23 August 2007

Book-Reading Liberals & Mouth-Breathing Moderates?

Liberals read more than conservatives, according to a widely reported poll (look here at Houston Chronicle article, for example.)

According to the poll, nearly 30% of Americans had not read a book in the past year. Conservatives are 50% more likely to say that they have NOT read a book in the past year (22% of liberals vs. 34% of conservatives). Books read most frequently? The Bible and romance books. (Even readers are simply looking for love, it seems.)

Of those who have read a book in the last year, the difference between conservatives and liberals was smaller. Liberals have typically read about 9 and conservatives about 8. Most interesting, moderates have read only 5.

Is this, as Res publica says, indication that moderates are mouth breathers who haven't evolved into conservatives or liberals simply because they haven't thought through their positions enough to have actually formed an opinion? Is it true that moderates don't read, don't think, and don't take positions?

I might be inclined to accept this if I didn't think of myself as a moderate. Yet moderate is a funny label. To Europeans I would probably seem like a moderate. To my fellow Americans I'm sure I'd be considered a liberal. Rush Limbaugh would think I am a communist (but to be fair, I think he's a fascist). I read about 2 to 5 books a month, depending on the weather, time spent on airplanes, and whether it's a month with 28 days or 31. I can't remember when I last read a romance book, but I do frequently read the Bible.

This might, in part, reveal just how hard it is to group individuals into categories. One of my favorite authors would have likely taken offense at the very notion of a poll that divided people into liberal or conservative positions, a simplistic dichotomy he blamed on TV.

"Thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative."
- Kurt Vonnegut

The novel was a brilliant invention that helped, in turn, with the invention of the modern individual. It did for the late 19th and early 20th century what realistic art did for the definition of self in the Renaissance. Book reading remains one of the most personal experiences, requiring a kind of participation from the individual not found at Disneyland.

Book readers are more likely to have defined themselves. Sometimes that definition of self accords with the categories offered by the mass media. Yet the most interesting people I know defy categorization and generalization. They are individuals.

If the people who designed this poll had read more books, they might have had a sense of this. Must have been a bunch of mouth-breathing moderates to have so summarily dismissed the individuality of people they are so eager to force into pre-defined categories.


Dave said...

You are good.

Res Publica said...

My post was pretty slap-dash, so I should clarify that I don't believe there's no such thing as intelligent political centrism (though I'm a little unclear what "centrist" means in the American context at this point). I do think, however, that a lot of people who get captured as "centrists" or "moderates" in media polling are really borderline-apolitical and/or ill-informed. Large numbers of swing-voters swing precisely because they're easily swayed. That was really all I meant...I certainly didn't intend any offense. I hope none was taken!

Ron Davison said...


No need to worry about hurting my feelings. I found your comment about moderates to be intriguing.

What does it mean to be centrist? For me, it means, among other things, letting business do its thing but taxing it enough to provide a safety net that really does save people.