Hate crimes

No, Trump Rallies Didn't Increase Hate Crimes by 226 Percent

In fact, they didn’t have any detectable impact at all.

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In the aftermath of August's mass shooting in El Paso, a cursory glance at the news might have left you with the impression that there were two villains that day: the white supremacist who viciously killed 22 people and wounded 24 more, and President Donald Trump, who supposedly incited him. 

"The president cannot be absolved of responsibility for inciting the hatreds that led to El Paso," read a New York Times piece. Democratic presidential contenders echoed this sentiment, with Beto O'Rourke saying Trump's rhetoric "has a lot to do with" the shooting and Kamala Harris alleging that Trump was "tweeting out the ammunition" used by the El Paso shooter.

Blaming the words of controversial politicians for the acts of terrorists and lunatics without hard evidence is not new. However, a recent academic paper, reported on by numerous outlets before it went through the peer-review process, suggests that Trump actually is to blame. 

Studying the effects of Trump's many campaign rallies on reported hate incidents, three professors at the University of North Texas and Texas A&M—Ayal Feinberg, Regina Branton, and Valerie Martinez-Ebers—claim that Trump rallies are associated with a 226 percent increase in such incidents. 

Naturally, their study went viral. Vox, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and CNN all published articles reporting that Trump's words are so bad that exposure to them leads to a wave of hate crimes.  

Once again, Democratic politicians piled on. "Your language creates a climate which emboldens violent extremists," wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) in a social media post. "Your rhetoric is directly and indirectly inciting hate, Mr. President," tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.).

Is that where the story ends? Not quite. Using the same data and statistical procedures as Feinberg et al., we replicated their study's headline result. Since we did not have access to the original paper's data and code, this involved collecting each of the variables mentioned in the original paper, and then independently performing the same analysis. Wherever possible, we copied the decisions that are mentioned in the original paper. Our headline results were very close to those reported in the original paper. (You can see our work at GitHub.)

Using additional data we collected, we also analyzed the effect of Hillary Clinton's campaign rallies using the identical statistical framework. The ostensible finding: Clinton rallies contribute to an even greater increase in hate incidents than Trump rallies.  

This should be enough to give any reader pause. The implied reasoning of those who cited the initial study was that Trump's caustic and seemingly racist rhetoric contributed to a crueler, more discriminatory climate, ripe for hate crimes. If this interpretation is correct, why did Clinton inspire as many, if not more, hate incidents as Trump did? Did calling millions of Americans "deplorables" promote violence?

Probably not. Both of these results rely on comparing counties with rallies to other counties without them. This produces a glaring problem. Politicians tend to hold political rallies near where large numbers of people live. And in places with more people, the raw number of crimes is generally mechanically higher. Simply put, no one should be surprised that Orange County, California (population 3.19 million) was home to both more reported hate incidents (5) and Trump rallies (2) than Orange County, Indiana (population 19,840, which had zero of each). 

Nor is it sensible to interpret that one of these differences (hate crimes) is caused by the other (political rallies). Indeed, adding a simple statistical control for county population to the original analysis causes the estimated effect of Trump rallies on reported hate incidents to become statistically indistinguishable from zero. The study is wrong, and yet journalists ran with it anyway. 

How could this happen?

Even if researchers attempt to be unbiased, it is easy for ideology to interfere with the practice of the scientific method. Empirical work requires numerous small assumptions and choices, often without obvious right and wrong options, that collectively affect the findings. The hypotheses that researchers choose to test often reflect their beliefs, and when initial statistical findings do not match the researcher's gut intuition, it is easy to tweak these choices until the analysis "works." By comparison, when a result "feels right," it is easy to conclude the analysis with minimal further checks. In short, falling prey to confirmation bias is easy. Attempting to find errors in a result that, deep down, you want to be true, is hard. Furthermore, the ideological imbalance of academia—where liberals outnumber conservatives six to one—can worsen this. While claims deemed conservative may receive much scrutiny, those that comport with liberal sensibilities are more likely to go unscrutinized.

In principle, this need not have much impact outside academia. A neutral press, acting as a gatekeeper, need not report unquestioningly about every unpublished study. However, like academics, journalists as a profession are overwhelmingly liberal, with four times as many reporters identifying as Democrats than as Republicans. Given how little scrutiny was required to reveal the flaws in the thesis that Trump rallies cause hate incidents, one cannot help but wonder whether its viral status was aided by journalists predisposed to believe its message. Would a study claiming Clinton rallies caused hate crimes to increase by 226 percent have been seized on equally enthusiastically? We are skeptical. Because of this, we have some sympathy for the authors of this study—such errors are typically found during peer review and quietly corrected before publication. Yet, these errors have profoundly different implications when they result in widespread, extraordinary-but-false claims in the popular media. 

