Threats and the Tea Party

Threats & the Tea Party:

What I find very interesting about this poll is not the top-line finding, which tells us that the Tea Party is much more concerned than other Americans about the massive debt and the size of the Federal Government. I'm not even interested in what Hot Air notes -- that there is minimal difference in Tea Party supporters' and opponents' opinion on racial matters.

What interests me is the subject of percentages that view a given issue as an "extremely serious threat" to the future of the country. It's worth noting that only 49% -- under half! -- of Tea Party supporters view the size and scope of the Federal Government as an "extremely" serious threat.

What I find more interesting, though, is that there is no issue -- no issue -- that a majority of non-supporters find to be such a threat. Only 44% of those who are neutral feel that the government's debt is a such a threat, and that is the very largest level reported among non-Tea-Party-supporters. Among Tea Party opponents, no issue approaches a majority; only "health care costs" even achieves a third (33%). The Tea Party supporter is even more concerned about that issue! 41% feel that is an extremely serious threat.

Confer all of that with this set of papers on genetics and political leanings. The upshot of these studies is that conservatives are far better at recognizing threats in the environment -- but are also more likely to produce false positives of threats. Liberals are much less likely to correctly recognize that there is a genuine danger, but also much less likely to falsely perceive a threat.

That seems odd in the wake of eight years of hearing about how BushCo was about to overthrow the nation; but it does line up with these polling results. (A further refinement: looking at the table comparing "Tea Party supporters" and "Republicans," we see that Republicans are also much less worried about things -- and therefore, much less conservative on this model.) Tea Party supporters are more deeply concerned than liberals about even the issues that concern liberals. There are only three issues where the numbers flip, and Tea Party opponents are more concerned: the size of corporations (just under a third for opponents, with about half as many supporters being concerned); the environment and global warming (opponents: 30%/ supporters: 13%); and racial issues (17%/13%).

Yet even here, the liberal concerns are not great. On the three issues of greatest concern to Tea Party opponents, only one of them achieves a bare third of respondents. Two-thirds of respondents in the "opponents" category see no extremely serious threats to America at all. Over half of neutrals see no extremely serious threats to America at all.

One is tempted, at this point, to post a whole bunch of graphs that illustrate the deadly dangers to the nation; but the point is, if the conjecture is right, doing so wouldn't matter. People are predisposed to worry about these things or not. If they aren't, they won't worry no matter how ugly the graphs are. If they are, the graphs could be rather less ugly than they actually are, and would still produce concern.

This may illuminate the "incompetence or malice" debate, which is ongoing. Part of the competence issue could be the ability to recognize the harm being done. Another potential anti-malice line of argument: they really just can't see how dangerous their actions are, how badly they're harming the nation and undermining its foundations; or yet another, that at least some of the "malice" readings are false positives.

No comments: