Dec 022011
 

Who is afraid of whom?

The liberal German weekly Zeit has commissioned a YouGov poll which demonstrates that Germans are more afraid of right-wing terrorists than of Islamist terrorists. The question read “What is, in your opinion, the biggest terrorist threat in Germany?” On offer were right-wingers (41 per cent), Islamists (36.6 per cent), left-wingers (5.6 per cent), other groups (3.8 per cent), or (my favourite) “no threat” (13 per cent). This is a pretty daft question anyway. Given the news coverage of the Neo-Nazi gang that has killed at least ten people more or less under the eyes of the authorities, and given that the authorities have so far managed to stop would-be terrorists in their tracks, the result is hardly surprising.

Nonetheless, the difference of just under five percentage points made the headlines, because there is a subtext for Zeit readers: Germans are worried about right-wing terrorism (a few weeks ago many people would have denied that there are right-wing terrorists operating in Germany), which must be a good thing, and they are less concerned about Islamist terrorists, which is possibly a progressive thing. Or something along those lines.

But is the five-point difference real?

YouGov has interviewed 1043 members of its online access panel. If we assume (and this is a heroic assumption) that these respondents can be treated like a simple random sample, what are the confidence intervals?

Binomial Confidence Intervals

First, we could treat the two categories as if they were distributed as binomial and ask Stata for exact confidence intervals.

cii 1043 round(1043*.41)
cii 1043 round(1043*.366)

The confidence intervals overlap, so we’re lead to think that the proportions in the population are not necessarily different. But the two categories are not independent, because the “not right-wingers” answers include the “Islamists” answers and vice versa, so the multinomial is a better choice.

Multinomial Model

It is easy to re-create the univariate distribution of answers in Stata:

set obs 5
gen threat = _n
lab def threat 1 "right-wingers" 2 "islamists" 3 "left-wingers" 4 "other" 5 "no threat"
lab val threat threat

gen number = round(1043* 0.41) in 1
replace number = round(1043* 0.366) in 2
replace number = round(1043* 0.056) in 3
replace number = round(1043* 0.038) in 4
replace number = round(1043* 0.13) in 5
expand number

Next, run an empty multinomial logit model

mlogit threat,base(5)

The parameters of the model reproduce the observed distribution exactly and are therefore not very interesting, but the estimates of their standard errors are available for testing hypotheses:

test [right_wingers]_cons = [islamists]_cons

At the conventional level of 0.05, we cannot reject the null hypothesis that both proportions are equal in the population, i.e. we cannot tell if Germans are really more worried about one of the two groups.

Simulation

Just for the fun of it, we can carry out one additional test and ask a rather specific question: If both proportions are 0.388 in the population and the other three are identical to their values in the sample, what is the probability of observing a difference of at least 4.4 points in favour of right-wingers?

The idea is to sample repeatedly from a multinomial with known probabilities. This could be done more elegantly by defining a program and using Stata’s simulate command, but if your machine has enough memory, it is just as easy and possibly faster to use two loops to generate/analyse the required number of variables (one per simulation) and to fill them all in one go with three lines of mata code. Depending on the number of trials, you may have to adjust maxvars

local trials = 10000
foreach v of newlist s1-s`trials' {
qui gen `v' = .
}

mata:
probs =(.388,.388,.056,.038,.13)
st_view(X.,.,"s1-s`trials'",)
X[.,.] = rdiscrete(1043,`trials',probs)
end

local excess = 0

forvalues sample = 1/`trials' {
qui tab s`sample' if s`sample' == 1
local rw = r(N)
qui tab s`sample' if s`sample' == 2
local isl = r(N)
if (`rw' / 1043 * 100) - (`isl' / 1043 * 100) >=4.4 local excess = `excess' +1
}

display "Difference >=4.4 in `excess' of `trials' samples"

Seems the chance of a 4.4 point difference is between 5 and 6 per cent. This probability is somewhat smaller than the one from the multinomial model because the null hypothesis is more specific, but still not statistically significant. And the Zeit does not even have a proper random sample, so there is no scientific evidence for the claim that Germans are more afraid of right-wing extremists than of Islamists, what ever that would have been worth. Bummer.

Jan 202009
 

Does religion make you a better or worse human being? More specifically, does Christian religiosity reduce or increase the likelihood of a radical/extreme right vote in a West European context? This is the question Liz and I are trying to address in our latest paper on “Christian Religiosity and Voting for West European Radical Right Parties“.

There are a number of reasons why good Christians could be more likely to vote for the Right than agnostics: American research starting in the 1940s has linked high levels of church attendance and a closed belief systems to support for rightism. More over, contemporary Radical Right parties try to frame the issue of immigration in terms of a struggle between Christian/Western values and Islam.

On the other hand, many of the most radical parties (e.g. the Austrian FPÖ) have anti-clerical roots. Moreover, the Churches give support and shelter to refugees/immigrants in many countries, and some pro-immigrant movements are inspired by Christian values. Finally, religious voters are often firmly tied to Christian-Democratic parties and will therefore not be available for the Radical Right.

We develop a theoretical model that incorporates these mechanisms and use Structural Equation Modelling to test this model in eight countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Norway. As it turns out, religious people do not differ from their more agnostic compatriots in terms of their attitudes towards immigrants. They are, however, less likely to vote for the radical right because they often identify with Christian Democratic/Conservative parties. The final version of the paper will appear in West European Politics.

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Jul 292008
 

Weird, sad but apparently true: at Nottingham University, a PhD student who works on islamic terrorism and an administrator were arrested (though released without charges) because they were in possession of an al-Qaeda manual downloaded from the internet. The twist: the manual was part of an MA dissertation and had been re-submitted as part of a PhD application. Now this is clandestine. THE has the full story, and boing boing has lots of comments on it. All of the sudden, the whole point of urging students to provide proper references and go back to the sources seems rather moot.

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Mar 212008
 

Last year, the “Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie and Sozialpsychologie” published an article on the level of support for the European Union’s core principles (democracy, gender equality, religious freedom, rule of law) in Turkey. In essence, the author claimed that the level of support for these principles in Turkey is low because a) the level of economic development is low while b) the number of Muslims is very high. Thanks to the very efficient PR office at the university of Cologne, these findings made their way into the mainstream media in Germany (including the English service of the Deutsche Welle) and Turkey and eventually even into the more shady parts of the blogosphere (that are normally the object rather than the consumer of sociological studies).

I felt, however, that the analysis suffered from a whole host of serious methodological and theoretical shortcomings, and that the claims of the original paper are untenable. Therefore, I wrote a comment on “Paßt die Türkei zur EU und die EU zu Europa” (in German, also as PDF). The Kölner Zeitschrift has recently accepted my article, and it will appear in the next issue. Replication data and stata scripts for my paper are available, too.

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