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U.S. risk-perception/polarization snapshot

The graphic below & to the right (click for bigger view) reports perceptions of risk as measured in a U.S. general population survey last summer.  The panel on the left reports sample-wide means; the one on the right, means by subpopulation identified by its cultural worldview. 

By comparing, one can see how culturally polarized the U.S. population is (or isn’t) on various risks ranked (in descending order) in terms of their population-wide level of importance.

Some things to note:

  • Climate change (GWRISK) and private hand gun possession (GUNRISK) seem relatively low in overall importance but are highly polarized. This helps to illustrate that the political controversy surrounding a risk issue is determined much more by the latter than by the former.
  • Emerging technologies: Synthetic biology (SYNBIO) and nanotechnology (NANO) are relatively low in importance and, even more critically, free of cultural polarization. This means they are pretty inert, conflict-wise. For now.
  • Vaccines, schmaccines. Childhood vaccination risk (VACCINES) is lowest in perceived importance and has essentially zero cultural variance. This issue gets a lot of media hype in relation to its seeming importance.
  • Holy s*** on distribution of illegal drugs (DRUGS)! Scarier than terrorism (!) and not even that polarized. (This nation won’t elect Ron Paul President.)
  • Look at speech advocating racial violence (HATESPEECH). Huh!
  • Marijuana distribution (MARYJRISK) and teen pregnancies (TEENPREG) feature hierarch-communitarian vs. egalitarian-individualist conflict. Not surprising.

Coming soon: cross-cultural cultural cognition! A comparison of US & UK.

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Reader Comments (2)

Great blog post except for your absymal documentation of the mysterious acronyms. I figured out from your other papers that the cultural groups are: H=hierarchical, I=individualist, E=egalitarian, C=communitarian. You should also make the risk labels a lot more user friendly although at least you spell out some of them in the text.

January 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Easterly

dmk: You are right. You got the acronyms, which refer to the 4 types of cultural worldviews associated with the cultural cognition measures.

The risk perceptions:

25. GUNRISK. Private gun possession
26. AIRPOLLUTION. Air pollution
27. WATERPOLLUTION. Water pollution
28. NUKERISK. Nuclear power
29. MARYJRISK. Legalization [UK: “legalisation”] of marijuana
30. FOODADD. Chemical additives in food
31. TERROR. Domestic terrorism by Muslim extremists
32. IMMIGRANT. Increased immigration
33. LIABILITY. Lawsuits against reporters and news media for libel.
34. NANO. Nanotechnology
35. SYNBIO. Synthetic biology
36. CIGSMOKE. Indoor exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke
37. HATESPEECH. Speech inciting racial hatred
38. GMFOOD. Genetically modified foods
39. DRUG. Illegal drug trafficking
40. EXCESSREG. Government regulation of businesses
41. TEENPREG. Teenage pregnancy
42. POWERLINES. Exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines
43. EDCUTS. Cuts in government support for higher education
44. VACCINES. Childhood vaccinations
45. AFGHAN. Military involvement in Afghanistan
46. GOVSPENDING. Government budget deficits
47. NUCWASTE. The accumulation of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants

January 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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