Us Against Them: Part 5, Some Notes on Methodology

In light of some of the comments in this series I thought I'd sketch the methods used in Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion. This post might shed some light on how Kinder and Kam assessed ethnocentrism, where they got their data, and how they drew their conclusions. Obviously, I can only offer a sketch. A fuller examination of their research would involve engaging the book directly.

1. The Data Sets
Kinder and Kam did not collect the data or ask the questions. Rather, they used two publicly available and non-partisan data sets, the General Social Survey (GSS) and the American National Election Studies (NES). Importantly, both the GSS and NES go to great lengths to select a representative and large sample of the American population. All in all, social scientists of every political persuasion--liberal and conservative--mine the GSS and NES as two of the best surveys of American attitudes and behaviors.

In short, we can't accuse Kinder and Kam of using loaded questions or missampling. They simply used the pre-existing and publicly available data of the GSS and NES data sets.

2. Measuring Ethnocentrism
As mentioned in an earlier post, Kinder and Kam assess ethnocentrism though in-group and out-group stereotypes. In both the GSS and NES a section of the interview is devoted to assessing group stereotypes. To give a flavor for this, here is the wording going into the stereotype section of the NES:

Now I have some questions about different groups in our society. I'm going to show you a seven-point scale on which the characteristics of people in a group can be rated. In the first statement a score of 1 means that you think almost all of the people in that group are "hard-working." A score of 7 means that you think almost all of the people in the group are "lazy." A score of 4 means that you think the group is not towards one end or the other, and of course you may choose any number in between that comes closest to where you think people in the group stand.

Where would you rate whites in general on this scale?
The interviewer then asks the same question about blacks, Asian Americans, and Hispanic Americans. After comparing how hardworking the groups are, the interviewer then asks the respondent to compare the groups on intelligence, trustworthiness, patriotism, etc.

Mathematically, Kinder and Kam calculate ethnocentrism as the simple difference between how you see your in-group relative to out-groups. That is, if your overall in-group score is equal to your average out-group score then your ethnocentrism measure is 0.0. If your score is positive then you tend toward ethnocentrism (i.e., you see your in-group as more hard-working, intelligent, trustworthy, etc. relative to out-groups). If your score is negative then you are the opposite of ethnocentric (i.e., you see out-groups in a more positive light compared to your in-group; obviously, this is relatively rare).

In short, the measure for ethnocentrism is simplicity itself: The subtraction of out-group ratings from in-group ratings.

3. The Relationship Between Ethnocentrism and Political Opinions
Once Kinder and Kam calculate ethnocentrism (a simple subtraction) they then correlate the score with other expressed attitudes surveyed that year by the GSS and the NES. For example, one year the NES asked respondents if they "felt sympathy" for the Iraqi civilians affected by American forces, if they "felt disgust" at the killing of Iraqi civilians, and if they "felt it was immoral" to bomb near Iraqi civilians. Using ethnocentrism scores to predict responses to these questions Kinder and Kam found these regression coefficients (taken from page 120):
Sympathy for Iraqi people: -.54
Disgust at Killing: -.19
Immoral to bomb near civilians: -.23
As you see, all the coefficients are negative. That is, as ethnocentrism increased sympathy decreased, disgust decreased, and moral outrage decreased. In short, ethnocentric respondents felt less empathy for Iraqi civilians affected by American forces.

Consider the data regarding the various forms of social welfare. In the NES respondents are asked if the government should "spend more" on various forms of social welfare. Among white respondents the regression coefficients using ethnocentrism to predict attitudes related to Food Stamps, welfare for women with many children, Social Security and Medicare were as follows (pages 186, 187):
Food Stamps: -.48
Welfare for Women with Many Children: -1.19
Social Security: .56
Medicare: .43
As you can see, the coefficients are negative for means-tested welfare (welfare for the poor) but positive for social insurance welfare. In short, as described in my last post, ethnocentrism among whites predicted lower support for means-tested welfare (welfare for them) but higher support for social insurance welfare (welfare for us).

I could go on, this is just a sample of the data I summarized in bullet-point form in the last post.

