Measuring Anxiety

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OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 7, 2006

Measuring Anxiety

by Eric RauchwayBill's very kind to suggest I would know anything useful about the question of whether we can measure a connection between paranoia and punitiveness. He suggests we look at the imprisonment rate divided by the crime rate--which certainly seems like a good working measure of punitiveness--and notes that in the U.S. it's risen considerably lately.

Okay, now could we test that against some index of--if not paranoia, then maybe expressed anxiety about threats to the social order? Does such a thing exist?

Well, I know of one: in Party Ideologies in America, John Gerring measured the percentage of sentences in party-political platforms

proposing the necessity of restraint on individual freedom; warning of the danger of anarchy and social disorder; or asserting the supremacy of law, "liberty and order," and the necessity of tougher law enforcement

over the period from 1828 onward. The graph is on page 94, if you have the book to hand. (Clearly, this is not the same thing as paranoia, or conspiracy-mindedness, but it's the closest thing I can think of at the moment.)

Two things stick out right away: First, the Whigs and Republicans were more likely in pretty much all periods to make such appeals than the Democrats. Second, there are definite ups and downs over time.

So, all you need to do is get Gerring's data, enter yours on punitiveness, open up your copy of Stata, and you maybe have an article, there...

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