[POLL] LessWrong census, mindkilling edition [closed, now with results]

by Oligopsony1 min read11th Dec 201143 comments


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Some have been curious about what the politics of this community would look like if broken down further; here's a shot at figuring it out. I've also included a few other questions that folks expressed curiosity about. Aside from one sensitive question, there's no option to keep your answers private, since in my opinion that would defeat the point - just don't answer if you have concerns - but there's also no overlap with the old survey, aside from asking you how you answered the original politics question. (This should help with interpreting those results even if the n for this is much lower than and somehow biased relative to the big survey.)

For entertainment purposes only, don't use the below space to discuss politics directly, &c. Early suggestions are likely to be incorporated, given what I assume to be the low quality of the first draft.

Edit: "left" and "right" operationalized for the questions they appear in; poor language cleared up in mental health question.

Edit 2: results here; see comment below for some preliminary thoughts. Because there were several unique regional responses, I did not publish responses that question.

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It seems to me that "right" and "left" are bad words in the same sense that "wiggin" is a bad word. I would prefer answering questions that dispensed with the terms entirely.

My initial reaction was to agree with you, but now I'm not so sure. A huge part of peoples' political identities seem to be tied up in the labels themselves. For example, the buzz words of all the political leanings sound good to me when used in a non-political context. "Tradition" and "freedom" and "power" and "fairness" all sound lovely when I'm thinking about things not political. If Oligopsony wants to know "how we break down, politically", then using mind-killers seems like a good way to do it.

Has a medical professional ever diagnosed you with any of the following?

  • anything else

I'm pretty sure that every LW poster has, at some point in their lives, been diagnosed with something.

Agree, it also wasn't very clear to me.

Am I a complete outlier in that I'm not interested in politics to the point of being ignorant of what the various standard positions (like "liberal" or "socialist") mean; and being unable/unwilling to pass judgment about things like various levels of taxes due to lack of knowledge about expected effect of such policies?

From my perspective, given that LW is the place the poll is running, it is precisely this axis of variation in political attitudes that I'm interested in because this is roughly the attitude I'd expect from a significant number of people here, but few other places... and I'm not sure how many to expect nor how long they would have held such an attitude.

I would expect a significant percentage of people on LW to have independently read about the neurology of political decision making, seen its implications for truth-seeking, and begun to change their thinking habits thereby. Among this cohort, more or less "instinctive" processes could be expected in 2001 (except to the degree that relatively ad hoc personal theories of meta-political reasoning might have moved them farther away from baseline, but the evidence exposure would be sporadic and weird). By 2008 a lot of independently rational people should have heard about the studies, updated, and begun to modify their habits of political thought based on the popularized brain studies. In 2011 it would be reasonable to expect to see what convergent "politico-cognitive results" tended to grow out of the combined evidence exposure and updating tendencies... and LW would be a place to find that data :-)

This seems like a more interesting question to me than simply "who around here used to be or is red or blue?"

I think my suggestion for an interesting political poll of the community would involve asking people a bunch of questions to probe the long term meta-issues I'd expect to uniquely find here (eg "When did you hear about study X?", "How familiar are you with lesswrong's blue/green terminology?", "Do you know about {semi-obscure dirt from political sex scandal in your country}?", etc, etc). Then for direct political-object-level correlates just send them elsewhere to get a few scores from pre-established position quizes to plug in as answers on our quiz.

I've updated over the past year over to try hard not to pass such judgments, for the reason you describe. But I've still found myself in political arguments over the underlying principles. People who disagree with the beliefs I previously would have advocated strongly for tend not just to disagree with me on the effects of taxes and regulation, but on what moral imperatives we're trying to satisfy.

It seems crazy to disagree on economic principles anyway. The ways about which one should try to answer a question like "The GDP will go down under policy X, as compared to policy Y" are fairly uncontroversial, and yet people disagree passionately about which answer is right when it's clear that their convictions are under-determined. How can they become so moralistic about what to me seem like dry amoral facts? And yet, I have the same impression - that peoples' moral intuitions correlate strongly with the type of economics they believe in.

What percentage of educated Westerners would you guess are to the right (as operationalized below) of you on economic questions?

Sorry, I find this survey terrible. I don't know how to answer most of the questions. Questions like the above require me to have more knowledge than I personally have (about the internal state of billions of educated Westerners). You are supposed to do this work for us by asking 5 to 10 representative questions with which we can strongly agree/strongly disagree, etc, and then use that information to categorize responders.

The way this survey is written I don't even feel comfortable submitting my response, because the percentages are wild guesses. Further, I don't even know what it means to be "left" or "right" on race and gender issues. Also, the categories in the first part contain multiple, sometimes conflicting labels. It's really hard to know how to respond to those, as well.

I say all this as someone with concrete political beliefs! If you asked me specific questions, I would happily answer them. But I'm not comfortable speculating about the political beliefs of people occupying an entire hemisphere.

