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Hey, does the BBC run corrections?

A few weeks ago I flagged a BBC broadcast in which political theorist David Runciman said:

It is striking that the people who most dislike the whole idea of healthcare reform – the ones who think it is socialist, godless, a step on the road to a police state – are often the ones it seems designed to help. . . . Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America’s poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

I pulled up a bunch of graphs demonstrating that the people who dislike healthcare are primarily those over 65 (who already have free medical care in America) and people with above-average income and that, more generally, America’s poorest citizens overwhelmingly vote for the Democratic party.

Runciman replied that he was talking not just about average attitudes but about the level of anger, and Megan Pledger wrote: “You are talking about groups of people with the highest proportion of people against health reforms. Runciman is talking about people with the higest degree of opposition to the health reforms. . . . But it’s a big call to think degree of opposition amongst people who oppose is distributed the same between demographic groups.

In the meantime, there’s been some polling of people involved in anti-Obama “tea party” protests. Evan McMorris-Santoro writes:

“Of this core group of Tea Party activists, 6 of 10 are male and half live in rural areas,” CNN reports. “Nearly three quarters of Tea Party activists attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans . . . ” Sixty-six percent of the tea party activists reported an income higher than $50,000 per year. Among the overall sample in the poll, that figure was 42%.

This is no surprise: we already know that conservative Republicans are likely to have high incomes:


But I think it pretty much shoots down Runciman’s claim that the rallies represent the popular anger of America’s poorest citizens.

P.S. These statistics should not be taken as some sort of debunking of the tea party movement. Upper-middle-class people are allowed to express themselves politically, and these are often the people who have the free time to get involved in politics. The classic Verba, Schlotzman, and Brady book of 1995 has lots of evidence that all sorts of political participation are more common among higher-income Americans.


  1. Adrian says:

    Mark Easton on BBC News Online usually does some good coverage of stats, but mostly, if not exclusively, for the UK – but he might be a good first point of contact as he often follows up stories rather than just letting them lie.

    He's done some good reporting recently on a recent scuffle about statistics between the Conservative Party and the Office for National Statistics.

  2. anon says:

    $50k/yr isn't poor, but not upper-middle-class, either (at least not in the Northeast). IMO, the TP movement is more a firmly middle-class/blue collar display of (understandable) fear of job loss than an upper-middle-class fear of taxation.

  3. AFAIK the BBC doesn't typically run corrections, just edits over the article. Again typically, that would only be for news pieces, not for comments and analysis à la Runciman. Mark Mardell would prob. be a better contact than Mark Easton, no?

  4. I find myself highly skeptical of CNN's findings — according to their percentages, something like 26 million people would've participated in Tea Party stuff, attending and/or donating. If we're going to evaluate who's part of the movement based on what I can only assume is a drastic overcounting of participants, we ought to first try to figure out if they were overcounted in some demographically systematic way.

  5. Andrew Gelman says:

    Aaron: I share your skepticism on the CNN poll. Many of those yeses must just be people who are sympathetic to the tea party activities. My real point, though, was that I've seen no evidence that lower-income people are more likely to be angrily protesting against health care reform. To extent there are data on these attitudes, all the data seem to go against Runciman's claims.

  6. zbicyclist says:

    Would Tim Harford be interested in this? His show does a lot of statistical debunking. (BBC4, "More or Less")

  7. William Ockham says:

    The sampling error on the "tea party activists" part of the poll is +/- 9%. You can see the full results at

  8. Megan Pledger says:

    My imaginations suggests there are different degrees of opposition in different demographic groups.

    For example – Older people don't like the health reforms because they worry they might get a reduced service rather than it being solely an idealogical entrenchment of a political view. Some can be reasoned out of their opposition with the right arguments (and proof).

    However in the younger age groups, for some opposition to health reforms is a political position aligned to a political party. Getting them to change their minds on this issue is like getting them to change their identity. No matter how you argue the personal or national benefits they aren't going to budge.

  9. Jonathan Cryer says:

    "…primarily those over 65 (who already have free medical care in America)…" As a 71 year old American Professor Emeritus, I pay over $11,000 per year for "free" health insurance (Medicare plus BC/BS supplement) for myself and my wife. In addition, The University of Iowa pays $2544 per year for my BC/BS. Where do I find this free healthcare?

  10. Andrew Gelman says:

    Jonathan: As Emilio Estevez said in Repo Man, they don't pay bills in Russia. It's all free.

  11. anonymo says:

    Age may be an important confounding variable here. Are TPers wealthy for the general population, but poor for old people?

    54 percent of all Americans attended college, but what percent of American 70-year-olds attended college? The accumulative affect of income and education is considerable.