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Yes, there is an educational divide over ‘wokeness’

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November 16, 2021 - 10:45am

People who oppose wokeness don’t speak from personal experience of an elite educated culture of repression, but do so for ideological reasons, claims Olga Khazan in a new piece for the Atlantic. Citing new polling data on cancel culture, she finds little difference between the opinions of those with university degrees, who one would expect to have experienced speech policing more, and those without. Instead, variation in opinion on political correctness and cancel culture largely revolves around whether one is a Republican or a Democrat.

There is truth to Khazan’s observation, but it misses the mark because the survey only asks people about their attitudes to cancel culture and identity politics rather than their personal experience of speech repression. It therefore lacks the instruments that would paint an accurate portrait of the reality of cancel culture and self-censorship.

The Atlantic poll found, in common with other surveys, that most Americans agree the country is too politically correct. But around 55% of both college and non-college educated respondents agreed. The share of respondents who say cancel culture is a problem is only slightly higher (51%) among those with degrees compared to those without (45%). From views on defunding the police, to using gender-neutral pronouns to endorsing the use of ‘Latinx’, only a few points separate college graduates from those with a high school diploma.

In many ways this is not surprising. Indeed, scholars of public opinion repeatedly find that people are generally more concerned about society than their own situation because they form their opinions from the media and peers, and are influenced by the ideological lens through which they view the world. In Britain, for instance, Bobby Duffy’s work showed that 70% of people thought immigration was a problem in the country, but only 20% said it was in their local area. Views on immigration and other emotive issues are shaped far more by perceptions of what is going on nationally than personal experience. Hence it is unsurprising that the Atlantic survey finds that 70% those who voted for Trump said ‘cancel culture is a big problem in society,’ compared with 31% of Biden voters.

So does that mean cancel culture is just a Right-wing moral panic? Not quite. Cato and YouGov’s 2020 National Survey of 2,000 adults — twice the sample of the Atlantic survey — showed that 32% of Americans said they personally worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their job if their political opinions became known. Overall, 23% of those without a degree worried compared to 34% of those with one, a statistically significant difference. 62% of Americans also said the ‘political climate these days prevents me from saying what I believe.’ On this question there was no significant difference between those with a college education and those without.

Emily Ekins, who authored the study, was kind enough to share the raw data with me. The numbers show that exposure to higher education really matters for how fearful conservatives are about expressing themselves. There are also important demographic differences. Young people, men and those who live in more ethnically diverse ZIP codes — all indicators of potential exposure to more sensitive speech environments — are significantly more fearful of their views becoming known.

Let’s focus on education level. In figure 1, controlling for age, gender, race and the share of minorities in ZIP code, we can see that among those who voted for Trump, those with higher levels of education are more worried about their career if their views became known. Among Trump voters with at least a Masters degree, 6 in 10 are worried for their careers.

Source: Cato Summer 2020 Survey

And while there isn’t a difference based on education in answers to the question about being free to say what you believe, there is when you break the results down by 2016 vote. As figure 2 shows, the higher a Trump voter’s level of education, the more they feel they have to self-censor. The reverse is true for Democratic and Independent voters, who feel less need to self-censor the more educated they are.

Source: Cato Summer 2020 Survey

Views on cancel culture, defunding the police and using gender-neutral pronouns are generally determined by ideology and partisanship. But when it comes to feeling the chill of cancel culture and self-censorship, characteristics which increase a person’s exposure to a more politically-correct environment — such as being young, male, or inhabiting a highly educated or diverse milieu — really matter.


Eric Kaufmann is Professor at the University of Buckingham, and author of the upcoming Taboo: Why Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press UK, June 6)/The Third Awokening: A 12-Point Plan for Rolling Back Progressive Extremism (Bombardier Books USA, May 14).

epkaufm

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Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Surveys, surveys, surveys. Can we please just agree that announcements of surveys are nothing more than clickbait. Anyone over the age of, say, 12 can conduct a survey that will elicit a desired response.

Sheila Dowling
Sheila Dowling
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

Yes, remember the Yes Prime Minister scene.https://youtu.be/G0ZZJXw4MTA

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

No one should ever have to fear that he might lose his job or damage his career for expressing unfashionable views. If only 1% of the respondents to this survey had experienced anxiety on that score, something has gone seriously wrong. That’s why the stats are largely beside the point.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