I don't even know how to parse 'Westerners'. I bet my intuitions would feel very different if I happened to be back in Shanghai right now.

Aside from one sensitive question, there's no option to keep your answers private, since in my opinion that would defeat the point

I don't understand. What exact point would be defeated by not making people's individual answers public?

It seems to me that that the main effect of your policy will be to introduce a significant selection bias for people who expect general public approval of their views.

It seems to me that that the main effect of your policy will be to introduce a significant selection bias for people who expect general public approval of their views.

More generally, there will be a selection effect for people who want their public persona to include the political views that they express. (Pubic approval is not the only motivation for doing that. Sometimes people seek the sense of solidarity with their co-ideologues that comes from enduring public disapproval.) Plausibly, a large factor determining one's ideological views is the public persona that one wants to craft, for whatever social-status based reasons. Which public personae are most commonly sought by LW users is an interesting question, so I see this selection effect as a feature, not a bug.

ETA: This comment turns out to be irrelevant. I had understood the OP to be saying that our identities would be published with the results, but I was mistaken.

I don't see how the survey is tied to our LW username. I think he just means that he will publish the whole of the data. Yvain's survey didn't even include usernames, it just had karma that might identify specific users. This survey doesn't even have karma.

This is correct; I have no intention of publishing usernames, nor could I, had I such an intent.

Hm, now I see that's indeed the case. But then what exactly do you mean by "no option to keep your answers private"? Only that each individual's whole set of answers will be published as a row in a spreadsheet, thus making it possible to guess who the respondent might be for outliers?

I live in Switzerland and want to answer "traditional values, high taxes" to the first question, but there's no such option :-(

[-][anonymous]9y 1

Describe your ideals in the write in section then. :)

Responses have petered out, so here is the data. I shouldn't really be spending time playing around with it until this week is over, but here are some things that struck me two days ago, when I had very nearly as many responses and a look in stata, although I didn't bother to write any exact numbers down.

1) Less Wrong thinks it's close to a random sample of the educated Western population, politics-wise: estimates of relative economic politics and discomfort with political violence were close to 50, with race/gender politics slightly more leftward at 60, and sds around .3. As much as people don't like the left-right spectrum, economic and social leftwardness covaried highly (cor~=.6) and each only just a bit with nonviolence. I take this as at least weak vindication of my contempt for the Political Compass, which groups racial and gender equality issues with those of political violence and dumb things like "do you like modern art???"

2) Because there were a number of unique responses to the region question, I haven't published it, but respondents were about 70% North American and 20% Western European.

3) Yeah, we're mostly firstborns and only children.

4) Most people claim to have changed their politics in the last five years. Some skepticism may be justified.

5) I don't think my categories were very good, in retrospect, but most of you already knew that.

6) There were a few gems in the free response section:

This question sucks
If the first line was longer
It would be haiku

There once was a survey anonymous
Which purported to mindkill a ton of us.
So we sang it a song
About being less wrong
Than those folks on that website eponymous.

); DROP TABLE survey_results; --

Four and five were confusing;
Ten through twelve rather pointless.
Your questionnaire sucks.

Whatever you like here.

Winter won't come
Your survey too US-centric
This haiku fails

(Vaniver's was also nice, but since he owned it publicly here, I'll leave publishing it to him.)

[-][anonymous]9y 5

Aside from one sensitive question, there's no option to keep your answers private, since in my opinion that would defeat the point - just don't answer if you have concerns - but there's also no overlap with the old survey, aside from asking you how you answered the original politics question.

Just to be clear, our IPs are not recorded or anything like that right?

I wouldn't know how, but my guess is there'd be no way for me to even if I did, since everything is filtered through Google. Timestamps and free response sections will be scrubbed as a matter of course. If you're paranoid the ones to remain reticent on would be location/siblings/kids on chance that your True Politics are revealed to meetup members or whatever.

In the last comment, I attempted to boil my politics down to a single haiku. It is an interesting exercise.

A couple of breakdowns from the data:

37 Left libertarian, moderate non-US liberal, or "liberaltarian."
33 US liberal, progressive, or social democrat. 13 Nothing like any of those.
11 Anarcho-capitalist or minarchist, but not paleo-libertarian. 6 Libertarian socialist, anarcho-socialist, or anarcho-communist.
5 Centrist or moderate. 5 I don't care about politics.
4 Paleoconservative, paleo-libertarian, alternative right, or nationalist.
1 Fusionist conservative.
1 Green, deep ecologist, or anarcho-primitivist.
1 Marxist-Leninist.
1 Neoconservative.
1 Religious conservative.

Liberals seem similarly populus to the original poll, but "socialists" basically disappeared. Libertarians abound in various flavors, but the sweet spot seems to be "liberaltarianism," which is bundled with the "moderate non-US liberal" tag, which in my mind puts it basically right in the middle of the trio of liberal, libertarian, and socialist from the original survey.

