by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
That’s the conclusion of an eye-opening post by Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy:
The fracas over Don Lemon of CNN laughing at his panel’s insults about the intelligence of Trump supporters raises a larger issue: the ignorant belief that Trump supporters are much dumber than the general public and much dumber than those who supported Clinton in 2016. Don Lemon and his guests specifically ridiculed Trump supporters for supposed problems with “readin'” and “geography” (e.g., picking out Ukraine on a map).
Lindgren then goes on to refute Lemon’s ignorant belief with great specificity:
INTELLIGENCE OF TRUMP SUPPORTERS
We don’t have great data on the intelligence of Trump supporters, but the best available is in the 2018 General Social Survey. …
In 1974, the GSS adopted a 10-question vocabulary test (WORDSUM) … “verbal ability” test.
In the 2018 GSS, respondents were asked for whom they voted in 2016 (PRES16) or for whom they would have voted if they had voted (IF16WHO): Clinton, Trump, someone else, or no one.
On the verbal ability test (WORDSUM), not surprisingly the median number of vocabulary questions correct was the same for both Clinton and Trump supporters: 6 out of 10 words correct. The mean verbal ability score for Trump supporters was 6.15 words correct, while the mean verbal ability score for Clinton supporters was 5.69 correct, a difference of nearly a half a question on a 10-question test. This moderate difference is statistically significant at p<.0005.
Further, Trump supporters score significantly higher on verbal ability (6.15 correct) than the rest of the public combined (5.70 correct), whereas Clinton supporters score significantly lower on verbal ability (5.69 correct) than the rest of the public combined (5.98 correct).
This should not be too surprising. On the 22 General Social Surveys using the verbal ability scale since 1974, for every single one, conservative Republicans score significantly higher than the rest of the public combined. As for Republicans overall, they score significantly higher in verbal ability than Democrats in all five decades, including for the 2010s combined. …
TRUMP SUPPORTERS’ KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE
These results on verbal ability are also consistent with the results of most (but not all) of the National Science Foundation’s science knowledge questions on the GSS.
Testing the hypothesis that Trump supporters have greater science knowledge than those who supported Clinton in 2016, on six questions Trump supporters offer the correct answer significantly more often than Clinton supporters: those about lasers, radioactivity, viruses, the father’s contribution to the biological sex of the child (BOYORGRL), whether “according to astronomers” the universe began with a huge explosion (BIGBANG1), and that the earth goes around the sun and that it takes a year to do so (combined EARTHSUN and SOLARREV). …
Overall, on most science knowledge questions Trump supporters score significantly higher than Clinton supporters and significantly higher than the combined non-Trump supporting public. …
As for reading maps and picking out countries, which the CNN segment raised, I searched quickly and found two Pew surveys from 2013 that asked respondents to pick out Egypt or Syria on a map of the Middle East. Testing the hypothesis that Republicans were significantly better at finding an unlabeled country on a map than Democrats, one 2013 Pew study supported that hypothesis (Republicans were indeed significantly more likely to pick out Syria on a map), while the other 2013 Pew study reported that Democrats were insignificantly better at picking out Egypt on a map.
Thus, neither of these two studies supports the CNN’s panel’s ridicule of right-wing map reading, and there is some weak evidence pointing in the other direction. Of course, this was a test of Republicans, not Trump supporters, but Trump supporters did better on the 2018 GSS verbal ability test and on 2018 science knowledge questions, so there is no strong reason to suppose that the results would be radically different if one were to test Trump supporters today rather than Republicans in 2013. …
IGNORANCE LEADS TO BIGOTRY
Don Lemon laughed uncontrollably at his guests insulting the intelligence and knowledge of Trump supporters. The best evidence we have suggests that, compared to the general public, Trump supporters score significantly better than the rest of the public—and Clinton supporters score significantly worse—on a standard verbal ability test. Likewise, Trump supporters score significantly better on most science knowledge questions than Clinton supporters or the general public. …
In short, Don Lemon is a bigot—and like most bigots, he’s an ignorant one as well.
And, if by you by any chance suspect that Lindgren himself may be bigotted, or at least biased towards Trump and his supporters, this note, which appears at the end of the post, suggests that he is not:
[Disclosure: The author made a small donation to the Hillary Clinton campaign in the fall of 2016.]