Majorities and minorities

Ice cream by
eye color
Yes No
Blue 16 43
Brown 224 151

Suppose we asked a few more than 400 people whether they preferred strawberry ice cream over chocolate and, as they answered we also noted their eye color. If eye color was related to their preference, we’d see disproportionally more folks with one eye color saying “Yes.” In fact, the data might look something like those in the yellow table. Following the majority-rule concept, we’d conclude that people prefer strawberry to chocolate.

Of course, such a conclusion hides something pretty intriguing. The preference differs depending on the color of the respondents’ eyes. We might still agree that the majority prefers strawberry, but following the majority runs quite clearly counter to the interests of the minority, no? Why, we might wonder, is there this difference? Is there something to be learned from the minority?

Stupak-Pitts by
Yes No
Female 16 43
Male 224 151

As far as tastes in ice cream, there’s probably not much of importance. However, the data in the table are not actually about ice cream preferences. I took those numbers from the vote by members of the US House of Representatives on the Stupak Amendment to HR 3962, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act.” Representative Bart Stupak (with Representative Joe Pitts) proposed an amendment that restricted coverage of abortions under the health care plan; insurance plans that are purchased with government subsidies may not cover abortions. That includes privately purchased health care insurance. The amendment passed with strong support from men, but not from women.

Over 70% of female representives, who may not be the minority in the population but are in the House of Representatives, voted against the Stupak-Pitts amendment (see blue table). Nearly 60% of male representatives voted in favor of it. It appears to me that those women must know something those men don’t know. More importantly, it appears to me that the majority’s decision has run counter to the expressed concern of the minority. ‘Majority rule’ is a good thing, but in our system it has to be accompanied by protection of the minority’s rights.

Now, the analogy to eye color doesn’t really fit well. One chooses neither her eye color nor gender, to be sure. However, requiring blue-eyed people to eat strawberry ice cream isn’t as much of a big deal as requiring women to live with laws restricting their access to health-care procedures.

I am sorry to report that our representative, Tom Perriello, was among the 224 men who voted to restrict insurance coverage for abortions.

Although one can find these data in a lot of places here is a source for them. In case there’s a statistically intrigued reader, the chi square of 21.94 with 1 degree of freedom is significant with a probability of 0.00000282. (I understand that the p value is not an index of the strength of the relationship.)

While I’m at it, here, please take a few minutes to see how some of the erstwhile debate about the health care legislation went.


1 Comment

Filed under Civil rights, Neighborhood, News, Notes and comments, Politics

One response to “Majorities and minorities

  1. tommoriarty

    The house has passed a health care bill.

    There will be a revolt, one way or another.

    Best Regards

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