Do Churchgoers and Republicans Consume More Porn?

by Henry on February 28, 2009

Andrew Sullivan links to a New Scientist story suggesting that they do.

However, there are some trends to be seen in the data. Those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption, the study finds. … Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year’s presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama.

But if you look at the actual study (PDF), not so much.

The fourth column reports that in regions where more people report regularly attending religious services (per National Election Studies 2004), overall subscription rates are not statistically significantly different from subscriptions elsewhere (p 0.848).
… Furthermore, I found no significant relationship between subscriptions to this adult entertainment service and presidential voting in 2004, based on poll data by congressional district. However, using individual-level data from a Hitwise sample of ten million anonymized U.S. Internet users, Tancer (2008), finds that adult escort sites are more popular in blue states that voted for Gore in 2004, while visitors from the red states that voted for Bush in 2004 are more likely to visit wife-swapping sites, adult webcams, and sites about voyeurism.

What evidence there is in the paper of a relationship between religious faith and porn consumption seems, as best as I can interpret the relevant table, to be based on a simple OLS regression with no reported control variables. Nor does there seem to be any discussion in the piece of correlations between porn consumption and voting patterns in the most recent presidential election.

I’m not sure whether to blame the New Scientist or the paper’s author, who perhaps seems (if quoted fairly and accurately, which is of course by no means certain – he could have made a few vague handwaves that were taken completely out of context) to have hammed up his results a bit in the interview. But even if there were strong results, they wouldn’t necessarily tell us much. The data is all aggregated at the state or zipcode level, but the decision to purchase or not purchase porn online is obviously an individual one. There are all sorts of obvious ecological problems in drawing inferences about religious people’s individual propensities from aggregate data. This is directly analogous to Heritage horseflop claiming that because rich states tend to support Democrats, therefore the Democrats are the party of the rich. As Gelman, Park et al. showed, that inference was directly misleading. Similarly, even if people in more religious or Republican states were more inclined to purchase porn online, this doesn’t imply that religious people or individual Republicans were more inclined to purchase porn online, and I can think of at least two or three plausible alternative causal mechanisms that would explain the observed correlation.

{ 32 comments }

1

Kip Manley 02.28.09 at 8:44 pm

No response I’ve yet seen has gotten this story right. The study is of anonymized credit card receipts to major online porn vendors. Therefore, it does not measure the number of people who consume porn. It measures the number of people too stupid or incurious to find it for free.

2

Chris Bertram 02.28.09 at 8:52 pm

#1 _It measures the number of people too stupid or incurious to find it for free._

Maybe churchgoers and Republicans have more scruples about other people’s intellectual property? …

3

kid bitzer 02.28.09 at 9:07 pm

yup–i thought what kip did when i first saw sully’s write-up:
if you want to defend the theocrats and right-wingers, just say that they are more likely to pay for what they consume.

4

gl nelson 02.28.09 at 9:13 pm

“Maybe churchgoers and Republicans have more scruples about other people’s intellectual property? …”
Could be :)

5

Marichiweu 02.28.09 at 9:59 pm

I’m not clicking through since I’m at a work computer and I fear even a story about p0rn would set off alarms. But I think comment #1 is dead-on: subscriptions?! I’m no expert, but I suspect that by now the only people who actually subscribe to these things are the guys who run p0rn-blog aggregators and profit from the ads. Ordinary consumers just do Google Image searches, don’t we they?

6

Kip Manley 02.28.09 at 10:03 pm

Thank you, Marichiweu; I bristle at the suggestion that anyone bagging it for free is necessarily infringing on somebody else’s IP (though, yes, I have, fine); trust me, y’all, they’re giving it away free-as-in-beer out there, by the sticky armload.

Um. If you’ll pardon the mental image.

7

bigcitylib 02.28.09 at 10:18 pm

“I can think of at least two or three plausible alternative causal mechanisms that would explain the observed correlation.”

Yeah but the “socons are secret pornhounds” is the most fun explanation.

8

sg 02.28.09 at 10:24 pm

haha! It’s Multi-level modelling 101 to discredit this, but such a shame! I only hope that the rich-people-vote-democrat crowd remember this magnanimous post next time they try to make that claim…

9

Righteous Bubba 02.28.09 at 11:48 pm

haha! It’s Multi-level modelling 101 to discredit this, but such a shame!

Then we should all shush! Delete this post immediately! There’s fun to be had!

Amusing squirming to be had in the New Scientist comments…

10

c.l. ball 03.01.09 at 3:22 am

People pay for porn? I thought the whole purpose of the Internet was to get porn without paying.

