It’s always been a point of contention: which party — Republicans or Democrats — is worse when it comes to name-calling, incivility, and political invective?
Well, it just so happens that, recently, a university conducted a study that finally settles the question.
This is of great interest to me, because I’ve frequently been taken to task for saying that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of name-calling.
Almost every time I say so, the response is: “No! Stop trying to say that both parties are the same! They’re not morally equivalent! One of them is way worse than the other!” Which is then followed by an assertion about which party — Democrat or Republican — is worse.
I always rebut this objection by pointing out: “Look, I’m not asserting a false equivalence. I’m not saying that both parties engage in an equal amount of name-calling and vitriol. I’m saying that they both do it, without saying anything about whether they do it the same amount or whether one does it more than the other.”
At which point, I typically get this response: “Well, fine, but it’s obvious that Republicans do it way more than Democrats,” or “Well, fine, but it’s obvious that Democrats do it way more than Republicans.”
To which I then reply: “Really? What was the final tally? Show me the numbers. Show me the accounting of instances of name-calling and political invective that reveals which party does it more.”
Of course, the conversation stops here, because — until now — there never has been such an accounting.
And that’s the real wonder of this recent study: It’s incredibly detailed. It has to be, because it requires an awful lot of rigorous investigation to defend a claim about which party does more name-calling.
People are inclined to be lazy about this sort of thing. When you ask them which party engages in more invective, they’ll offer up a few anecdotes, cite a few instances of each side involved in name-calling, and draw a conclusion based on that.
But, of course, this is hardly adequate: You can’t just say, “Well, I remember two or three occasions on which Bob hit home runs, and four or five when Fred hit home runs. Therefore, Fred is a better home run hitter than Bob.” That’s just not valid reasoning. You need a far more rigorous, comprehensive survey of who hit how many home runs — or who engaged in uncivil rhetoric — before you can justify a conclusion that A does it more than B.
And that’s what the study does. It outlines and applies rigorous standards to the matter of how much name-calling and invective is going on to make sure we’re not fixating on or cherry-picking the examples from the party we don’t like while being blind to the instances from the party we do like.
More specifically, it:
> provides unbiased definitions of what counts as name-calling, caricature, etc., and ranks such acts according to severity;
> applies these standards fairly and equally to both Republicans and Democrats;
> surveys equally representative samples of Republicans and Democrats, not looking at vastly more members of one party than the other;
> surveys these Republicans and Democrats over similar periods of time;
> looks at all the statements made by these Republicans and Democrats, so that the tally is comprehensive and not incomplete or selective.
Just to give you an idea, this meant looking at three basic categories of invective: what Republicans say about Democrats, what Democrats say about Republicans, and what both sides say about each other.
Here are some examples of the name-calling from each of these categories:
How Republicans describe Democrats:
> hate white people;
> hate men and manhood;
> manipulate minorities;
> hate liberty;
> hate the wealthy and successful;
> Godless atheists;
> want to institute a totalitarian-style command economy;
> want to make all our decisions for us;
> want to punish productivity and excellence;
> baby-killers who support infanticide.
How Democrats describe Republicans:
> hate minorities and brown people;
> don’t care about the poor;
> think it’s wrong to help the needy;
> Social Darwinists;
> religious fanatics;
> want to resegregate into a white supremacist theocracy;
> want to enslave women.
How both parties describe each other:
> want to destroy the economy;
> act in lock-step;
> don’t care about facts, logic, reason, science;
These are, of course, the standard ways that Republicans and Democrats describe and demonize one another. I believe anyone who follows politics is familiar with them.
So, after defining what counts as name-calling, applying that definition equally to all the statements emanating from similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans over similar periods of time, what was the result?
Was it Republicans, or Democrats, who were ultimately judged to be the more guilty party? What was the final verdict?
In case you haven’t guessed, yet, I lied: There is no such survey. Nothing like this has ever been done.
But this is the survey you’d need to do in order to support the claim that “Republicans do more name-calling than Democrats” or “Democrats engage in more vitriol than Republicans.” And yet there’s no shortage of people who loudly insist that one party does it more.
And this is how the cause of civility gets twisted into just another exercise in partisan vitriol. People claim that one side is chiefly to blame for said vitriol, even though they have nothing approaching adequate evidence to support that claim. It becomes yet another unsubstantiated claim, a claim that is itself an instance of name-calling.
I don’t say one party does it more than the other because I don’t know if it’s true. And neither do you. It just so happens that no such evidence exists.
So, to those of you who do want to make such a claim, prove it. Pony up some empirical proof. Don’t give us anecdotes, or say “it seems like” or “it feels like” one side does it more. Give us a rigorous, comprehensive survey of all the statements from equally representative samples of Republicans and Democrats.
Without evidence along these lines, you’re just adding to the list of name-calling.