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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Right and Left in the blogosphere

My general observation is that in the blawgosphere, blawgs that lean to the right are generally more popular than those that lean to the left.

Glib liberals will suggest that this is because right-wing ideas are more suitable to the blog medium than the more "complex" left-wing ideas that require articles and books to convey.  (This is what liberals have been saying about the success of right-wing bumper-stickers for years.)

Glib conservatives will suggest that right-wing ideas are more popular in the democratic and populist medium of the web because the ideas are, well, right.  (This is what conservatives have been saying about bumper stickers for years.)

I don't buy either one of these explanations.  Instead, I offer two other possibilities, and I believe that the answer lies in some combination of them:

  1. Thoughtful conservative potential blawgers are drawn to the medium more than thoughtful liberal potential blawgers because, let's face it, within the traditional academic fora, it must be lonely to be a conservative.  Blawgs offer both a community and outlet for conservative ideas that liberals don't necessarily need;
  2. Liberals interested in reading serious consideration of legal topics need not seek out blawgs, because serious consideration of legal topics from the liberal perspective can be found all over the place.  Of course, serious conservative opinionating is also available to readers in more traditional fora, but the person committed to conservative thought would have to weed through much more liberal opinionating to find it because, again, the academy's traditional media are more likely to feature liberal perspectives.

For the market-heads out there, the first suggestion speaks to the supply side; and the second to the demand.

Thoughts?

Posted by Hillel Levin on June 7, 2005 at 04:37 PM in Deliberation and voices | Permalink

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» Right, Left, and the Legal Blogs: from The Volokh Conspiracy
Over at PrawfsBlawg, Hillel Levin is asking an interesting question -- why is it that an unusual number of popular legal blogs tend to be right-of-center? I'm not enti... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 7, 2005 5:24:15 PM

» The political views of blawgers from Morning View
This is the latest commentator to be puzzled by the seeming dominance of right-wing views in the blawgosphere. I tend to agree with some of the commenters that it's likely a temporary trend. We currently have a few big fish in a small pond. No doubt th... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 8, 2005 2:46:19 PM

Comments

Interesting post.
I basically disagree with explanation (2) because only at a very few schools are professors likely to have any colleagues who write in their subject area, let alone enough such colleages to form the community that would explain libs shunning the blogosphere. (1) feels more right, but given that blogs have emerged in the last several years, when there has been a flourishing of opportunities for conservatives, I wonder...

Another point to consider is the sample size of well known blawgers is incredibly small, and so generalizing from, say, Eugene Volokh, to larger societal trends may be a problem.

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Jun 7, 2005 5:11:21 PM

Probably both.

Another, more speculative, possibility: conservative potential blawgers disagreed with most of their professors in law school and spent a lot of time with their hands up offering different perspectives. They spent three years disagreeing and trying to develop counterarguments. Now they have blogs, and do the same via their blogs.

Posted by: JJ | Jun 7, 2005 5:12:22 PM

JJ, I like it. Again, that goes to the supply side.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Jun 7, 2005 5:15:23 PM

I don't agree with the answers.

I'd agree with the initial observation, but I think the hypothesis frames the question with a lot of assumptions, possibly incorrect ones.

Here's some other hypotheses:
Blogs are not suitable for serious thoughts.
Blogs are most suitable for vituperative thought.
Blogs work well when you can link to and be linked from lots of other blogs.
Blogs succeed when there are catchy phrases that can be repeated over and over.
Liberal blogs are fast-growing and will become more popular than they are now.
Liberal blawgs haven't been linked to by the SCLM (so-called liberal media- a liberal blog trope), featured on Fox, written up in the newspapers, etc. But they could be.

My guess is that all the listed hypotheses are also wrong.

Real guess: when you have small numbers, selection effects are large. As numbers grow, accidental conjunctions disappear, and you get a better picture. Try again in approximately 1 bn. bloghits/ pageviews, and if the effect is still observable, then maybe there's something to it.

Posted by: Eh Nonymous | Jun 7, 2005 5:35:42 PM

The liberals are right (sort of)! I believe that, in a sense, there are are more conservative (and libertarian) blawgers because liberal arguments are, in a way, more "complex". A better word than "complex", however, might be "diverse" (and arbitrary!).
Much liberal legal theory rests on one definition or another of "justice." The premises for legal arguments based on justice can be bewilderingly manifold, and would quickly frustrate anyone trying to organize them into a coherent thread of commentary.
Conversely, conservative judicial philosophy based on, say, Originalism, or libertarianism, is much easier to organize, discuss and elaborate upon.
Just try to write anything meaningful in a few quick sentences about a legal interpretation based on Rawls theories of "justice"!

Posted by: Matthew Finlay | Jun 7, 2005 5:40:20 PM

I'm not sure which way this cuts, but conservative law blogs have a lot of non-law conservative readers. Bainbridge, for example, has a lot of conservative readers who are not lawyers, law professors, or people interested in corporate law. We have noticed that when he links to Conglomerate on legal posts, we get less traffic referred than when he links to us on corporate law posts. I guess that just asks why there are so many more conservative blog readers. I think that the majority of people outside of universities is conservative.