Many of Trump's fiercest critics have proclaimed themselves to be staunch defenders of science in the face of a supposedly rising tide of anti-scientific sentiment. By rushing to promote academic results that are most in line with their own preconceived notions, Trump's critics risk committing the very error they decry. It is bad for America when Trump expresses falsehoods or unnecessarily inflammatory rhetoric. News organizations of record shouldn't do it either.

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  1. “”How could this happen?””

    Because some people are invested in gaslighting America that Trump is the new Hitler.

    1. ..I am making a good salary from home $1200-$2500/week , which is amazing, under a year back I was jobless in a horrible economy. I thank God every day I was blessed with these instructions and now it’s my duty to pay it forward and share it with Everyone, Here is what I do……….. > www.2salary.com

    2. can you guys publish your dataset(s) and code, please? seems kind of silly that you don’t, after complaining about the previous study not providing these.

  2. Nothing personal, just a business!

  3. I’ll bite. What exactly is a “hate crime”?

    1. It’s what the MSM and the democrats commit almost every day now.

    2. That’s the problem. The term is so nebulous as to be essentially meaningless. There was a big scare in New York where some kids drawing a huge number of swastikas with sidewalk chalk. On the other end, in a small town, some guy could violently attack a random minority, but because “I didn’t like the way he was looking at me” isn’t explicitly racist, it’s not included in the listings.

  4. As a statistically inclined economist, my spin on the “liars, damned liars and statisticians” line is “liars, damned liars, and sociopaths.” All of these people know better. They know they’re guilty of confirmation bias. It doesn’t take a college degree to understand regression analysis and methodology. They just want you to accept their narrative because they have ulterior motives.

    1. +10

    2. Agreed.

  5. “Both of these results rely on comparing counties with rallies to other counties without them. This produces a glaring problem.”

    You mean, it did not occur to those who conducted the original study that the more meaningful comparison might be to compare the number of “hate crimes” in rally counties before the rallies took place to the number of “hate crimes” after the rallies, thus producing a comparison that avoids this “apples to oranges” issue?

    Why do I suspect that those who conducted the original study first decided on the result they wanted to reach and then chose a “methodology” that would produce that result?

    1. I’m not commenting on the content of the article, the study, or the motivations of either of their sets of authors, all of which could be suspect in various ways. Simply to answer your question about whether it occurred to the authors of the study that the more meaningful comparison would be to compare the number of crimes before and after a rally: yes, they did. On page 14 of the study it says: “counties hosting a Trump rally experienced increased rates of extremists and anti-Semitic incidents after the rally when compared to before the rally.” http://lmas.unt.edu/sites/lmas.unt.edu/files/lmas/Hate%20Incidents%20Spike_0.pdf

  6. If you count Antifa “counter protest” violence at Trump rallies as hate crimes, that statistic is probably low

  7. Yes they did. Antifa has been more active than ever.

    1. “Yes they did. Antifa has been more active than ever.”

      The left warned that if Trump was elected, there would be more violence. He was, and the left got very violent.

      1. “Very”?

        How many people have Antifa killed?

        Now how many people have Trump-loving white supremacists killed?

        I’ll wait till you look it up.

        1. None and none. Although antifa has many assaults and 4 recent attacks on ICE centers.

          Hint, el paso wasnt a trump supporter. He even says he wasnt.

          1. So you didn’t look it up.

            1. I looked it up. It was zero.

  8. So, whatever became of the HUAC move to investigate Antifa commie anarchists as another Islamic State fanaticism? HUAC was goood while investigating National Socialist collaborators before May 1945, then baaad when it began investigating Soviet Socialist investigators. Where on this unifilar spectrum does Antifa racketeering stand?

  9. Here’s another analysis of the tidal wave of hate crime that apparently occurred after Trump rallies.

    https://memepoliceman.com/www-memepoliceman-trump-rally-hate-crimes/?fbclid=IwAR3Td8o02-fDCGoUsjyF8semYx8Viwuj8Ujwnb-SePcyeQFbAujDdU4_r18

    “Of the 223 cities and towns Trump had rallies in, over 1/3 (86) reported zero hate crimes for all of 2016. Over half (127) reported one or less. Considering the relatively low frequency of these crimes, statistics for a given area can be wildly misleading. For instance, Tampa, which Trump visited more than any other city, had hate crimes rise by a whopping 300%! But this is because it went from 1 incident in 2015 to 4 in 2016. Meanwhile, hate crimes in Las Vegas, where Trump visited 4 times, plummeted by 40% (48 in 2015 to 29 in 2016).”

