faux News viewers are more poorly informed than others" is that the problem is necessarily Faux News. The problem is probably in large part the type of person who wants to consume Faux News as a legitimate news organisation in the first place as their primary source of information. That type of person believes a certain set of things, and doesn't want to hear that their comfortable assumptions about the doom of our time coming from non-existent Muslim immigrants crossing the Rio Grande, having sex with their daughters, and shooting at our schools. The problem with that type of person isn't that someone feeds them their demands. The news have always done this service for the body public.

The problem is how we dissuade them of those demands in the first place.
Post a Comment