The polling firm YouGov released a poll Tuesday asking respondents: “How would you fare during the apocalypse?” The results, and especially the partisan split, engendered a healthy debate among the FiveThirtyEight staff. Here’s an edited transcript of our Slack conversation.
simone: So here’s a partisan YouGov poll on whether people think they could survive the apocalypse. Republicans think they’re more likely to survive the apocalypse than other people in their communities. Democrats and independents, less so. What do you guys think?
benc: Well, I think they’re right!
neil_paine: If you aggregated the whole population (all three groups), you’d see a definite pattern where the “survive longer” bin is larger than the “not survive as long” bin. So there’s definitely a bias across everyone to think they’d survive longer. … That’s one point. Another question is exactly how delusional the Republicans’ particular distribution is.
mona: I suspect that if they used nationalities instead of political affiliation here, you would see that most Brits don’t think they’ll survive too long. #realisticallylowlifeexpectations
benc: What would help you survive the apocalypse? Guns would probably help. Living out in the country away from other people/zombies/plagues would probably help. A distrust of the new robot-controlled government would probably help. Guess who have guns, live in the country and distrust the government? Republicans!
micah: I’m with Ben, if we’re talking a zombie apocalypse, being armed will help:
neil_paine: Can we look at the most likely apocalypses? Seems like those attributes @benc lists are more useful in some scenarios than others
simone: Yeah, what about global warming?
benc: Global warming is a good point, @simone. On the one hand, Democrats believe in it! On the other hand, they live on the coast and will all die.
neil_paine: I mean, shouldn’t our mean expectation be that no one is truly more prepared than others, and that survival will largely depend on random effects?
benc: Oh sure @neil, be all rigorous about it. Also, keep in mind people self-segregate by ideology. So when Republicans say they’d outlive others in their communities, they think they’d outlive other Republicans.
simone: I think Republicans are less likely to survive because they’re older. If our apocalypse is zombies, say, they’ll have a harder time outrunning them.
benc: Ooh, that’s a good point @simone. Then again, they also have more children.
jody: But the wording of this question is “apocalyptic disaster,” not “slowly rising sea levels.” This is tapping into conspiratorial thinking, where there’s actually an interesting common ground with the far right and far left. I think we need to bring in some polling on that front.
micah: Republicans also tend to live in more rural areas though, more places to hide from zombies.
jody: Useful: Statistical Mechanics Finds Best Places To Hide During Zombie Apocalypse. So who is more likely to read statistical modeling for advice on how to deal with Zombies — Republicans or Democrats?
[10:44 AM] natesilver: joined #apocalypse
carl: I think maybe we’re misreading the poll. “47% of Democrats say that they’d live as long as most other people in their community.” Sounds to me like it’s rooted in Democrats’ greater emphasis on reducing inequality.
mona: Black Americans are more likely to have thought about preparing for a natural disaster:
simone: And are more likely to be Democrats.
mona: Southerners are also more prepared!!!
carl: Notable: Highest-income families are least likely to have given no thought to natural disasters. Hypothesis: Lower-income families have other things to worry about.
mona: Other fascinating results in the poll, guys: ONLY 1 in 5 SAY THEY DON’T THINK THERE WILL BE AN APOCALYPSE.
neil_paine: @mona 80% say they think there will be an apocalypse, but 69% think it’s unlikely (39% very unlikely).
mona: Wikipedia says the next upcoming apocalypse is going to be sometime between now and September 2015, although the previous 30 or so entries appear to have been misguided. Unless, you know, everything we think we know actually isn’t real.
carl: I’m more interested in what people think will cause the apocalypse. Not surprisingly, way more Democrats think climate change will do it. Interestingly, more Republicans expect it to come from worldwide revolution. Unclear if they think revolution is more likely, or if Democrats consider worldwide revolution less apocalyptic. Also, I’m disappointed AI wasn’t one of the options. It’s terrifying.
simone: Wait, I think I understand the split! “The apocalypse” probably means the biblical apocalypse to Republicans. So, if more of them are Christian, they’re more likely to think they’ll go on up to the spirit in the sky on Judgment Day.
neil_paine: I think @simone is onto something here.
simone: It’s in the poll: “Asked what the most likely cause of the end of civilization is, nuclear war was the most popular option, chosen by 28% of Americans. Climate change and judgement day tied for second place with 16%, followed by worldwide revolution at 9%.”
mona: omg 2% zombies.
carl: A slightly higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats think weather is very or somewhat likely to cause a natural disaster in their community in the next year. Does that mean belief in extreme weather is nonpartisan, or do more Republicans live in extreme-weather territory?
micah: I really think for most apocalypses, living in a city is a huge disadvantage. Nuclear, disease, zombie, resource scarcity.
benc: Yeah, cities really didn’t work before technology and medicine, both of which would presumably be wiped out by the apocalypse. Then again, @micah, lots of food and supplies in cities.
neil_paine: Hmm, so maybe the community comparison in the question is meaningless to people who are far-flung in the middle of nowhere.
micah: It’s always the cities that get fucked up in disaster movies.
jody: @micah Disagree! The last couple years have seen the rise in a conversation about resiliency. This was a big post-Sandy buzzword in New York City. Density means more resources, less isolation, stronger community bonds, more infrastructure (if it’s well taken care of).
benc: @jody: Urban residents actually live longer than rural ones. Granted, that’s at least in large part due to access to health care, which might not fare so well when the doctors are all zombies.
simone: But do Republicans think an apocalypse scenario is “every man for himself” while Democrats expect the community to work together @jody? The wording of the YouGov question implies “every man for himself” I think.
benc: Do we think there’s a difference in survival likelihood for the libertarian wing of the GOP vs. establishment conservatives?
jody: @benc This is the interesting space for me. Has the “I’m ready for the apocalypse” wing of the GOP become a stronger voice over the last 8 years?
micah: Rand Paul would survive for sure.
walt: Rand Paul would be first to go. Rand Paul is an opthamologist.
benc: Is Hillary a prepper? She has a basement stocked with email servers!
walt: All of you are fuckin’ wrong. Who survives the apocalypse is hardly a city/country matter, it’s a notion of skills. Assuming you survive the contagion or whatever, the next step is (a) not dying from simple diseases and (b) producing food. The question is not who is going to survive by such matters of party affiliations.
jody: @walt that is, literally, the question.
walt: The Republicans would run out of gasoline in their trucks halfway down the desert and die of dehydration. Most people would die of dehydration. Which party is more equipped to hydrate properly? That’s the question.
benc: So basically, by @walt’s logic, Minnesotans are best prepared.
micah: Conclusion: Republicans are right. They are more likely to survive than Democrats and independents. (I would die within the first week.)
walt: So false. Republicans live in arid, hot climates.
benc: I say the most likely apocalypse is the robot apocalypse. In the absence of Neo, the best prepared are coders, who are all a bunch of damned libertarians. In the case of zombies, Republicans win. Plague goes to Democrats. And under no circumstances does anyone from FiveThirtyEight survive more than 15 minutes.
meghan: Wait — why are Democrats better at plague?
micah: Yeah? Plague hits cities hardest.
benc: Plague requires collective action, institutions. Probably some meetings. Democrats friggin’ love meetings.
simone: WHAT ABOUT JUDGMENT DAY? My money’s on the Rs for that.
walt: Oh def. Judeo-Christian apocalypse.
mona: This survey was the equivalent of asking, “Do you foresee that the unforeseeable might happen? If so, do you think you will do better than other people at surviving it?” i.e. ARE YOU BLOODY ARROGANT??
neil_paine: Ding ding!
benc: @mona, the poll was of Americans. We’re all arrogant.
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