Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Stereotypes, Demographics, Soy Lattes and NPR

NPR recently did a story that I had the distinct pleasure in listening to called "The Listeners of National Public Radio". The show was done by NPR's On The Media. What impressed me was the incredible power of stereotyping and how it skews actual data.

I listen to NPR almost exclusively. I find that they have good analysis, good stories and a diverse group of people sharing different ideas in civil debate and discourse. So you can understand my shock when I heard a family member refer to NPR as "National Propaganda Radio"... he continued... "I'm upset that so much of my tax dollars go to support such a blatantly biased service". This isn't the first time I've heard NPR get blasted by people. On Fox News Sunday, the expert panelists Mara Liasson and Juan Williams are both correspondents for NPR, and on FNS, they tend to skew left of the political spectrum. This has always bothered me just a little bit, it seems to lend credence to the "left leaning" of NPR. An excellent analysis of that perception has already been done by Geoffrey Nunberg in his new book - Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising. Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving Left-Wing Freak Show.

So, when I heard On The Media's show about NPR's demographics, I wanted to share some of the actual data gathered.

NPR Listeners are more likely to:

  • Visit Starbucks
  • Buy a Volvo
  • Read the Sunday Times
  • Watch "The West Wing"
  • Live on the coast
  • Drink soy milk
  • Drink French wine
  • Describe themselves as "liberal"
NPR Listeners are less likely to:
  • Watch Will and Grace
  • Treat wrinkles (25% less likely)
From the article:
But one general impression you get reading through the survey is that you're more curious than average, more eager to spend time in other countries. Thirty percent of NPR News listeners are more likely to want to, quote, "understand how the world works."
What this tells me is that while you're more likely to listen to NPR if you describe yourself as a "liberal", many people who describe themselves as "conservative" listen and participate in the broadcasts. While more people on the left may listen to NPR, but the over-riding principle here is is not world view or fiscal/ social philosophy, but a desire to understand the world, the culture and events. This is not a political trait, this is a human trait.

I think that the further from the center of the political spectrum we move, we become less curious, less open and less inquisitive. I find that the more extreme your position on the political spectrum, you tend to view the opposing viewpoints as more antithetical to your core being and you become less willing to compromise.

In essence, we become less human. We become representations of an external ideal, and not the diverse accumulations of our lives, loves, education and experiences. We become fundamentalists to an idea that isn't really attainable in real life.

The data in the survey shows that people who listen to NPR may in fact lean to the left, however what's between the data is curiosity, exploration and a willingness to explore and experience new things. That's what I've always seen in NPR, whether I'm listening to a piece on Himalayan banjo stringers or the results of an election.

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