To summarize:
  1. Kinder and Kam did not collect the data so they cannot be accused of using misleading questions or poor sampling to fit a liberal agenda.
  2. The GSS and NES data sets are non-partisan and considered two of the best data sets available in tracking American attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
  3. Kinder and Kam's measure of ethnocentrism is simplicity itself: A simple subtraction between in-group and out-group stereotypes (standard sections of the GSS and NES). It is hard to see liberal bias in this method of assessment.
  4. The bread and butter of Kinder and Kam's analysis is simply taking the ethnocentrism measure (#3) and correlating it with other attitudes/opinions assessed elsewhere in the GSS and NES surveys.
  5. Kinder and Kam's findings are replicated in both the GSS and NES data sets, suggesting robust and replicable results.
  6. Finally, given that these are publicly available data sets, you can go to the GSS and NES and conduct Kinder and Kam's exact analyses to verify their findings. The results and analyses are transparent and open to evaluation.

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19 thoughts on “Us Against Them: Part 5, Some Notes on Methodology”

  1. There seems to be an assumption about correlating one's opinion about welfare as social insurance, or as lifestyle choice. It is not necessarily the case that a person judges this concern because of ethnocentricism or not.

    I use the term "lifestyle choice" because when those that have lived in environments that use welfare as their choice.
    Others would disagree and say that these people "have no choice" because they are caught in a system.

    I believe both to be true. One doesn't choose to change what is deemed as "normal". And those that have generational history as welfare partakers, have been "normalized" with a dependecy on welfare that does not help, but hinders them as persons. But, "they" cannot understand or "see" that. Their self-perception needs changing, because self-perception will increase motivation. So, options are not the way to motivate those caught in such systems.

  2. I was just curious if when there were doing their analyses if they controlled for other possible influencing variables?

    Demographic controls would be useful, but more interestingly, is ethnocentrism predictive above and beyond more principled ideologies, such as conservatism (or libertarianism etc.) in general?

    I think this would be useful as it appears that many people think this research suggests that the only reason to oppose social welfare policies is due to ethnocentrism.

  3. AND, I question whether motivating another will give another as much impetus to change, if there is an 'opt out". Should there be a change in allowing welfare at all? I think changing it altogether might be a better option, as dependency is not a good thing to encourage over the long haul, unless there really is NO choice!

  4. Having now read several chapters, and seeing the correlation they propose between ethnocentrism and gay rights, tighter immigration controls and other positions, I again ask what about Obama's deep-seated ethnocentrism led him to (a) publicly oppose gay marriage, (b) repeatedly advocate for a large, impenetrable wall along our southern border, and (c) attend a church with Jeremiah "Them Jews aren't going to let [Obama] talk to me" Wright for 20 years and refer to him as his spiritual mentor.

    I think in light of the *fascinating* conclusions of Kinder and Kam as they relate to American political policy, this is an important discussion to have regarding our president and leader of the free world.

  5. MarkinIL,
    Yes, in their regression models they use a set of predictors, along with ethnocentrism, to predict the variable of interest. For example, they include political affiliation or beliefs in limited government into the equations. The point that they want to show is that ethnocentrism has predictive power independent of the various political variables (e.g., political party) we tend to discuss and focus on the most. And you are right, in most all of the models there are many significant predictors of what a person endorses politically (e.g., a belief in a limited government predicts disapproval of welfare); ethnocentrism just happens to be one among many significant predictors.

    Regarding demographics, they tend to run the analyses on a group-by-group basis because, obviously, whites and, let's say, blacks, might have different views on various social issues. Thus, they need to be analyzed separately.

  6. Perfect, thanks.

    Also, Iowa, the use of these control variables (and their independent predictive power) answers your Obama question. That is, his stance on these issues is not neccesarily an indication of ethnocentrism, but could represent a variety of other concerns. Just as your opposition to social welfare policies could indicate ethnocentrism, but it could also indicate more principled ideological positions.


    From the work that I am familiar with Kinder is a thoughtful political scientist. This appeas consistent in this piece of work as well. I would also suggest reading Karen Stenner's book on Authoritarianism. She was Kinder's student and approaches authoritarianism in a thoughtful and complex way that does more justice to the topic than past treatments. If you don't have time for a book, she has a nice (though overly compact) review of her findings in a recent issue of Psychological Inquiry.

  7. MarkinIL,
    BTW, thanks for all your comments. You've been very helpful in helping educate readers about how to approach and think about social scientific and correlational research.

