Monthly Archives: August 2010

Random Sampler


Gallup came out with an report today with data showing that Muslims give Obama the highest job approval rating in the country and Mormons give the president the lowest. CNN picked it up and reported it on their website. Sigh… where to begin…

First, the headline is misleading. It’s implying that of all social groups in the country, Muslims and Mormons are on polar opposite ends of the president’s job approval rating continuum. This report, however, is looking exclusively at religious denominations. A more accurate headline might have read something like “Muslims Give Obama Highest Job Approval of All Religious Groups; Mormons, Lowest.” In fairness, CNN explained as much in the first paragraph of the article, but that does little to help clarify things for those who don’t read past the headline.

Second, religious affilitation is not the most significant predictor of presidential approval in this country. It’s political partisanship. Democrats love Democratic presidents and Republicans love Republican presidents. In any statistical analysis that compares partisanship to religious affiliation, partisanship wins and religious affiliation becomes largely irrelevant. A recent Pew study shows that 63% of American Muslims consider themselves Democrats while only 22% of Mormons consider themselves Democrats. These figures just happen to be on polar opposite ends of the partisan continuum for religious groups. All this is saying is that lots of American Muslims are Democrats and lots of Mormons are Republicans. Big surprise.

Third, most research in religion and politics throughout the last twenty years has shown that political denominational affiliation has grown to become a very weak predictor of political attitudes. Rather, orthodoxy of religious beliefs is the most powerful religious predictor of political partisanship, and consequently, presidential job approval ratings.

Fourth, the Gallup poll paints “Protestants” with a very wide brush, including Evangelicals, Mainliners, Black Protestants, and even “Other Christian” all in the category. This is not very helpful, politically-speaking, because each one of these groups has very different social make-ups and political attitudes.

Bottom line? I read the headline and the story on CNN and find myself asking… so what? It doesn’t help me understand very much about the relationship of religion and approving of President Obama’s job approval rating. Furthermore, it only adds more fodder to the “Obama is a Muslim” misinformation compaign being conducted in this country (“Oh look! Muslims love Obama, so he must be one!”)

Again, about the only substantive conclusion that we can really draw from this poll report is that Democrats (some of which happen to be Muslims) approve of Obama and Republicans (some of which happen to not be Mormons) don’t. And as I said before… big surprise.

The effect of cable news on political knowledge

I don’t endorse the political slant of this article, but I DO endorse the argument that the average level of objective political knowledge of the American public is unimpressive, to say the least. And I DO agree that cable media is at least partially responsible. I devote an entire unit to this very subject in my Parties and Voting Behavior class at Centre.

To further the point, in this article from The Monkey Cage, political scientists John Sides analyzes Pew data which supports (but does not conclusively prove) the argument that cable media is responsible for a lot of the political misinformation in the American public. For example, it’s primarily better-educated Republicans who have shown an increase in the likelihood of saying that Pres. Obama is a Muslim. This may be (emphasis: “may”) because they’re the ones more likely to be viewing cable news programming. The same increase isn’t shown to exist among less-educated Republicans (who are less likely to consume the same levels of cable news programming).

Centre College student statistics

The following information was given to the faculty at the Opening Faculty/Staff Conference on Tuesday:

  • There will be about 1235 full-time students attending Centre College this coming academic year – the largest size ever.
  • Of those, about 45% will be involved in at least one athletic program.
  • There are 41 U.S. states represented in the student body, as well as a few from China, Japan, and a few other foreign countries.

And concerning the incoming freshman class of 2014:

  • Average ACT score: 28.5
  • 47% are not from Kentucky
  • 14% are racial/ethnic minorities
  • 60% are from the top-10% of their high school graduating classes

Quote of the day

“… and I think the more educated I become, the more I know I don’t know, and the more I’m able to see that [other person’s opinion] as a valuable point of view, actually, and that I can get more from life saying, ‘I’m not sure, let me find out.’” – Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning, by Janet Eyler & Dwight E. Giles, 1999

In my own experience I have found this to be very true. I started graduate school thinking that I knew a lot about government and politics. Now, four years later, I am the first to admit that there is MUCH more I don’t know about how the political world works than what I do know. And even that which I think I know I am much more likely to question and submit to critical evaluation. This is why I would make a very, very bad politician. If someone were to ask me where I stood on a particular issue, I would probably say something like: “Well, I have a preference for one side, but I can certainly see its weaknesses. I also can appreciate a lot of the arguments for the opposing side. So to answer your question… I’m not 100% sure. Let me think on that a little while.” I’d be elected for sure!