Left-libertarians were almost exactly evenly split as originally identifying as liberals or libertarians (15 vs 14) with a smattering of socialists and people who didn't pick in the first poll.

"Nothing like any of those" had a pretty even distribution of lots of answers on the original survey, from conservative to socialist.

Anarcho-capitalist/minarchists uniformly identified as libertarians, and reported converting from both liberal and conservative backgrounds (from Green party to religious conservative).

Libertarian socialists uniformly identified as socialists.

Centrists almost entirely identified as liberals, and often reported converting from extreme positions (2 out of 5... very small sample size).

Paleoconservatives mostly identified as libertarians.

40 of 118 willing respondents reported being diagnosed with various mental disorders, with half of those being diagnosed with depression, and nearly half being diagnosed with multiple disorders. I don't think there's enough data to see any real correspondences between disorders and politics. I'd like to see statistics from the general population about these disorders.

I will try to plot the numeric data and draw little circles around the labels but I'm not sure if my technical skills will suffice or how I'll go about uploading the picture if I do make it.


Left-libertarian identification doesn't seem to correlate much with ANY numeric measure; "economic" positioning ranged from 1 to 98, social positioning from 10 to 99.99, and violence positioning from 2 to 99; though 25 of the 37 were left of center on the social axis (though plenty in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s)

Only two people who identified as US-liberal listed either measure as below 50, but there too there was a wide range, with plenty of people everywhere from the 50s to the 90s.

This leaves me with a few questions: How much of this variance is explained by people having different ideas about the general population, versus different political opinions? Are there particular issues on which these self-identified groups agree, even if they have different general ideas?

I made a picture of the numeric results, but it's hideous, needs a key, and I don't have a nice way of uploading it anyway.

I really don't identify with any of the political labels in the drop-down lists. I don't think there is a label I could identify with.

I thought that was an option?

"Nothing like any of these" didn't seem right, either, although it is what I chose. Maybe that just sounds more extreme to me than it was meant to be.

Do you have a suggestion? Are you just asking for more political labels?

Socialist, for example Scandinavian countries: socially permissive, high taxes, major redistribution of wealth...

Exactly zero of the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc...) have anything approximating a "centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production". I recommend changing the term (welfare state or Nordic model might be closer to what you were getting at) or the examples (North Korea is probably the only one left that fits the bill).

That question was a very deliberate direct copy of Yvain's survey, so that if this survey has a smaller n and different population (as seems likely) we can say things like "35% of paleocons pick 'conservative' and 65% pick 'libertarian' out of those options and descriptions" and then make inferences to the broader LW population.

[-][anonymous]9y 2

The results should be interesting. How long do you plan on keeping it open?

Depends on the flow of responses, but I can't imagine more than a week.

If this is the definition for Socialism, what is your definition of communism? I'm haven't deeply studied politics, but I've used the word Communism to mean centrally planned economy controlled by the government, and Socialism to mean "Capitalism, with government wealth redistribution and/or regulations to steer the economy."

(In accordance with Prase's point - while I don't specifically identify as "Socialist" with a capital S, I lean in that latter definition's direction and use the word socialist to distinguish my beliefs from libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism.)

Something like "social democracy" or "welfare liberalism" could be a useful description here.

Popular Socialism might mean something else in Scandinavia -- but yes, it still doesn't seem like the majority position there (to go by Wikipedia).

Self-identified socialists wouldn't probably agree to use definitions from a libertarian website.

I would normally agree, but in this case, the "libertarian website" is actually an encyclopedia article by Robert Heilbroner. Also, the above definition seems to be in agreement with alternative sources.

Oxford Dictionaries:

a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.


any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

New Advent:

A system of social and economic organization that would substitute state monopoly for private ownership of the sources of production and means of distribution, and would concentrate under the control of the secular governing authority the chief activities of human life.

As a Norwegian, I was happy to pick that option. I think of myself as roughly socialist.

It doesn't mean "centrally planned economy" to me.

You are at liberty to use the word any way you wish, but dictionaries, encyclopedias, and economics textbooks seem to mean something different by it.

Dictionaries, encyclopedias and economics textbooks in which countries?

I suppose we could claim the norwegian word "sosialist" doesn't quite map to the english word "socialist", though.

Sounds plausible.

The Oxford Dictionary definition you supply is the one I generally see in use:

a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

Every nation-state on Earth has a government that regulates the means of production, distribution, and exchange. That doesn't seem like a very useful definition.

I retract the "libertarian website" part *. A reformulated version of my remark is: The respondents who identified themselves as socialists wouldn't probably agree with Heilbroner's definition of socialism. I was addressing futility of arguing over definitions rather than a possible libertarian bias.

*) My mistake was caused by the title Library of Economics and Liberty and the fact that the site is maintained by the Liberty Fund, whose description of themselves sounds typically libertarian.