  8. "Also, Iowa, the use of these control variables (and their independent predictive power) answers your Obama question. That is, his stance on these issues is not neccesarily an indication of ethnocentrism, but could represent a variety of other concerns."

    - Correct, which was why I used it as an example. It highlights the ethnocentrism in discussing ethnocentrism. When Obama opposes gay marriage, or wants to build a wall along the southern border, or has a lunatic xenophobe for a spiritual mentor for 20 years, those who are like him (read: liberals) tend to look for ways to excuse the behavior as not being based on ethnocentrism. When a conservative on TV has those opinions, that group is more likely to ascribe ethnocentric motivations to those with the same views. On other issues, Republicans do the same. But in so doing, we're actually being ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism, therefore, informs our view of ethnocentrism to a degree.

  9. iowa,
    I think that is exactly right. Ethnocentrism would cause a person to see out-groups as suffering from ethnocentrism (i.e., see out-groups in a bad light). That is, rather than confronting one's own ethnocentrism the person would be keen to point out how out-group members are just as bad if not worse, ethnocentrically speaking.

    For example, saying that the president, who's mother and grandparents were white, has a "deep seated hatred of white people."

  10. So I'm a little unclear about this. Do Kinder and Kam claim that a high ethnocentrism score correlates with a particular political political affiliation?

    Feel free to link me to one of your previous posts if you've already answered this question.

  11. iowa,
    No, Glenn Beck said that on Fox and Friends. And to be clear, I don't have problems with conservatives or libertarians (as you don't have problems with liberals). I will admit, however, to having problems with Glenn Beck (e.g., his social-justice-Christians-are-Nazis rant pushed me over the edge). So I will, fairly regularly, tee off on him. Apologies to all Glenn Beck fans who read here. Regarding this example, his "deep seated hatred of white people" comment, it is a perfect example of an "us against them" frame to activate ethnocentrism in his viewership. Not all his viewers are ethnocentric, but those who are would have been electrified by his comment. So much so they might have taken to the streets at a Tea Party and waved "Obama wants white slavery" signs. Much to harm of the overall libertarian message of the Tea Party movement.

  12. Understood. I got a bit defensive there because I assumed it was directed at me. :)

    I'll tee off on Beck (and the 'birthers', and many others) right along with you when warranted, and even some times when it isn't. Not a fan.

    As for the 'Tea Partiers', I'm also not one of them, but my hunch is that like the anti-war folks on the left, the crazies are confined to a relatively small minority, but they make better headlines.

  13. To all, and iowa in particular,
    Sorry if, for even a moment, anyone felt I had ascribed that quote to iowa. I had assumed that Glenn Beck's quote was so widely known that an attribution was not necessary. Apologies for any misunderstandings. I'll admit to getting irritated and snarky from time to time on this blog (something I pray about regularly) but I don't want anyone to think I'd say or insinuate anything so mean-spirited about a commenter on this blog.

    These "political" posts do get testy, but I think they are important for American's civic discourse. I consider these posts a sort of "practice" in engaging difference, yours and mine. Despite our differences, iowa has conducted his business here admirably. If you read a lot of political blogs you'll know that this conversation, while strained at times, has been of a very high quality.

  14. I will have to come back later to read all the comments, as what I have read is interesting.

    I "logged on" to say that Dr. Beck does set the agenda, so whether one agrees with a certain topic or not, is irrelavant, as he decides the topic os interest.

    This is not what I have understood our government to "stand for", politicizing issues where there is a limitation of information or contorl over information such that "we, the people" cannot make our own discernments as to our values.

    Snide and arrogant leadership does not listen to those are to represent. They decide because they have the power to do so. It is a short step to loose our liberal demcracy, if we do not act to remove those who have acted in such arrogance...

  15. I don't know anyone who watches Glen Beck. I know that he is on Fox and has a substantial following. I deliberately do not click on any site that features him or statements by him. I would not have recognized the quote by him. I am also a conservative, morphing fairly quickly into a libertarian. Just because I have views about less government does not mean I am going subsidize a nut case.

    I also have the no click policy on Rev. Wright, Keith Olberman, Tom Cruise, Brangelina, Lindsay Lohan, or anything Gosselin. I am not going to encourage those folks with internet traffic counts.


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