Liberals Are Smart, Conservatives Are Stupid, And…Well, It’s Not That Simple


There are several interesting findings in “Republicans Like Golf, Democrats Prefer Cartoons, TV Research Suggests” — a recent blog in the New York Times that studied “(TV) programs by how they performed with registered voters of either party (as well as independents) compared to a base of all registered voters” and basically proved that we’re just as polarized with pop culture as we are with politics.

For instance:

1. Democrats skewed heavily towards the NBC sitcoms (“30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” etc) and “adult” cartoons — basically, the types of satirical/metafictional comedies that require the viewer to “work” a little more. You could also say that multi-layered dramatic series such as “Mad Men” and “The Wire” — both of which are also favored by Democrats — do the same thing.

2. Republicans, on the other hand, overwhelmingly preferred competitive reality shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” “Survivor,” “American Idol,” and “The Amazing Race” — programs that provide a cathartic release (you invest in a character, and someone wins at the in) but don’t require as much effort from the viewers.

3. There were no surprises when it came to how we view sports, as the Republicans (predictably) skewed heavily towards college sports (football and basketball), golf, and NASCAR, while liberal sports fans seem to be smitten with the NBA, which “… accounted for no fewer than five of the top 20 cable shows on the Democratic list.”

(There was no mention of the NFL, which leads me to believe it’s one of the only things that liberals and conservatives adore equally. Well, that and Beyonce.)

At first glance, some of these findings seem like they could be attributed to geographical differences more than anything else. Take the NBA, for instance. Basketball is a city game with deep roots in highly populated urban areas. Since liberals tend to migrate to and populate cities with large populations, it makes sense that they’d (generally) enjoy NBA basketball more than Republicans, who tend to be more rural. (You can also make the racial argument here — basically, out of all the major sports/professional sports leagues, the NBA is the one where Black players are the most prominent and wield the most power, so it makes sense that conservatives wouldn’t be big fans — but I’ll save that for my upcoming NBA preview.)

Also, most of the satirical/metafictional comedies have protagonists who are obviously liberal — with shows that either take place in large cities or deal with the protagonist being a fish out of water — and it’s easy to see how liberals/people living in large cities would relate to them.

Yet, even after controlling for geography, it’s hard to ignore that in this study, the “liberal-loved” shows tend to be much “smarter” than the programs conservatives enjoy, a fact that reinforces the stereotype that (generally speaking) liberals are typically smarter than conservatives.

Now, before I continue, I have to admit that I’m not particularly objective. While I wouldn’t call myself a liberal — on the Santorum (0) to Steinem (100) scale, I probably rate around 65 — I do believe that liberals are (generally) smarter people than conservatives. Better people? Maybe not. But, definitely smarter.

With that being said, I don’t think the breakdown in preferred viewership is due to intelligence as much as its due to the fact that liberals seem to “value” intelligence more than conservatives. And, in this sense, “value” means “are more likely to do things that “prove” how smart they are.”

Along with gravitating towards shows that you have actually watch to follow and have to be “smart” to truly get, this also includes frequent incorporation of snark and sarcasm in your daily lexicon — devices that imply you’re smarter than the person it’s directed towards — and being more attracted to the types of occupations (law, academia, publishing, etc) where you get daily opportunities to show off your brain. Perhaps the emphasis placed on “smartness” — it’s really a liberal’s most valuable currency — causes many to overcompensate; self-consciously choosing to partake in “smarter” activities to make themselves seem smarter.

You know, the best way to describe my feelings about how liberals and conservatives view intelligence differently would be that if given the choice between being the most successful (success in this sense = financial success) person in the room or the smartest person in the room, while it seems like most conservatives would choose the former, I’m just as certain that the majority of liberals would probably choose the latter. Yet, as smart as we (and yes, I’m including myself) claim to be, when you think about it, that seems like a very stupid decision.

  —Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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