Why don’t redistributionists like big band music?

Gabriel Rossman writes to me:

A few days ago there was a discussion on this blog about the book Conservatize Me and more broadly, about taste and politics.  Many of the questions can be answered systematically since in 1993 the General Social Survey included a list of questions about musical taste.  The simplest question to ask is how different types of music correlate with ideology (polviews).  Generally speaking, the stereotypes hold up.  Country is correlated with the right whereas classical, rap, rock music, and heavy metal are all correlated with the left.  Opinions about folk music aren’t correlated with politics.  Note though that even the strongest correlations are relatively weak (r<0.20) so there are plenty of liberals out there listening to country and no shortage of conservative rap fans.

Another way to look at it is to break politics into two dimensions.  Let’s treat whether the government should reduce income differences (eqwith) as a measure of economic attitudes.  Folk, classical, and big band music are very unpopular with redistributionists.  (I guess nobody dreamt about Joe Hill the night before the survey).  Rap, metal, and blues are popular with redistributionists.  Country, rock, and bluegrass aren’t correlated with fiscal attitudes.  For social attitudes, let’s use opinion of sex before marriage (premarsx).  Folk, country, classical, bluegrass, and big band fans tend to disapprove of fornication, whereas rap, rock, metal, and blues fans think it’s fine.  (If you substitute gay sex for premarital sex the pattern is the same, except for rap fans who tend to oppose it).  I experimented with looking for distinctively "libertarian" taste patterns but couldn’t find any.

This is all back of the envelope stuff.  A more sophisticated analysis would use factor analysis on dozens of attitudinal questions and find corresponding patterns in them.

You can find the 1993 GSS at Princeton’s Cultural Policy and Arts National Data Archive.  http://www.cpanda.org/codebookDB/sdalite.jsp?id=a00006.  There’s a self-explanatory web engine that allows you to compare any two variables.  (Want to know how many opera fans have been in fist fights?  Or how people who have paid for sex feel about nuclear power? Now is your chance.)  More advanced users can download the full dataset in SPSS, ASCII, or CSV and do whatever they want with it.

Gabriel Rossman is very smart.  Here is his home page.  Here is a summary of his dissertation.  Here is an abstract of his paper on the Dixie Chicks and where they received less play time.  Here is his paper on "Who Picks the Hits on Radio"? 

Addendum: Here is Benny Goodman on YouTube.  Here is Stan Kenton.  Here is Count Basie.  I could give you more.


Wait a second: Folk music is unpopular with redistributionists?!? It's my understanding that in the '50s and '60s affinity to folk was only slightly more accurate predictor of whether you were a Communist than the actual hammer-and-sickle insignia engraved on your silverware.

It's interesting that rap and blues are popular among fornicating redistributionists: you can find explicit messages to that effect in those genres.

And it's interesting that all the beat-heavy genres-rap, rock, blues, metal-are popular among the pre-marital sex crowd. The much maligned Allan Bloom was right after all.

Of course I had to check out opera fans and fist fights. The results, indeed, were somewhat surprising. 32.0% of opera fans have been in fist fights, compared to 36.8% of non-fans. Less of a difference that I would have expected. Next, I looked at country music fans, who seem like the sort who might enjoy throwing a punch now and then. Indeed, 43.7% of the most devout country fans have been in punch-ups, which I guess supports the stereotype of the hard-drinkin', hard-brawlin' good old boy. Yet, to my surprise, among people who say they "like" country music, in other words moderate but not super-devout fans, only 30.1% have been in fist fights, making them even more peaceful than supposedly effete opera fans. Who would've guessed?

Incidentally, while rap music has a violent image only 40.0% of its most devout fans have been in fist fights, lower than the 43.7% for hardcore country fans.


"classical, rap, rock music, and heavy metal are all correlated with the left."

and then

"Folk, classical, and big band music are very unpopular with redistributionists."


