Conservatives and Liberals both get it wrong

He made a big mistake in overestimating how popular his ideas would be. This is very common for conservatives. Liberals have the opposite problem – they underestmate how popular their views are.

NEW YORK (AP) — A memo written by a male engineer at Google about gender differences sparked a quick rebuttal from Google after it circulated widely online.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai denounced the memo in an email on Monday for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” and said he was cutting short a vacation to hold a town hall with staff on Thursday. The engineer, James Damore, was fired, according to Bloomberg , which cited an email from him. An email sent to an address believed to be used by Damore was not immediately returned; Google declined to comment.

The engineer’s widely shared memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” criticized Google for pushing mentoring and diversity programs and for “alienating conservatives.”


This also demonstrates an interesting observation that research has illustrated – conservatives over estimate the percentage of the population that thinks like they do, while liberals underestimate that.

That is, individual conservatives believe their views represent the same views as the entire group, while liberals think that fewer people in the group feel the same as they do.

Both are wrong. Recent research demonstrates this.

Participants reported their attitudes on a variety of different political issues (e.g., attitudes toward abortion) and non-political issues (e.g., attitudes toward coffee), and then estimated how widely their attitudes were shared with politically like-minded others (for example, conservatives estimated how widely their attitudes were shared by other conservatives). The researchers compared these estimates with the actual percentage of like-minded others who shared participants’ own attitudes.

And here are the results:


Liberals think fewer liberals think like they do. Conservative think more do. This happens not only with political issues but with non-political ones also. In fact, when it comes to public health issues, such as vaccinations, similar results are seen.


Liberals not only underestimated how many other liberals felt the same as they did about vaccination, they underestimated how many in the entire population felt the same. Conservatives got the population similarity right only because they severely underestimated the fraction of liberals who felt the same. They overestimated the fraction of conservatives.

So conservatives are always surprised by how few people really think like them while liberals are always surprised at how many do think like them.

I imagine the Google employee was surprised at how few people thought like he did. But in a company devoted to rapid innovation, segregating half the population reduces the diversity needed to arrive at novel solutions. Google or Uber or what have you cannot afford rampant discrimination against any group. 

Because, in the end, they will be overtaken by innovative comapnies that use all the powers of their employees at all levels, not just half of them.

Image: Kevin Simmons