Archive for February, 2013

Nobody Knows Anything About Ideologies, Part CLXII

I want to offer a mild corrective to Jamelle Bouie’s post here, specifically the first point:

1) The large plurality of Asian Americans are liberal or moderate, with similar proportions among the six major groups polled by Pew. Filipinos stand as an exception—Most are moderate, but there are more conservatives than liberals.

Presumably, the Pew data that Bouie is drawing from is from simple self-identification. Pew didn’t take a whole 100-question survey on what people thought about 15 different issues and then score it on a liberal-conservative axis. They just said: “Liberal, moderate, or conservative: which one are you?” One reason I suspect this is the case is that if you look at the supporting data below it, the liberal/conservative chart here that proclaims that Filipinos are the only conservative Asian-Americans makes no sense: Filipinos are more liberal than not just the general public, but the average Asian-American both on measures of their support for larger government and their tolerance of gay Americans. Though admittedly they are typically more in favor of abortion restrictions than the average voter.

What’s going on here? One might reconcile Pew’s conflicting data just by figuring that the abortion issue is disproportionately important to Filipinos in how they form their ideological self-conception, but I’m betting the real cause is much hazier. I think the best explanation is that everyone defines “liberal” and “conservative” differently, that these varying definitions may be strongly culturally mediated, and that Pew isn’t taking that into account when throwing simplistic survey answers into a chart. For an example, I’m reminded of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, speaking in a very specific Filipino context of asking men to please not try to kiss her at her campaign events:

“First, show some respect,” she told a town hall meeting in Laguna province, south of Manila.

“Secondly, I am conservative. I do not want to be kissed by any man but my husband.”

In context, it’s very clear to me that although she’s nominally part of the Filipino center-right, Arroyo’s use of the word “conservative” has nothing whatsoever to do with her political positions. Rather, she’s appealing to an idea of conservatism that is somewhat specifically Filipino and Catholic, and specifically not mapped at all to an American idea of conservatism. It places the word “conservative” on a distinctly moral, not political, continuum: there are the upstanding women who are conservative and modest, and then on the other side there are the sluts – er, the wacky libertines for whom anything goes.

So if Filipino-Americans largely share Arroyo’s concept of what it means to be conservative, it’s unsurprising that you’re going to see some weird results in Pew’s self-identification data. Pew’s asking whether people have a package of beliefs that are pro-gun, anti-tax, anti-abortion, anti-egalitarian, and anti-science, and it’s quite possible that they’re getting back an answer that means that the person thinks of himself as a God-fearing, behaving Catholic.