  10. a supposedly rising tide of anti-scientific sentiment.

    Hmmmm… hat to carry, pitchfork or torch?

  11. News organizations are leftist propaganda outlets. They can’t avoid pushing their preconceived notions and remain so.

  12. Thanks to both of the authors for taking the time to do this. Could you please make your dataset publicly available? (Or point to where we can find it if it already is?)

  13. Unless you can prove that Trumps rhetoric is helping, then we know he’s part of the problem. QED.

  14. Wapo published an article recently that said a study had found that the infant mortality rate for Hispanics had risen since Trump was president.
    I take any study coming out of the social sciences with a grain of salt.

  15. Your article title seems a bit disingenuous. First, you note that your analysis replicates the major findings of the study in question. You challenge the interpretation of the findings, which is perfectly fine, but presumably the interpretation of Feinberg et al is equally plausible, especially in tracking an increase in various expressions of “hate”. Second, the finding that Clinton rallies are also associated with an increase in hate activities is equally open to various interpretations, including the likelihood that what I’ll call Hillary hatred emerged in various forms any time she appeared in rallies. In other words, Trump rallies and Hillary rallies catalyze hate activities, but for quite different reasons. Try this little experiment. Go on Breitbart or another wing-nut site and post a simple “why can’t we all just get along and respect one another” comment. Watch the outpouring of hate in response. I see it every day, but somehow it’s hard to accuse the authors of such simple requests for civility and understanding of instigating hatred or violence.

    1. And what would happen if you went to some rabid left-winger site like Daily Kos or Democratic Underground and said something similar?

      Several Donald Trump rallies had to be cancelled in 2016 because of threats of violence from anti-Trump protesters. Did Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders ever have to cancel a rally because of threats from Trump supporters?

    2. David, I see your point that determining causality from statistics is notoriously difficult. Several people have also mentioned that protesters against a candidate would be included in this analysis. That can go both ways.

      However, in this case, we have to fall back on what we do know, or accept that we do not have enough data for definitive proof. The Null hypothesis MUST be that there is no discernible impact. The fact that there are multiple ways to interpret the data that find both positive and negative findings means that we must accept Null or at least explain the marginal results. That’s extremely basic scientific method.

      You also have to accept the mountains of news reports and publicly available videos, people with names and faces being physically attacked for expressing support for Trump. I have personally been called “racist” for simply stating my political party as “Republican” more times than I can count. On the other hand, I cannot recall anyone being physically assaulted for wearing a Hillary shirt. Crimes committed by people wearing MAGA hats either aren’t being reported or aren’t happening in meaningful numbers. I know the plural of anecdotes isn’t data, but given the accepted biases in reporting, this seems directly contradictory the conclusions reached.

  16. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying the “biased analysis”. The errors are too fundamental.

    Using rates per population rather than gross numbers isn’t even a freshman level concept. It’s from elementary school. That kind of data analysis wouldn’t pass muster from a third grader at a science fair. I’ve been involved in plenty of science fairs, and all of them that got ribbons show at least basic knowledge of fractions.

    This HAS to be deliberate. Their analysis didn’t show what they wanted, so they violated the most basic of statistical concepts to get the desired results.

    1. except they looked at *rates*. population numbers shouldn’t factor into it.

      i.e. in the months after the rally, the county where the rally occurred experienced a *dramatic increase* in hate crimes, compared to the*same* county before the rally.

  17. But Orange Man Bad!

  18. Trump throws out silly childish insults like Sleepy Joe and Crying Chuck Schumer that should be far beneath the President. His opponents call him fascist, racist, Hitler in response then blame Trump for inciting violence? Silly Trump insults when we were children were met with the rhyme about Sticks and Stones.

  19. When I was young I used to think that all adults had strong moral fortitude and character and knew how to brush off childish insults. Now that i’m older I have realized that most adults are still just children. Whiny, easy to manipulate, and fickle. The president does not control other people’s actions. These professors are a fine example of why I have lost faith in the leftist indoctrination University system.

  20. can you guys publish your dataset(s) and code, please? seems kind of silly that you don’t, after complaining about the previous study not providing these.

    1. the tableau link has only one row in the clinton data

  21. Trump throws out silly childish insults like Sleepy Joe and Crying Chuck Schumer.
    الاكاديمية المهنية للمعلمين

  22. except they looked at *rates*. population numbers shouldn’t factor into it.

    بيانات التلميذ

  23. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying the “biased analysis”. The errors are too fundamental.

    مقدمة اذاعة مدرسية

  24. I wound’t say anything on it because it would be a biased argument then. It is much better to watch movies and enjoy your time, prefer to Download Cinema APK and watch HD movies while relaxing and reading news.

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