…visitors from the red states that voted for Bush in 2004 are more likely to visit wife-swapping sites, adult webcams, and sites about voyeurism.

Why is it always called “wife-swapping”? Husbands are being swapped too in these transactions.

11

Eli Rabett 03.01.09 at 5:55 am

Now imagine that the porn subscription capitals of the US were NYC and Washington DC. How do you think the fair minded right wingnuts would respond.

For fun there is always song and dance

12

BillCinSD 03.01.09 at 6:46 am

Which were the Blue states that voted for Gore in 2004?

13

roy belmont 03.01.09 at 8:08 am

Whatever term you want to apply to the succession of changes that internet porn access does to people, men mostly, it’s a predictable set that could be tracked given the right metric tools, graphed as a moving wave
Internet credit card porn access numbers are going to reflect the spread of sophistication and peer-network referrals, by rising beforehand and falling after as the wave moves through. Because the general experience is desire grafted to desire not to have to pay.
The study happened to pick up the wave as it moved through the peer networks of the churchgoing Republicanating states. If it had been made 5 years earlier it would have had substantially different numbers in different areas, and the “most users” profile would have been somewhere else.
5 years from now, given the unlikely condition that everything stays pretty much the same, internet porn access through credit card payment sites would be way down in those same states.

14

Paul 03.01.09 at 2:53 pm

This sounds like a canard to me against the religious among us. Don’t academicians have better things to do than pursue their agendas through such drivel? We have real problems today that need solutions. No wonder the average person regards academia with suspicion !!

15

John Emerson 03.01.09 at 8:38 pm

Evil Christians (at Trollblog): http://trollblog.wordpress.com/

16

dave 03.02.09 at 2:10 pm

rm post from banned commenter Lex/Dave

17

Kristine 03.02.09 at 4:01 pm

We have real problems today that need solutions.

No kidding. So maybe people should get off the “gay marriage/intelligent design in schools/Obama’s a commie Kenyan/let’s chain ourselves to the abortion clinic door/we’re not in a recession oops we are/French-speaking, socialist wussies make Joe Wurzlebacher mad!/Whoever’s having sex before marriage with contraception will go to hell” bandwagon, eh? Oh, and banning sex toys. Sound like a good idea?

(Yeah, let’s instead do a survey on who bans sex toys from their county.)

18

Matthew Kuzma 03.02.09 at 8:22 pm

First of all, if other people are offering their intellectual property for free, it’s not a matter of scruples to pay for it. Free media is not necessarily stolen media.

And then of course, the other obvious explanation for this trend is that non-church-goers are simply more likely to do less anonymous things, like go to a strip club or buy a magazine at a gas station.

But my main reaction to this has been “so what”? I personally know people who go to church every sunday and don’t think there’s anything wrong with porn. Just because a significant group of church-goers consume porn, doesn’t mean another significant group of church-goers abjure it and criticize others for their support of it. So the temptation to conclude hypocrisy comes up against the fact that groups are made of individuals who make their own choices. Until we see that individuals who decry the evils of porn on religious grounds are also very likely to consume it, you’ve got nothing.

19

Matthew Kuzma 03.02.09 at 8:24 pm

edit: just because a significant… doesn’t preclude another significant group… from abjuring it and criticizing others for their support of it.

20

Kenny Easwaran 03.03.09 at 12:43 am

It looks like fivethirtyeight.com linked to the actual paper: http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/03/snow-day.html

When I read the paper and looked at the top 10/bottom 10 states for each measure (subscriptions per capita, per internet connection, per broadband connection, etc.) the thing I was struck by was that in several of the lists, staunch Republican states seemed concentrated at the top and bottom. I think Utah was top on every list, and the bottom in various lists was West Virginia (which jumped to the top in some lists) or Idaho. I seem to recall that California and New York were nowhere in the top or bottom 10 on any list, though Massachusetts was low in the top 10 on one of them.

21

Tony Comstock 03.04.09 at 12:20 am

This may be of interest

Harvard’s Benjamin Edelman latest to be suckered by AVN’s $12B/year Figure
http://www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony/2009/02/25/harvards-benjamin-edelman-latest-to-be-suckered-by-avns-12byear-figure/

22

Dendroica 03.04.09 at 12:49 am

However, using individual-level data from a Hitwise sample of ten million anonymized U.S. Internet users, Tancer (2008), finds that adult escort sites are more popular in blue states that voted for Gore in 2004…

Nice error, you’ve got there!

