04 November 2016

Fact Free and GOP - Why Republicans Do So Poorly with College Educated Voters

Much has been made of the fact that a growing population of minorities hurts Republican chances in the future. This, though, is a phenomenon largely contained to a cluster of states. More widespread is the growth in the number of college educated and this threatens the GOP and its future even more.

SurveyMonkey has a fascinating little toy you can play with to see how outcomes change as the country's voting is given over to certain demographics. You can ask questions like, What if just women voted? What if just white people voted? One of the stark contrasts is between the the vote of college-educated and those who haven't been to college.

This is what the election would look like today if only people without college voted.
Trump would get a decisive victory and Clinton would win only a handful of states - places like California, Washington, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts.

Now here is the map of what it would look like if only people with college education voted.

This is a landslide, leaving Trump with just 33 electoral votes. In this scenario he would win only Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alabama. (A few states could go either way.)

The narrative conservatives tell is that universities are temples of liberalism and they indoctrinate your children. There is some truth to this. What nearly every university insists on is adapting theories to facts, and as it turns out, this results in very different conclusions than an approach that adapts facts to theories.

Richard Hofstadter argued that an intellectual is not necessarily any smarter than an apologist for a particular political party, church or corporation. What sets the intellectual apart is a commitment to following the facts to a conclusion that may or may not end up making a political party, church, or corporation look good. An intellectual commits to a process, not an outcome. The wise archbishop has to - in the end - defend the church and explain why it is right in spite of its flaws. The clever political analyst has to do the same with his candidate or her party. The archbishop or political analyst might be smarter than the intellectual by any number of traditional measurements of intelligence but they are less trust-worthy. For a party to remain viable over the long-run, it must make room for intellectuals who discomfit even party elders with facts that force an evolution - sometimes even a paradigm shift - in their worldview. Once you shut out the voices of intellectuals, you commit to stagnation. You don't change in response to facts and arguments but instead choose among facts and arguments to support your cause.

It's difficult to get through a university education without having to change your mind. You believe that your code will run smoothly and it crashes. You can curse at the screen but you'll eventually have to debug your code if you want to pass the class. You believe that the median of this data is 77.2 and the grad student grading your test marks you down because you calculated the mean instead. You think that the founding fathers were all traditional Christians and get marked down because, in fact, a few were clearly theists and possibly even atheists. You are not going to get a university degree without changing your mind in the face of facts.

How has the GOP lost the college educated? It continually jettisons facts that would force its base to change its mind. If the university student cussing at his screen is told to look again at his code to make it work, the GOP supporter cussing at his computer is told that the computer is likely broken. Or intentionally designed to frustrate you. And of course it isn't a computer screen and code they're cussing at but instead a TV screen and the news. It's not fun to debug code, whether in the form of C++ or a worldview. It's painful.

Four things have helped to bring us out of the Dark Ages and into the modern world, all dependent on adapting conclusions to facts; the scientific method, trial by jury, democratic vote, and investigative journalism. It's not enough to have a gut feeling or a conviction; you must have evidence. The scientist, journalist, judge, and pollster are all - by Hofstadter's definition - intellectuals. Again, they may not all be brilliant and they may make mistakes but they do commit to a certain process that leads to an uncertain outcome.

When it comes to scientific method, the GOP has put opinion and research at the same level, choosing to believe their favorite talk show hosts rather than scientists.

Why would they do this when facts and the theory of green house gases so convincingly support climate change?  A critical mass of GOP voters believe that reliance on fossil fuels is inseparable from a market economy so reject climate change because to them these facts are an attack on capitalism. (Missing the point that capitalism itself continually attacks capitalism, digital devouring the market for analog, smart phones devouring the market for landlines, alternate fuels devouring the market for fossil fuels.)

The GOP continues to insist that Clinton is guilty in spite of the FBI director reporting that her handling of classified documents was not criminal. They're not really interested in a judicial or investigative process. They "know" she's guilty in spite of the conclusion of criminal investigations to the contrary. Again, they put their suspicions and actual facts at the same level.

The GOP hates the main stream media, particularly one that reports, as Politicact has, that 78% of what Trump says is untrue. "Don't read those sources," Donald says. "Go to the internet instead." And of course you have to be careful even there because even Snopes' reliance on facts has made them untrustworthy. On the internet conspiracy theories get as much credence as any story based on facts or careful reporting. Most Trump supporters do not believe in any data from government sources; in their minds we're still in the midst of the Great Recession, a tragedy glossed over only by government lies.

Finally, Trump is already disavowing election results, saying that he'll only accept the results if he wins. It would hard to be less subtle about your willingness to jettison any facts that don't support your worldview, a worldview in which climate change is a hoax, the media and elections are rigged, and Clinton should be in jail. It doesn't matter whether there is evidence for any of these claims. Donald - and most of the GOP - knows they're true.

The GOP and its supporting media (e.g., Rush, Fox, Drudge, Brietbart) has decided that it's better to support beliefs with conspiracy theories than to challenge beliefs with facts. They're busy defending old worldviews rather than creating new ones. And in this process they've lost graduates from universities who've been taught that progress lies in the opposite direction, with a reliance on challenging testable hypotheses rather than defending traditional beliefs. And they're now addressing an audience who will be dead rather than running the country's major institution in a quarter of century. This rejection of facts for conspiracies might be the single biggest reason that they're heading towards extinction rather than the White House. Extinction naturally follows from a refusal to adapt and its difficult to adapt to a reality you distort or ignore.

It is not just that economic success has become increasingly reliant on education and suggests that every year there will be a slightly higher portion of the population with college education.  The GOP's dismissal of facts as the starting place for policy ensures that either it will become increasingly dysfunctional or the country it manages to win control over will.

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