The Democrats Are Doomed, or How A 'Big Tent' Can Be Too Big
Time and again in American politics, Republicans have voted as a unit to frustrate our disorganized Democratic majority. No matter what's on the table, a few Democrats will peel away from the party core; meanwhile, all Republicans will somehow manage to stay on-message.
Thus, they caucus block us.
Articles noting this phenomenon anecdotally appear all the time, and despite the recent hopeful spate of Democratic victories, it's undeniable that the Republicans form an exceptionally effective opposition party. Today, we're going to perform a data-driven investigation of why this might be—and discover some fascinating things about the American electorate along the way. Our data set for this post is 172,853 people.
A Picture Of Our Political Evolution
I should start off by pointing out that the Left/Right political framework we're usually handed is insufficient for a real discussion, because political identity isn't one-dimensional. For example, many Libertarians have Left-leaning ideas about social policy, and Right-leaning ideas about personal property. Where do they fit on a single ideological line?
There are many methods of looking at the political spectrum, but the best way I've come across is to hold social politics and economic politics separate, and measure a person's views on each in terms of permissiveness vs. restrictiveness on a 2-dimensional plane. Like so:
Now, with the definitions out of the way, we can get to some information. We'll begin with the most basic measurement: people's economic and social values. Because our data set is so comprehensive, we can even measure the change in these values with age.
Either way, the numbers really come alive when we take a more solid intellectual step and plot social and economic beliefs together as an ordered pair. So doing, we can get a picture of how a person's total political outlook relates to his age.
So let's see exactly how those political priorities change with age and do even more with our graph.
Digging deeper into OkCupid's matching database, we find the following new information on people's political priorities:
Here's the part that concerns us:
To wind up this section, I'd like to take one last look at our political plane, with a final set of overlays that I think are most illuminating:
Here's party-to-party comparison in tablet form, for easy digestion:
Unlike in many things, size here is a liability. Yes, a political party that's this wide-open is probably a more intellectually stimulating organization to be a part of, and it has a lot more potential power. But bigger base is also just that many more competing viewpoints Democratic politicians must cater to and that many more different viewpoints in play among the actual elected officials themselves.
Also, well over half of the Democratic party's hull lies outside of its upper-right-hand ideological home, implying that you've got many groups of people who might tend Democratic, but who have disagreements with the party on particular issues and could defect, should the slant of the party or the country tilt the wrong way. On the other hand, the Republicans are concentrated in the lower-left-hand corner. This red cluster has multiple, apparently self-reinforcing, reasons to vote with their party, giving the Republicans both a more fervent power base and a little more ideological wiggle-room along either the social or economic axis.
So when you read about the thousands of Catholic nuns who recently came out in favor of health care reform, it's easy to get excited about being a Democrat. But do you think those same people will side with us on things like gay marriage? Or abortion rights? Hull no!
That's the crux of the problem: Republicans cohere, Democrats don't. After the above mathematical dissection of the political plane, let's take our conclusion in hand and see how it plays with other dating data we have.
Issues, Matching, and Politics
This whole Republican/Democrat situation reminds me (as it surely reminds you) of when Napoleon and his few French divisions dispersed the vast Mamluk horde by the banks of the Nile. Like an army, a political party must be coherent and disciplined to be effective, and these qualities alone can carry the day, even against greater numbers.
Let's look at ideological distributions on a few hot-button issues and see how the Democrats are spread out and exposed. We'll start with views on abortion. This chart shows the opinions of social conservatives and social liberals. Everything is as you'd expect: liberals are pro-choice; conservatives pro-life.
Now let's look at how economic liberals and conservatives view abortion:
Again, the conservatives are strongly pro-life. But the economic liberals have widely distributed views. A solid portion of the Democratic economic base actually sides with Republicans on this issue. It's those nuns again!
While the two conservative curves are nearly congruent, the liberals ones are totally different. The takeaway, the Republican advantage, is this: economic conservatives and social conservatives agree, while the liberal halves of these spectra don't. Furthermore, the purple overlap—in a sense "the swing vote"—is largely on the conservative side!
We see same pattern repeated again and again. Here, for example, is a look at the 'Gay Marriage' issue:
Finally, I want to wrap up this jam with a look at OkCupid's specialty: matching people up. Our final analysis will be to exclude explicitly political questions and see how groups of different ideologies match with themselves; i.e. how compatible they find each other.
Below is a matrix showing person-to-person match percentages for the various points in the political plane:
Anyway, we calculate these numbers by posing a series of questions to our users. Just to give you a sense of what these questions are like, here are the top three most important (by user vote):
1. If you had to name your greatest motivation in life so far, what would it be?
2. Which makes for a better relationship?
3. Are you happy with your life?
I find groupthink frightening. But that fact that Democrats can't get together on some multiple-choice Q & A speaks volumes about why they struggle with the infinite possibilities of government.Filed under: Organizations, Democratic Party
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