Two journalists using an identical statistical framework from a much-cited study that linked Trump campaign rallies to increases in hate crimes found that Hillary Clinton rallies “contribute to an even greater increase in hate incidents than Trump rallies.”
Reason reporters Matthew Lilley and Brian Wheaton replicated a study conducted by political science professors Regina Branton and Valerie Martinez-Breyers, as well as PhD candidate Ayal Feinberg.
Feinberg, Branton and Martinez-Breyers’ research led them to conclude that “counties that had hosted a 2016 Trump campaign rally saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes over comparable counties that did not host such a rally,” as the trio wrote in a March analysis piece published by The Washington Post.
But the significance of the study’s findings are dubious, Lilley and Wheaton argue.
A funny thing happened when the duo conducted the same experiment, but this time analyzing the effect of Hillary Clinton campaign rallies: Under the “identical statistical framework,” they found that 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,” they wrote. “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?”
The “glaring problem” with the Trump rallies contribute to hate crimes theory
To Wheaton and Lilley, the results hinted at a “glaring problem” with Feinberg et. al.’s original study.
“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),” they wrote.
“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.”