Sunday, August 9, 2009

Intelligence and patronizing the arts in red and blue states

Continuing to explore whether the stereotypes about red vs. blue states are as strong as people made them out to be in recent years, or whether factors like social class matter more, let's take a look at going out to a performing arts event. The story was that blue staters breathe the arts, if only to lord their refinement over everyone else, while red staters were more suspicious of the arts -- what with all that my-kid-could-make-that garbage funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

However, a more plausible account is that regional status shouldn't matter so much because what allows a person to enjoy the higher arts is greater brainpower. IQ researcher Linda Gottfredson says that one of the most reliable yet quick ways to tell if someone is smart is to simply ask a few questions to see if they like classical music at all. If so, they're smart.

So which matters more -- regional culture or intelligence? Let's turn to the GSS and find out. This time I restricted the respondents to Whites only, so that race is not a confounding factor when we look at red vs. blue states. The survey asked questions about attendance for various performing arts -- going to an art museum or gallery, a dance performance, a classical music or opera performance, and a non-musical drama. Unfortunately they don't ask these questions every time, so the sample sizes are a bit smaller than for questions about belief in god. Only one group was over 100, but I've kept the groups of people that were at least of size 40. The museum, dance, and classical music questions had IQ data available, but the non-musical drama did not, so I used years of education instead (in two-year bins).

Here are the relationships for both red and blue states (in those colors, respectively):

First, we notice that attendance increases as we move up the intelligence scale, which confirms what most people think. There are apparent differences in exactly how the line increases for red vs. blue states, but because we're dealing with somewhat smaller sample sizes, I wouldn't make too much of it. At the least, there's no consistent difference -- say, if the red - blue gap widened or attenuated as we moved up the intelligence scale.

And in general, the blue line is a bit above the red line, also confirming the stereotype about blue staters being bigger arts aficionados than red staters. Still, as we saw with religious fundamentalist beliefs and hunting and NASCAR preferences, the red - blue gap is miniscule compared to the gap between below-average and above-average IQ people (which ranges from about 25% to 45%, while the red - blue gap is typically 5% to 15%).

So far, we've seen that some measure of social class -- whether income, job prestige, IQ, or education level -- is by far more powerful in causing differences between people than is regional culture. That's true for voting patterns, religious beliefs, going hunting and fishing, watching NASCAR, and now patronizing the arts.

Of course, things don't have to be this way -- it could easily be that the elites would be more like the commoners of their region and very different from the elites of other regions. If red and blue states were literally at war with each other, we might imagine that they would define their identity based on region much more than on class. As things are, though, the different regions of the country cooperate a lot with each other. That only leaves "vertical" or social class distance as the dimension along which most inter-ethnic competition will be waged. Already during the twilight years of the Cold War, Americans didn't care about a potential battle between the USA and the Russkies -- they were more absorbed in the war between white trash and yuppie scum, as they called each other.

Perhaps this is the source of the red state - blue state mythology -- people want to engage in an Us vs. Them ethnic conflict based on "horizontal" distance, not just (or even primarily) based on "vertical" distance. But since there are no more Kaisers, Fuhrers, or Soviets, we had to invent a wide ethnic gulf. Surely we weren't going to pick any old way of splitting up the country, so we chose one with some plausibility -- after all, the data analyses so far do show that there is something to the red - blue stereotypes, even if they're profoundly exaggerated.

The other large source of horizontal ethnic conflict in America is based on allegiance to local sports teams. But this won't do very well because aside from a few teams like the Yankees, there aren't a handful of superpower teams that would provide as much dramatic conflict as the Allied vs. the Axis powers. Plus sports only appeal to a fraction of the population, so it would be hard to whip up everyone into a war mindset. But mention those latte-sipping liberals in blue states, or those low-IQ Biblical literalists in the red states, and suddenly everyone's passions become inflamed.

GSS variables used: race, region, wordsum, educ, visitart, dance, gomusic, drama

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