Bryan Caplan  

Carroll's Bet Proposal

Case in Point... Mental Illness and Behaviorism...

In response to my remarks about conservative passion, Heritage's Conn Carroll proposes a fairly attractive bet:

Here is the bet: Identify the three highest rated conservative talk show hosts (I think its Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck). Pick three random shows from each of them from this year. Then tally up the minutes they devoted to different policy areas.

I'd bet immigration and war are not the top two items on that list.

My main concern is that I never listen to these shows, and I bet Conn does.  My secondary concern is that three random shows from three talk shows is a very noisy measure of what conservatives are most passionate about. 

Should I bite anyway?  This survey from Human Events (HT: Jared Barton) inclines me to accept despite my reservations.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (15 to date)
Jacob Oost writes:

Take the bet, but make talk radio but one component of the bet.

I suggest lurking on conservative blogs and web forums like and seeing what topics get the most conversation/comments (to be scientific, make sure that conversation is actually about the issue posted) or the most irate responses. (fyi, FreeRepublic, while featuring conservatives from all over the right-of-center spectrum including many libertarians, definitely tilts towards protectionist, anti-immigrant, pro-war conservatives of the type you're talking about, it's why I don't bother hanging out over there anymore).

Seems like a lot of fuss though, even if immigration and war aren't the top two issues conservatives get their panties in a wad over, they are high on the list regardless. A more constructive enterprise would be to educate conservatives on issues like free trade, immigration, and war from a libertarian, peace-and-freedom-loving perspective, since they tend to only hear about peace, immigration, and free trade from a left-wing point of view.

scott clark writes:

Minutes devoted to policy areas might not be the right way to measure. I don't much listen to conservative talk radio, but I could see how the host could be talking about one topic like spending or health care, and then throw in a one liner about illegals getting health care, or that some frivolous spending could have been used to fight terror or support troops as a way to goose the audience, since that is where the passion resides. You would lose the bet but be right in principle.

Joey Donuts writes:

Why not take a sample of many conservative talk shows.. Weight the time spent on those topics by listeners (average weekly listeners?).

Conn Carroll certainly hasn't listened regularly to EVERY conservative talk show. The topics may have occurred more frequently on the less popular shows, but there may be enough of them to offset a lower frequency on the more popular shows.

Jared Barton writes:

Prof Caplan,

1. Despite the survey I suggested, I still don't know what you mean by "most passionate about". Is it "most important issue to the country"? Is it "the issue that makes you the most angry when thinking about it"? What is it? There are questions like both of the above out there (e.g., see here), and I think getting the data from them broken out by ideology is mostly a matter of asking.

2. After you decide what you mean by "passionate", then I'd make a bet. But not this one. Why?

3. This is a sucker's bet. Any radio hosts must appeal to their listeners, but on a regular basis. News changes from day to day, and what hosts spend time on will depend a great deal on current events. I wouldn't take anything less than a mutually agreed-upon measurement of opinion among the population in question. Not number of blog posts. Not column-inches in op-eds. Not the link I provided. And certainly not minutes of radio hosts.

AMW writes:

Since you suspect that Carroll has more information than you, I think a certain line from Guys and Dolls is instructive:

One of these days in your travels, you are going to come across a guy with a nice brand new deck of cards, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not take this bet, for if you do, as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an ear full of cider.
Keith writes:

You should either take the bet, propose your own, or retract/modify your original comment.

A sample of three random shows is indeed too noisy. A simple improvement would be to increase the number of shows. Why not ten from each? Sure, thirty of those might be an ordeal to sit through, but you'd probably get a lot to blog about from them.

Maybe you could also somehow account for callers into the programs.

On another note, The American Conservative is both anti-immigration but anti-war.

Chris Koresko writes:

I'm with AMW on this: Don't bet against someone who you suspect knows the subject better than you do.

FWIW, my proposed top-three list of the subjects from Limbaugh and Hannity (not sure about Beck):

  • Excesses of the 111th Congress, especially multi-thousand page bills rammed through without even being read by the Senators/Representatives, and whether the Republicans have what it takes to stop the damage
  • ObamaCare and its consequences, and the potential to defund and/or repeal it
  • Budgetary bloat, especially the "failed stimulus" and the foolishness of Keynsian fiscal stimulus in general; also arguments for the greater value of holding tax rates down compared to deficit-financed spending

It's worth noting that full transcripts of Limbaugh's shows are available for download (as are podcasts), which will make it easier to determine the winner if you do go for the bet.

David C writes:

Apparently you didn't get through all the comments. This more recent survey mentioned by Judy says you shouldn't accept. While you might be right about the long-term beliefs of Republicans, this is a bet over the short-term beliefs of Republicans where you will almost certainly lose.

Blackadder writes:

Don't take the bet. Most talk radio follows an "issue of the day" approach to topics, so unless there is some news hook about immigration or the war to start from, they aren't likely to spend much time on it.

Charlie Deist writes:

Having listened to an embarrassing amount of conservative talk radio, I would only accept the bet with the stipulation that the fraction of time spent talking about war and immigration are taken as a percentage of time spent about political issues in general. Much of the time on talk radio shows is spent shooting the breeze on non-political subjects.

Troy Camplin writes:

ask for a much larger sampling size. Or figure out a way to put transcripts from all of their shows into an ngram :-)

joecushing writes:

Don't take the bet. It's too specific for you. It's like the burdon of proof is tilted against you. The debt or spending is likly one of the top two right now anyway.

AMW writes:

I'd say that if you're going to expand your sample size, you should do so across a broad swath of history. As was pointed out above, talk radio is largely about the issues of the day. So at any given point in time the issue of the day will tend to largely outweigh war/immigration. But war/immigration will be talked about consistently over time, while each issue of the day falls by the wayside eventually. So you're more likely to be right over the long haul.

8 writes:

If the government restricted Muslim immigration, a lot of conservative support for the war would evaporate.

Conn Carroll writes:

Sorry for the late response. Like Russ Roberts (but not for religious reasons) I try to go off the grid and spend more time with my family on weekends.

On the bet, it is true that using 27 hours of radio talk show programming is an imperfect measure of conservative "passion" but even that seems like a lot of data to measure. Who would tabulate it?

My offer on the original bet still stands but I would prefer that Caplan rethink his original assertion and come to view conservatives less as racist warmongers and more as friends of liberty that he can make common cause with.

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