I don't think that claiming that liberal legal theory is more complex is a great way to have dialogue. True federalism and true conservatism are complex legal theories. Liberal theories are just as easy to reduce to bumper stickers, but they aren't as popular these days. "Make Love, Not War" was quite popular at one time, as was "Practice Random Acts of Kindness."

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Jun 7, 2005 6:20:17 PM

Dave,

Agreed that it's way too early to tell anything. At this point, the numbers are skewed because Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) found/created the medium first, and has a huge first-mover advantage.

This isn't to say that Instapundit has any evil plans for blogospheric domination, but he links to others who blog on the same topics -- Volokh, Right Coast, Bainbridge, Althouse -- and synergies are formed. Instapundit is a conservative-leaning triage for law blog posts, who directs readers to where it's hot.

There isn't a similar left-leaning triage location. Leiter links to very few other bloggers and is probably too opinionated to be a triage; Lessig and Balkin haven't any inclination. And so the left is fractured, while the right is unified.

Posted by: Kaimi | Jun 7, 2005 6:36:31 PM

Kaimi about nails it. The effort's more worth it for right-of-center lawprofs, because a network exists to promote your site that doesn't exist as strongly on the left, where the online activism is more political than legal.

Posted by: Adam | Jun 7, 2005 8:08:43 PM

I'd say that a lot of the criminal practitioner blawgs lean left - probably the majority.

Posted by: ken | Jun 7, 2005 8:53:25 PM

What counts as a "blawg" in the first place? Instapundit? He may be a law professor, but his posts are hardly ever about caselaw, legal doctrines, etc. Instead, he mostly writes about (or links to) the news of the day, whatever that might happen to be. Why is that a "blawg"? Same for some of the others mentioned above. Brian Leiter is a law professor, but he virtually never blogs about caselaw, legal doctrines, etc. He monitors other people's academic careers in astounding detail, and he links to op-ed pieces about the news of the day.

When I think of "blawgs," I think of bloggers who, write about the law a substantial percentage of the time. Larry Solum. Tom Goldstein. Howard Bashman (who writes about caselaw 5-10% of the time, but much more in his earlier days). Volokh. And several others. Anyway, I don't know how one empirically reaches the conclusion that "blawgs that lean to the right are generally more popular than those that lean to the left."

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jun 8, 2005 10:45:51 AM

I'd just like to add that one is employing here, at best, a highly watered-down and approximative concept of "right-leaning."

Of those named above only Bainbridge is even arguably a social conservative. The notion that, just because there are some libertarian voices present in a given cultural context, there is meaningful intellectual diversity -- let alone that it makes that context a "right-leaning" one, as assumed here! -- is a characteristic error of perspective that unfortunately is not confined to the legal academy.

The pro-porn, pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage yuppie libertarian Glenn Reynolds as evidence that law prof blogs are "right-leaning"?

I mean to say.

Posted by: Plainsman | Jun 8, 2005 1:19:15 PM

Sorry, the "yuppie" was gratuitous. Lord knows I could fairly be described as a "yuppie conservative."

But stripped of snark, the point stands.

Posted by: Plainsman | Jun 8, 2005 1:22:22 PM

Plainsman, libertarian ideals are somewhat mixed but are predominantly right-leaning in the classic sense. Now few principled libertarians could even jokingly be called neocons, but the underlying theory is right-leaning. This is one of those instances where the "conservative" label and umbrella extends to more than a single viewpoint.

Segui: I think another factor in the discussion here is that left-leaning blawgs are but one small avenue of the left-leaning blog world. It has been considered that left-leaning politics encompassed a greater deal of diversity of views in the past and I think we may see a scattering of intellectual and personal interests. Perhaps what we should question is why the right-leaning blawgs are more well known? What is driving people to those sites? No cop outs like popularity or pundit sized ... where else are they referenced? What sort of PR do they have? Simple fact, we have an indeterminate sample size where it is hard to get statistically significant results, much less devise a measure to adequately describe right-leaning v. left-leaning. Instead a psychology, we are in sociology. From the cybersociological descriptive context, I think you have a greater predominance of right-leaning blawgs right now because you get greater media coverage from blogs that are doing something right-leaning. The Rather/CBS story leaps to mind. We are dealing as much with pop culture and shaped perceptions as we are with actual populations.

Posted by: Joel | Jun 8, 2005 1:56:05 PM

Plainsman -- "right-leaning" as used in the post apparently means "supported the Iraq war" and/or "isn't gung-ho about the welfare state," whatever the blogger's positions on any number of other issues.

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jun 9, 2005 11:55:06 AM

Also, the post struck me as a bit odd in mentioning "right-wing bumper stickers." Right-wing bumper stickers certainly exist, but I certainly don't know of any reason to think that they are any more numerous than left-wing bumper stickers. Indeed, there's a certain type of person who plasters their car with 20 bumper stickers -- a phenomenon that I've seen throughout the South and up to Massachusetts -- and that person is invariably a lefty.

Posted by: Stuart Buck | Jun 9, 2005 9:27:33 PM

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