Testing Unflattering Claims About Human Motivation
By Bryan Caplan
“Democrats resent the rich.” “Republicans disdain the poor.” When accusations like this fly, the accused tend to be coldly condescending. “If you knew a single Democrat/Republican/whatever well, you’d know how ignorant your claim is.”
Personally, I believe that 80% of everyone‘s accusations are true. Of course Democrats resent the rich. Of course Republicans disdain the poor. But maybe I’m just being contrarian. Is there any fair-minded way to advance the conversation?
I think so. A vast number of surveys include Feeling Thermometers. A typical wording from the General Social Survey:
I’d like to get your feelings toward groups that are in the
news these days. I will use something we call the feeling
thermometer, and here is how it works: I’ll read the names of a
group and I’d like you to rate that group using the feeling
thermometer. Ratings between 50 degrees and 100 degrees mean
that you feel favorable and warm toward the group. Ratings
between 0 degrees and 50 degrees mean that you don’t feel
favorable toward the group and that you don’t care too much for
My prediction: Standard Feeling Thermometer questions will support at least 80% of common motivational accusations in relative terms. Democrats will have noticeably colder views of the rich than Republicans. Republicans will have noticeably colder views of the poor than Democrats. And so on.
My word of honor: As I write, I have never played with this data. I am making an honest-to-goodness Assert First, Look Afterward prediction. My question for readers of all factions: Before you know the answers, are you willing to admit that Feeling Thermometers are an informative way to put unflattering claims about human motivation to the test?
If you have any intellectual reputation to bet, please “go on the record” in the comments.