The PoliBlog

The Collective
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Here’s more on the aforementioned book survey, this time looking at partisanship and reading: Book Chief: Conservatives Want Slogans

The AP-Ipsos poll found 22 percent of liberals and moderates said they had not read a book within the past year, compared with 34 percent of conservatives.

Among those who had read at least one book, liberals typically read nine books in the year, with half reading more than that and half less. Conservatives typically read eight, moderates five.

By slightly wider margins, Democrats tended to read more books than Republicans and independents. There were no differences by political party in the percentage of those who said they had not read at least one book.

A couple of things strike me. First is that by conflating “moderates” with “liberals” creates a false category to use in comparing to “conservatives”–so what that first paragraph above tells us is hard to say, unless one is simply trying to make a political point. The analysis is especially sloppy, because in the next paragraph we switch from liberal, moderate, conservative to Democrat, Republican and Independent—are these categories to be construed as the same or as different?

Ultimately, I am not surprised by the notion that liberals would, in the aggregate, read more books than conservatives, as liberals tend to be more educated, in the aggregate, than conservatives. Indeed, I would tend to think that the operative issue here is not partisan/ideological self-identification, but rather one of educational attainment. I suspect that if one compared libs and cons of similar educational level, that the reading issue would end up being similar regardless of ideology.

The funny thing about the story as written is that there is an inherent assumption that we are somehow talking about political books here, and the first couple of paragraphs are focused on the notion that conservatives read less because they have simpler ideas about politics:

Liberals read more books than conservatives. The head of the book publishing industry’s trade group says she knows why—and there’s little flattering about conservative readers in her explanation.

“The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a couple slogans: ‘No, don’t raise my taxes, no new taxes,’” Pat Schroeder, president of the American Association of Publishers, said in a recent interview. “It’s pretty hard to write a book saying, ‘No new taxes, no new taxes, no new taxes’ on every page.”

Schroeder, who as a Colorado Democrat was once one of Congress’ most liberal House members, was responding to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that found people who consider themselves liberals are more prodigious book readers than conservatives.

She said liberals tend to be policy wonks who “can’t say anything in less than paragraphs. We really want the whole picture, want to peel the onion.”

Egads, it’s Karl Rove’s fault! And really, Schroeder isn’t exactly an unbiased observer and to lead the story with her “assessment” isn’t exactly a study in good reporting.

Another major problem overall is that the poll is about reading in general, not reading of political books. Indeed, surely we are talking predominantly about fiction., not political manifestos.

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Filed under: US Politics, Books | |


  1. The liberal versus conservative label helps the researchers make their preconceived point because they probably lumped virtually all blacks and hispanics into the conservative column because they go to church more than whites and do not support liberal social causes like gay marriage.

    If you lumped the blacks and hispanics in with white liberals (basically the current Democratic party) you would get a different and not so sound bite worthy result.

    Comment by superdestroyer — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 7:14 am

  2. I suspect that if one compared libs and cons of similar educational level, that the reading issue would end up being similar regardless of ideology.

    Depends on how you define “educational level”. If you look at liberals and conservatives with bachelor’s degrees it may still favor liberals because they’re more likely to be English lit majors over business majors with the former being more likely to be avid readers.

    Comment by R. Alex — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  3. Do you have a reference on the “liberals more educated” statement? I’ve seen it before, but the only time I actually looked into at the numbers it was somewhat of a mixed bag.

    Here’s my memory of going through some numbers once.

    Didn’t finish high school — big liberal advantage.

    The high school grads — slight conservative advantage.

    Bachelor’s — Big conservative advantage.

    Master’s — Big liberal advantage (predominately teachers)

    Ph D — Mixed bag, slight liberal advantage.

    [I may be confusing Dem/Rep with Lib/Cons can’t remember]

    If my memory of the numbers is close, I’d say that the liberals occupy the ends of the spectrum, with the conservatives in the middle rather than liberals more educated.

    Comment by Buckland — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 9:02 am

  4. On the other hand, leading conservative blogs are much more literate than their lefty counterparts (whether you look at things like books quoted, writing level, rhetorical maturity or what have you). But as you say the distinction probably disappears if you control for educational level.

    Comment by Perry — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 9:27 am

  5. Blame it on Karl

    Many people both conservative or liberal, prefer to read what they want to hear. In other words, people read books, blogs, magazines etc that affirm their beliefs. Speaking for myself, I like to read very divergent opinions.

    Trackback by The Florida Masochist — Wednesday, August 22, 2007 @ 10:25 am

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