23

BobN 03.04.09 at 1:19 am

But how can you effectively pray for people’s sins if you don’t know exactly what they did… preferably in high-def…

24

Henry 03.04.09 at 2:53 am

Dendroica – umm, nope. No prize. Think about it for a little bit.

(Hint: think about what this ‘individualized data’ can or cannot tell us)

25

steal my opinion 03.04.09 at 3:39 am

the propensity of blue states to go to escort sites and red states to go for wife-swapping probably has to do with the relative levels of dense urban areas in the respective states. in new york city, LA, etc., there’s enough people close enough together to make it profitable to run an escort service. In less-dense, more-likely-to-be-red states, though, a disaggregated system works better, with interested folks pairing up and driving to one another, rather than a centralized service opening up to try to cater to everyone.

26

even steven 03.04.09 at 5:08 am

“There are all sorts of obvious ecological problems in drawing inferences about religious people’s individual propensities from aggregate data.”

Really. All we have is the data that indicates the higher porn rate in the set of religious people as a whole, which, all other things being equal, indicates there is a higher likelihood that each individual consumes more porn. Yes, it is POSSIBLE that there are a subgroup of religious people that there are non religious people in those states who are buying the porn, but you haven’t offered any evidence for that, so until you do, the study still stands to support the idea that religious people consume more porn.

Then you CHERRY-PICK an example where your ‘ecological argument’ is so compelling, wow — that’s impressive. You don’t think there’s a thousand examples where the aggregate data is higher because the individuals are higher. Oh my god, I know some tall woman, so it must be that the fact that men tend to be much taller than women must be FALSE.

Then you say

“Similarly, even if people in more religious or Republican states were more inclined to purchase porn online, this doesn’t imply that religious people or individual Republicans were more inclined to purchase porn online, and I can think of at least two or three plausible alternative causal mechanisms that would explain the observed correlation.”

Let’s hear ‘em. In the absence of those arguments. you don’t have a leg to stand on.

27

even steven 03.04.09 at 5:10 am

My bad —

Yes, it is POSSIBLE that there are a subgroup of religious people that there are non religious people in those states who are buying the porn, but you haven’t offered any evidence for that, so until you do, the study still stands to support the idea that religious people consume more porn.

should read

Yes, it is POSSIBLE that there are a subgroup of non religious people in those states who are buying the porn, but you haven’t offered any evidence for that, so until you do, the study still stands to support the idea that religious people consume more porn.

even with the mistake, you still have to refute my argument.

28

neil 03.04.09 at 2:56 pm

The entirely-too-obvious explanation for this, I think, is that these red/churchgoing states have fewer brick-and-mortar establishments where porn is sold so more porn purchases are offset to the Internet. If you want to buy porn in rural Utah, you’re not going to be able to bike down to your local adult bookstore.

29

Phranqlin 03.04.09 at 3:45 pm

I’m with neil. It’s likely that there are fewer porn shops in the religious/rural/red states. On top of that, there is more social disapproval of porn in these parts of the country.

Online porn is just a few mouse clicks away from anyone with a broadband connection and can be downloaded in the privacy of one’s own home without the neighbors’ knowledge.

30

John 03.04.09 at 6:15 pm

Henry,

You say: (Hint: think about what this ‘individualized data’ can or cannot tell us)

What the individualized data cannot tell us, and I believe this is Dendroica’s rather obvious point, is that Al Gore ran for president in 2004. If it does, in fact, tell us that then what you have there is corrupted data. The fact that that particular mistake is so prominent makes me wonder about the author’s attention to detail in other realms.

31

Tony Comstock 03.05.09 at 1:06 am

You’ll also want to have a look at the Do Not Ship lists that DVD mail order companies maintain. Utah and Alabama are both blacklisted on this one from TLA Video. Other mail order companies have similar lists:

http://www.tlavideo.com/support/supportOption.cfm?v=3&sn=1&supID=34

32

Henry 03.05.09 at 3:44 am

John, I completely misunderstood Dendroica to be making a point about _individualized data_ – i.e. criticizing me for not spotting that the author claimed to have individualized data rather than aggregate. I hadn’t even spotted the Gore 2004 howler. My bad – apologies all around.

even steven – I really would recommend that you take a basic stats course – this is an elementary issue that every social scientist gets drummed into them. If you would like to see a parallel demonstration (e.g. a discussion of why the fact that rich states tend to vote Democratic doesn’t mean that rich people vote Democratic, click through the link in the post and read the discussion of Gelman et al. Or even better, buy their book.

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