June 29, 2011

Average opinions within countries.

Lets say I am sitting in a hotel bar in any country in the world (lets say at a Marriott in Beijing.) Next to me is a fairly nondescript caucasian man in his late 30s. He is wearing equally nondescript clothes. (lets say sneakers, blue jeans and and plain t-shirt) He has medium length hair and no visible tattoos and piercings. I have yet to speak to him. The only piece of information I have been given about him is his nationality. What can I infer from this single piece of information? If he is German I think I can infer a great deal. If I know he is German I can probably predict his opinion on many many subjects with a great degree of accuracy. I will be able to take a very good guess as to his likely position on private gun ownership, on the Iraq war, on nuclear power, on the cause of the banking crisis, on the death penalty, on public education, and on Israel's foreign policy, on abortion and on the relative merits of private vs public health care systems. If he is American, I will be far less able to predict his opinions on these issues given the limited information I have at hand. Why is this?
It could be argued that Germans are more knowledgable about the world they live in and greater German uniformity of opinion on these issues is the result of a greater understanding of the issues. I doubt this explanation. In fact I believe that if we were to control for level of education, IQ and knowledge of current affairs there would still be a far greater diversity of opinion among caucasian sneaker and T-shirt wearing late 30s American males than among caucasian sneaker and T-Shirt wearing late 30s German males. Why might this be the case?