In an article on U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics, Samantha Power writes:
Since 1968, with the single exception of the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Americans have chosen Republican presidents in times of perceived danger and Democrats in times of relative calm.
So here’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative researchers. Samantha Power knows more about foreign policy and politics than I’ll ever know. But she could whip off the above sentence without pause. Whereas, when I see it, I think:
– Why start in 1968? Is this just a convenient choice of endpoint? Eisenhower ran as a national security expert, no?
– What evidence can you expect to get about public opinion from the essentially tied elections of 1968, 1976, and 2000?
– Anyway, if you’re talking public opinion, it was Gore who won more votes in 2000–so it’s funny to be taking that as an exception at all!
– How are “perceived danger” and “relative calm” defined? Was 1988, when George H. W. Bush floored Michael Dukakis, really such a time of “perceived danger”?
I have no expertise to comment on the rest of Power’s article; I just think it’s funny that she’d throw in a sentence like that. It’s just a throwaway comment she made; I wouldn’t put it in the class of David Runciman’s “but viewed in retrospect, it is clear that it has been quite predictable” or John Yoo writing an entire op-ed on something he appears to know nothing about. It’s just one of these things that rings alarm bells to a “quant” such as myself but just passes right by the qualitative analyst.
P.S. On an unrelated note, that same issue of the New York Review of Books had this great line by Michael Dirda: “Real readers always read for excitement; only the nature of that excitement changes through life.”