What are all these seemingly random statistics supposed to mean? The author has lost the plot. Utter tosh!
There is a Cultural Revolution going on in the US that affects everyone. It has divided the country, and the slicing and dicing of these statistics is not useful: “the data shows that left-handed bi-racial men with at least a master’s degree who use gender neutral pronouns and voted for Trump believe that cancel culture is a problem in their neighborhood, but not overall.” How is that useful?
Of course there is self-censorship–even here. I was explaining in another post how it is not useful to try to reason with the woke, because it is like a religion and used the example that I’ve spent years trying go convince born-again Christians that Jesus doesn’t love them and isn’t coming back, years trying to persuade the Hasidim to have a shave and a pork roll, years trying to persuade observant Muslims….. Well, let’s not go there. Self censorship alert! But as Jimmy Carr has said “I’m not stupid!”
Wokeness, cancel culture, political correctness has divided America, and half of America hates the other half, in large part because of these divisions. This will lead to civil war.
“Talk and listen” no longer works, especially when one side is essentially prohibited from talking.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I rather despair. They are not ‘random statistics’ but ones pertinent to making a case. Facts and analysis are not useful?! Here is an prime example of everything anyone would ever need to know about the lazy slide into confirmation bias as the predominant, in fact often pretty much the ONLY way of ‘thinking’ by an increasing number of supposedly well-informed people. Saying something is ‘utter tosh’ is the last refuge of someone who cannot be bothered to understand (or even make) an argument but prefers to grandstand and preach to the converted. Yes, well, I like the feeling as well, and I’m sure I engage in it, but do try not to. It is utterly futile, and ends up making sensible positions opposed to the identitarian Left seem extreme themselves.
It seems to me that an unfortunate proportion of UnHerd commentators aren’t interested in open-minded discussions, but prefer to within a few words damn anyone who doesn’t immediately sign up to every detail of their own shibboleths without argument, examination or explanation. The self-deception is almost hilarious – no, it is only the OTHER side who are close-minded!
And this is an attack on someone who seems to be broadly on ‘your’ side!
As for the black-and-white categorisation of everything, ‘woke’ versus ‘anti-woke’ – no, half of America doesn’t ‘hate’ the other half, you are talking about very noisy and completely unrepresentative extremes. The political system, mainstream and social media act to exacerbate those extremes, in now well-understood ways. They are important, they are not everything. And from when did conservatives start to sign up to the notion of the all-importance of political thinking over everything else? I am pretty sure that the undoubted divisions in the US will NOT lead to civil war – my opinion is no more valid that yours – but we will see.
Politically this is utterly naĂŻve because apart from anything else there is all to play for the huge number of people who think identity politics are basically benign and who sign up to its mantras on this basis. You are right that Judith Butler and the priests of critical theory aren’t going to be converted against positions they have invested so heavily in, but they are a tiny number.
Critical thinking (not theory! – entirely different) and reason ought to be our allies. I’d suggest Stephen Pinker’s ‘Rationality’.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I quite agree with you on this. However, both sides are being given a different set of facts about a given topic on a daily basis, depending on their source.
It’s almost as if while on a field trip to the zoo, half the children are told that the animal in the center cage is a giraffe and the other half are told it is a rhinoceros. Then the are brought together to discuss the animal they saw.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

This is an astute observation, and a reason why it is important that we don’t all become comfortable in our bubbles. We, who just know it is a giraffe, need to know why others think it is a rhinoceros. Of course, it may come as a suprise to when we find out, after investigations, that it is in fact an aardvark.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

That is the root of the problem. When I plainly see a giraffe and you plainly see a rhino, it doesn’t matter if it turns out to be an aardvark. You think I’m just crazy and I obviously think you are mad.
This is how you keep a population perfectly divided and in constant flux while the elites rob us and our progeny blind.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Great post. I joined UnHerd in January and might not renew. It is supposed to be a site of open discussion but it clearly isn’t that. It is just the opposite extreme of what is happening in the world today. It can be entertaining because there are some funny contributions.

I lose sight of the number of posts which begin angrily, ‘It’s the Left….’ without offering any real ideas. We need new thoughts, not re-definition of old ideas.

Statistics are important to every argument. During my degree I had a major module in Statistics and I know how powerful they can be if used properly. In most cases, the sample is too small, as with those quoted above. Then there is the issue of the questions – what are they and who chooses them.

I am totally bemused by the US approach of trying to separate the ideas of Democrats and Republicans. If Democrats believe A and Republicans believe B and you ask people about questions relating to A and B, then it is highly likely that Republican voters will follow broadly the ideas of the Republican party. So what?

stephen archer
stephen archer
2 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

In terms of open discussion, you may be right to an extent but in comparison with other medias’ comments threads the discussion is in general a lot more serious and responsible. Like Sanford A said recently, if everyone had the same opinions the comments wouldn’t be worth reading. As long as the obsessed, activists and uninformed stay away Unherd should be able to continue to be an improvement on a lot of other media, eg. my home country’s newspaper Herald Scotland where the level of comments is that of uneducated and unruly 8 year olds, with insults, bigotry, and bullying. If those posting one-liners could also think twice and develop their standpoint first before posting it would help.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  stephen archer