"Folk, country, classical, bluegrass, and big band fans tend to disapprove of fornication"

Okay . . . so classical fans (e.g. like myself), tend not to support redistribution. And tend to disapprove of fornication (using that as a proxy for social attitudes). And yet, a taste for classical music is correlated with the Left? Is there some segment of the Left I've just never met, who oppose redistribution and fornication?

I'm happy to turn over the GSS analysis to Professor Rossman, who does this stuff for a living. But as I mentioned in the previous thread, you do have to be a little careful with survey measures of this sort. The hipster in Manhattan's East Village who responded that he likes "country" a lot probably doesn't listen to much of same music as the guy in rural Wyoming who responded that he likes "country" a lot. To get at the difference in the context of a phone survey, you would have to have them do something like rank Johnny Cash albums in order of preference. The hipsters, of course, would probably go for the prison one...unless, of course, they were super-hip, in which case you'd need something more subtle. But that doesn't change the fact that you would be dealing with fairly distinct taste patterns, and more importantly, taste/politics relations. In my view, this is one reason the raw correlations in the GSS tend to be moderately strong, at best.

I'd be VERY interested to see a corrolary study done with what makes of cars are most strongly corrolated with the political and economic compass.

"I'd be VERY interested to see a corrolary study done with what makes of cars are most strongly corrolated with the political and economic compass."

My strictly non-statistically-proven guesses:
Liberal cars - Volvo, Volkwagen, Saab, Subaru
Conservative cars - pickup trucks, US-built sedans

on cars, the NY Times has a great infographic attached to this article:

Porsches and Jags are the most Republican cars and Volvos and Subarus the most Democratic. Unfortunately it doesn't break out specific models but I can attest that the Prius is at least three times more common in my neighborhood (West Hollywood adjacent) than by my in-laws (Oceanside, near Camp Pendelton).

I'll address some of the other points tonight.

Redistributionists should love big band and classical music...these genres provides jobs for so many more musicians. I guess it makes more sense for them to dislike folk, which only requires one guy with a guitar.

Probably the most interesting issue is whether these are just spurious effects of basic demographics, particularly age and race which are very strong determinants of musical taste and not too shabby at predicting attitudes. I ran some regressions of eqwlth and premarsx on taste for various genres controlling for age, years of education, and race.
In general, once you throw in the controls, there are no associations between taste and attitudes toward redistribution. (The exception is big band which remains associated with opposition to redistribution).
However, the association between taste and premarital sex attitudes remains huge. Country, folk, and classical fans are still prudes and rap, rock, and metal fans are still libertines. Bluegrass and big band have no net association with premarsx.

On Tyler's intro:
I guess I know who to recommend for an outside letter when I come up for tenure review.

I agree completely. One of the tricks with this data is that "country" can mean different artists or even different ways of listening to the same artist and so the GSS is missing a fair amount of nuance.

Yikes, I screwed up on classical. Looking at the zero-order correlations again, classical is correlated with opposition to redistribution (r=-.12) but not with attitudes on sex (r=.03) or ideology in general (r<.01). Sorry about that. Of course as described above when you control for demographics, classical is associated with premarsx but not eqwlth. Go figure. Jon O: There are no 2006 numbers available yet, but for the last fifteen years about 25-30% of Americans have thought that premarital sex is "always wrong" and about 40-45% that it's "not wrong at all" with the rest having intermediate answers (presumably they think only after the third date or something like that).

Do they have some kind of special Subarus in the US? In the rest of the world Subarus are 300hp, 0-60 in 5 sec boy racer specials with yellow wheels and big wings. I don't think they are particularly popular with lesbian treehuggers, but round here the windows are usually blacked out so I could be wrong.

Yes, it's the STI model. Most Subarus, however, have a distinctly less masculine image.

Subarus are the most popular sedans among people living in the California mountains, because the 4wd means they only have to have snow tires, not chains, when there's snow on the ground.

Of course, "most popular sedan in the mountains" is like "most popular country artist in East Oakland".

Comments for this post are closed