Wall Street Journal: Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
It’s hard to do any serious research into the differences between liberals and conservatives (and other political types) because everyone has such a vested interest in trying to game the answers to make their side look better. Still, people keep trying, and every now and then an article catches my eye because it either sheds new light on the differences or directly addresses a longstanding preconception.
This is one of those articles.
When it comes to understanding economics, there’s a huge gulf between libertarians/conservatives and liberals/progressives:
Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: “Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.
Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.
In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.
It’s worth noting that Daniel Klein uses a slightly modified way of “grading” the answers:
Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.
Instead of measuring “Who gets it?” we’re measuring “Who’s completely clueless?” This is probably a better measurement when polling the general public because most likely very few people get it, and so looking only for the right answers would obfuscate important differences. It’s also easier to identify answers that are flat-out wrong than answers that are arguably right because the questions can’t be phrased technically enough to have objectively true/false answers and still be comprehensible to the general public.