Here, here. I find the quality of comments on Unherd superb. Indeed, many comments are more readable, informative and entertaining than the article that spawned them. I also live that people can disagree eithout being disagreeable, a quality rarely seen in social media threads.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Hmmm
.I was pretty shocked at some of the QAnon style medical conspiracy stuff in comments on a Covid vaccinations article on Unherd. I don’t really want to be engaging with nutters.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Stewart
James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Fair play. Let’s debate. First, I just don’t like this guy and the way he writes. You can agree, disagree, up to you. He’s an academic, writes like an academic, and it’s not my cup of tea.
Now are these statistics useful? What can be gained from them? Another attempt to divide America. I personally hate these pseudo-surveys, even polls. A sociology professor, quite unethically, sends out a thousand fake resumes to potential employers from Usama bin Laden at 1 Jihadi way and when Usama is not called for an interview, it’s “proof” of racism. Can we return to reality for a moment–a concept most academics are unfamiliar with? Another example, my elderly mother was meeting with her doctor who looked at his laptop, not my mother, and, based on the data on his laptop, ordered an active stress test. My mother responded Why? The doctor responded: OK, you’re right. No test. Explanation: a stress test was called for when someone presents with these numbers–the stress test could indicate a heart transplant is needed. But not for an 80 something lady. Just because you have data does not mean it’s useful!
I simply disagree with you that half of America doesn’t hate the other half. I haven’t conducted a survey–don’t need to–but this is what I believe. Agree, disagree, fair play. Don’t give up.
Yesterday a lady, Katherine Eyre if memory serves, celebrated Austria locking down the un-vaxxed. Many, including me, strongly disagreed. But she hung in there, kept posting, kept defending her position. Good for her! That’s what UnHerd is supposed to be for!

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

We all have an opinion about wokeism, what it is what it might be as well as cancel culture and self censorship. They might be anecdote, impression, mispprehension, about form, prevailence, location and valence they could be valuable insights. For most people that just amounts to pub talk, a vague bunch of facts and value judgements and a dollop of common sense. And that’s all very well until the wokeists call that out as BS, unfounded, biased, just a big ball of ill- motivated prejudice. And you find that specifics and data are less than available to explain what may well seem to many a valid critique. In the American idiom many of us prefer not to take only a knife to a gunfight.
What academics like Eric Kaufmann provide are answers to the questons of the six good serving men.

Last edited 2 years ago by Samuel Gee
Stuart Rose
Stuart Rose
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Actually, JJ, I’m only going to respond here, quibble, that is, with one thing you said.
you say the author writes like an academic. Well, he does but hardly in the way(s) we think of academics writing nowadays. In other words, he serves up copious stats, makes reference to all kinds of subgroups, but his writing is clear and cogent— even if it’s hardly the kind of subject— demographics of political opinions—one would want to read at length about each day.
Academics nowadays tend to be obscure, long-winded, pretentious, unable to communicate to a non-academic audience. That’s hardly the sin of Eric Kauffman here.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Very true. I disagreed with Katherine too, but respected her eloquence, persistence and patience. Without people like Katherine, who are willing to share an opposing view, Unherd would be far too dull and pedestrian.

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
2 years ago

Two quotes from the first paragraph of the article, which sum up the analysis that followed: “People who oppose wokeness don’t speak from personal experience of an elite educated culture of repression
” and “
 little difference between the opinions of those with university degrees, who one would expect to have experienced speech policing more, and those without.”
The problem with the statistics is that the whole minefield is shifting. A few years ago, when we first started hearing of wokeness and the cancel culture, it was affecting academia and encroaching into public and third sector organisations. Now it is firmly established in private sector organisations, certainly all of those that provide professional services or work on Government contacts (this from personal experience). It has extended down to smaller private sector companies who might work as subbies to the larger companies, and then down to their suppliers. It is coming close to taking hold of the entire sphere of employment.
The piece in The Atlantic that says that there is “little difference between the opinions of those with university degrees, who one would expect to have experienced speech policing more, and those without” is surely becoming out of date as wokeness, cancel culture and speech policing is progressing throughout all employment sectors. The stats quoted in the article are from ‘summer 2020’ – I would suggest they are already out of date by autumn 2021 (although I realise the stats are based on US surveys, so may be ahead of the curve on what is happening in the UK).
And if there is “little difference between the opinions of those with university degrees 
 and those without” in summer 2020, then what is going to happen (or is happening, or has happened) as more of those people without university degrees start to feel the yolk of oppression as wokeness and cancel culture percolates down to every employment sector? The logical conclusion (to me) is that those “without university degrees” will become more and more opposed to wokeness. I have noticed this myself in my working class community. A pushback is coming – if I were a betting man, I would place a bet on a Republican (Trump?) as the next POTUS.

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago

Let’s Go, Brandon!

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Well, of course, highly educated people who voted for Trump believe they have to self-censor more. They think they need to censor a) that they voted for Trump and b) why. If you select for people who have — or think they have — more to self-censor, you will find them reporting more self-censorship. Next up, data that demonstrates that people buy more ice cream when the weather is hot.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
2 years ago

What ever happened to just ‘learning’? When majorities of students are not to grade level in math or reading THAT’s a problem. Social engineering is like playing with belly button fuzz. It’s time to get serious about educating young people and enough about the belly button fuzz.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

This analysis revolves around the binary (Dem/Rep) element of voting intention in the USA. This political tribalism may be applicable in the USA (god help them), but no longer in the U.K., thankfully.
The political tribal boundaries in the U.K. have largely disappeared – people apply their votes based on whims and the news on Facebook. But we have a very large proportion of sensible grown ups who use their common sense to keep us roughly on the right track – which is why the Tories were elected after all the Remainer shenanigans to stop Brexit.
Though I wish the course corrections on that track were a bit more prompt – stopping Stonewall for example.