Classically Liberal: Born Again and Porn Again: Is There a Connection?
Delawareliberal: Porn in the USA: Conservatives are the biggest consumers
Both purport to chronicle, with considerable glee, the reporting of a new porn study by economist Benjamin Edelman, entitled Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?.
Here's CL talking about the conclusions:
One state seems to subscribe to porn channels more often than the other states. I won’t leave you waiting—it was Utah. Yes, the Beehive state, the Deseret Kingdom of Mormonism has more porn subscribers than any other state. No doubt they are all fantasizing about their future multiple wives in the afterlife —or not. In second place is Mississippi, home of countless fundamentalists. The next tier of states in porn consumption are all Bible-belt states, but one: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. The one exception is North Dakota, which at least has an excuse—it’s pretty lonesome up there....
The trend seems to imply that conservatives, with their moralistic agenda, are more likely to buy porn than those who lean to the left. Other aspects of the study tend to confirm that. So far 27 states have passed laws against gay marriage, an issue conservatives find very important these days. Those states have 11% more subscribers to porn than the states that haven’t passed these bans....
When porn consumption is compared to the percentage of adults expressing conservative religious viewpoints, porn subscriptions are also more prevalent in states with more "traditional" values.
Here's DL doing much the same:
According to Edelman’s paper, 8 of the top 10 states signing up for porn subscriptions voted for John McCain in last year’s presidential election, Florida and Hawaii were exceptions. Of the states with the lowest subscription rate, 6 out of the lowest 10 voted for Barack Obama.
So what does this tell me? That here is one other front of the Culture War that conservatives are losing badly — after all, they are (as was widely known) big consumers of the thing they claim is so harmful. This paper (while not exactly definitive, but good enough for its point) begins to document the real waste of energy it is to try to control what grown people view. The BushCo DOJ spent a great many resources targeting this industry, which always struck me as a particularly stupid policy. And their focus wasn’t entirely on child porn (which is beyond the pale and folks making that should be sent to the guillotine.) No doubt a corner of the family values set will continue to raise cain over grown up choices, but after this, you do know to ask them tips on the particularly hot sites.
Good writing in both cases, but unfortunately both are intellectually dishonest about (a) what Edelman's conclusions actually say, and (b) what they may mean.
This is a classic case of an interesting interpretive academic paper being usurped and twisted to build a particular political narrative.
Yes, Edelman does argue that certain types of porn, specifically AVN subscription porn, from which he has two years' worth of credit card receipts with zip codes attached, are slightly more prevalent in states known for socially conservative values and laws.
But not much more:
On the whole, these adult entertainment subscription patterns show a remarkable consistency: all but eleven states have between two and three subscribers to this service per thousand broadband households, and all but four have between 1.5 and 3.5. With interest in online adult entertainment relatively constant across regions, there’s little sign of a major divide.
Nor does Edelman find a significant correlation between porn use and voting, despite what our blog commenters would have us believe:
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.
He found strong correlations between marriage and divorce vis a vis porn viewing, a subject not noticed by our bloggers:
Both marriage and divorce are associated with reductions in subscription to this adult entertainment service. A 1 percent increase in marriage rates is associated with a 0.65 percent decrease in subscription rates, while a 1 percent increase in divorce rates is associated with a 0.28 percent decrease in subscription rates.
He found that youth, greater income, an urban setting, and bachelor's degrees correlated with higher porn use, while retirement, graduate degrees, and rural settings did not. Funny, none of that was takeaway for our bloggers.
Because Edelman is an academic, and is not willing to take his data further than the evidence supports, he never makes the claim that conservatives as individuals are more likely to purchase porn than anybody else. Instead, he deals in aggregate populations and statistical description.
Why? Because Edelman knows that there are other conclusions that this data set can support instead of the simplistic meme that hypocritical social and religious conservatives do more porn than anybody else.
For example: In a community in which there is a dominant conservative public value system and even social control legislation, people who are LGBT, people who are swingers, people who practice bondage, people who get into rape fantasies will find themselves driven further underground, and an AVN subscription service is far less risky that heading out to a club or trying to interact with real people. His data equally supports the thesis that conservative social repression sends moderates and liberals with different sexual orientations and interests underground.
To take another example: Edelman's data supports an interpretation that among large populations in the US there is little or no real statistical variation in porn consumption. But the problem is that in even the most conservative states there are thousands if not millions of liberals, and Edelman's data set cannot differentiate between them.
Every since Nathaniel Hawthorne committed an act of terrorism against modern high-school students by writing The Scarlet Letter, we have--as a nation--been obsessed with examining the perverse relationship between our religious beliefs, our public hypocrisies, and our sexuality.
The real finding in Edelman's study is not that the religious are any more likely to consume porn, but that they are not any less likely to do so.
That's an important finding (even if it is only tentative at this point), but one that's immediately lost in the rush to take good statistical detective work and bend it for partisan political purposes before the ink is even dry on the paper.