Thursday, June 9, 2016

Note on identitarian methodology

I made a variation on this point a while back, but evidently need to clarify, since I've seen a lot of skepticism [1][2][3][4] over a number I posted yesterday:
The final totals for 2016 aren't in, but as it stands Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination with abysmal 37.8 percent support from women in the polls.
This is not an outlying or even surprising figure - multiple polls have been saying this for months. What appears to be throwing critics off is that the polls they are most familiar with exclusively survey Democrats. In those polls, Clinton is doing somewhat better (particularly in the last couple of weeks): for example, IBD / TIPP now has Clinton at 51% among women.

If that number were the one that mattered, it would (barely!) be enough to defeat the argument of my previous article, since Clinton could claim a mandate from a democratic majority of women. That is still nowhere near the landslide ~85% mandate Obama earned from black voters, but it is at least in the same majoritarian universe. The problem for Clinton is that, just as black Republicans count towards Obama's total, so Republican women have to count towards hers.

The bottom line

Identitarian arguments have to account for everyone of a given identity. Not just the Democrats or Republicans. Not just the ones who actually voted, or who are likely voters or registered voters. If we were being consistent, in fact, we would need to account for all kinds of people who are routinely excluded from polls, including the very young, the institutionalized and imprisoned, non-citizens, illegal immigrants, and even people from other countries. In practice, we have to rely on the best information we have, and when it comes to polls that means relying on the least restrictive numbers we can find.

The reason for this is grounded in the basic philosophical argument of identitarianism, which derives moral authority from belonging to a particular group. If you are a woman, for example, you have perspectives and experiences that are different from men - and this is true whether you are a white woman, an Asian woman, a voting woman, a Polish woman, a Libertarian woman, or whatever. All of these women matter; all of their lives contribute to what it is to be a woman.

We can, of course, refine our identitarian argument and talk about the particular intersectional experiences of various subgroups - of black women, of gay Latinos, etcetera - but only under two conditions. First, we must always be clear about who we are talking about, and cannot conflate one group with another; we cannot say "women" when we are exclusively referring to Democratic women or rich white women or whatever. Second, our analysis has to account for and justify this specification. If for example I want to make an argument grounded in the authority of women who are also registered Democratic eligible American voters, I have to be prepared to explain why their experience matters, while that of a woman who happens to live in Ecuador does not. Suppose that Hillary Clinton wins on a platform that will expand abortion access in the United States, but that, by cutting foreign aid, will effectively restrict it abroad. Is this not a feminist issue? What about my politics allows me to attend to one but not the other?

As noted in my previous article on the topic, such considerations are crucial, because much of the polling invoked in identitarian arguments is unduly restrictive.

Usually, the media uses polling crosstabs to figure out the specific question of who is going to vote for who. This is useful for making electoral predictions, particularly when you refine the group you are looking at to something like "eligible registered likely American voters aligned with a particular party". But this is profoundly different from the identitarian question who does this group of people think we should vote for? In that case, we should look at everyone who belongs to the group in question, whether they are going to determine the actual outcome of an election or not.