In a recent pedagogy workshop that I attended at Centre College, it was argued that the objective of a good education is to help students develop reflective judgment and critical thinking skills. In essence, students should learn how to make the following progression:

  1. “It’s true because I believe it’s true.” –>
  2. “I think it’s true because . . .” –>
  3. “From what I have learned, the best answer seems to be . . .”

Follow-up on “Aqua Buddha”

As a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on the “Aqua Buddha” issue… a Reuter’s survey released today shows that 53% of likely Kentucky voters had not even heard of the matter. And that’s among likely voters, i.e. the state’s more “politically sophisticated” voters. An interesting follow-up to those 47% who had heard of the story might have been, “how much of an impact will the ‘Aqua Buddha’ matter have on your choice for the U.S. Senate election this November?” My guess would be that most would say “not very much” (see original post below).

“Aqua Buddha”: Will it matter?

The big news last week in the Kentucky Senate campaign was about this:

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul denied on Tuesday trying to kidnap a woman and force her to use illegal drugs while attending Baylor University in the early 1980s. The denial came a day after GQ published on its Web site an anonymous woman’s allegation that Paul and a classmate blindfolded and tied her up, took her to their apartment, tried to force her to use marijuana and made her bow down to a god known as “Aqua Buddha.” ( More is available here:

The woman has since indicated that she was not kidnapped, but that the incident was more of a “hazing.”

Questions about Rand Paul’s antics during his college days aside, I’m more interested in what effect it might have on his senatorial campaign and his chances of getting elected in this fall. Essentially, when Kentucky voters go to the polls in November, are they going to care about the “Aqua Buddha” incident when choosing their next U.S. Senator?

Political psychologists have examined two primary ways that voters make their voting decisions: online and memory-based. The memory-based model says that a voter goes into the voting booth and 1) recalls everything that he/she can from the campaign about both candidates, 2) assigns a “positive” or “negative” value to each of these memories, 3) adds all these values up, and 4) sees which candidate has the more positive “score” and then votes for that candidate. The online model, on the other hand, says that voters carry a “running tally” in their heads throughout a campaign, which is a general “positive/negative” attitude toward the candidate. Whenever they see something in the news or learn something about a candidate, they update the running tally to be more positive or more negative, based on how they felt about the new piece of information that they were exposed to. Then when they go into the voting booth, they don’t think of all the events in the campaign, but rather simply recall the tally and see if it’s more positive or negative. If positive, they vote for the person, if not, they vote against.

Most research has provided evidence in favor of the online model. This is because most voters have a very difficult time remembering specific events in a political campaign. In fact, one research study found that by the time voters go into the voting booth, they’ve forgotten the details of just about the entire campaign! But voters do remember whether or not they developed a more positive or negative attitude toward a particular candidate, even if they can’t remember the exact campaign events that led to that impression.

Based on this research, I would argue that the “Aqua Buddha incident” will likely have little effect on the ultimate outcome of this senatorial race. Those who are already likely to vote for Paul will probably dismiss the incident, and if anything will update their running tallies to be more positive in response to what they perceive as a typical liberal bias in the mainstream media. Those likely to vote for Conway will simply strengthen their already-negative running tally of Rand Paul, judging the event to be just another example of his extremism and unfitness for political office. For those in the middle, it might move the needle a little ways in the negative direction, but likely not by much in the bigger scheme of all the events in the campaign, especially compared to other issues that are important to Kentucky voters like coal mine regulations, poverty, and Eastern Kentucky’s drug problem.