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Background

This site is supposed to be about the following:

Specific issues with governments, policies and political processes

Real problems or questions that you’ve encountered

And not about the following:

Anything not directly related to governments, policies and political processes

Questions that are primarily opinion-based

Questions with too many possible answers or that would require an extremely long answer

However, it is impossible to entirely remove bias from how questions are asked. Likewise in answering, voting, commenting, and moderating. Every action has the possibility of some bias behind it. Add the word "Politics" into the mix, and it is inevitable that even within the accepted scope of "specific issues with policies" with lead to a discussion of opinions. We must all aim to be responsible in how we do our actions, but there is no guarantee that is the case. Not everyone reads meta, and there is no presence like academic or scientific rigor elsewhere that exists here. Only the collective actions of the community and the Stack Exchange company.

Question

Because of this reality, it is worth asking the following question "Does Politics Stack Exchange, as a whole, have a bias"?

Corollary

Furthermore, in answering that question, some sort of quantification or measurement must be taken (for the answer to the above question to elicit fact). But whoever partakes of this measurement or task is almost certainly part of this community, and thus the collective bias. Thus I ask the following corollary as well: "How is it possible to objectively quantify this bias, if we, in this community, compose part of it?"

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  • 3
    This is an international site not sure how it can have a basis
    – Joe W
    Feb 25, 2021 at 16:50
  • 14
    Quantifying the site's bias, if it exists, is going to be difficult. I've seen several users with conservative views accuse this site of having a left-wing bias, but I've also seen users with left-wing views accusing it of having a right-wing bias.
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 25, 2021 at 17:27
  • 26
    As long as extremists of all political flavors accuse us of being biased for the other side, then we should be at least somewhere near the center.
    – Philipp Mod
    Feb 25, 2021 at 17:35
  • 4
    Also, what exactly are we saying when we say the site itself has a bias? Do you mean the moderators? But so much of the moderation comes from users. The users' bias? There are definitely members of the community with a right-wing bias, and members with a left-wing bias, and some with a strong centrist bias, others with a strong pro-India bias, and many more. Can you just average the bias? Count the number of "biased" members?
    – divibisan
    Feb 25, 2021 at 21:45
  • 4
    @JoeW Tell that to people calling for "bipartisan" actions on European issues. Just like the rest of the internet, the site leans USA. That's fine, of course, but that does mean that European Overton windows will experience it as inherently right-leaning, even if it's in the form of required vocal defense of what's considered the standard east of the Atlantic. I see "left-wing" defenses that the most right wing parties/pundits in my country would shrug about and say "well, yeah, duh...".
    – DonFusili
    Feb 26, 2021 at 10:16
  • 2
    @DonFusili People? Sure there are people on the site with a bias but that doesn't mean the site as a whole shares that bias.
    – Joe W
    Feb 26, 2021 at 15:21
  • 10
    @divibisan Yes, you can average bias. If the number of left leaning members outnumbers the number of right leaning members, on average voting will tend in that direction as well. One can earn additional upvotes by repeating the usual Democratic talking points (and throwing in a swipe at Trump for additional points), while repeating Republican talking points earns additional downvotes.
    – Sjoerd
    Feb 28, 2021 at 18:15
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    @DonFusilli Democrats are on a number of issues far-left in Europe. Among others: Third Term Abortion (that is: abortion allowed till the day before natural birth), $15/hour minimal wage (higher than any European country, even in PPP - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… ), and Critical Race Theory.
    – Sjoerd
    Feb 28, 2021 at 18:20
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    @Sjoerd None of which are mainstream in the Democratic party. The $15 minimum wage didn't get anywhere, and late term abortion and critical race theory are mostly far-right boogeymen without practical implications. Apart from that, France eg has a PPP of 12.23 for a 35 hour work week. Adjusted to 40 hours, that's almost $14. If you add in the guaranteed 5 weeks (minimum) paid vacation (vs 0 in the US) & 11 paid public holidays (again vs 0) you get above $15. If a minimum wage of $15 is far-left compared to that, what is the current 7.25? Far-far-right?
    – tim
    Mar 2, 2021 at 8:00
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    @F1Krazy Have there been any liberals accusing left leaning, or conservatives accusing right leaning?
    – user2578
    Mar 3, 2021 at 3:47
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    @Philipp "Complaints from both extremes means we're even" is interesting, but not a very good proxy for measuring bias within the center half or three quarters. For example, a "left of center" will of course be criticized by right extremes, but also likely by left extremes because the nature of extremism is that everything else is "influenced by the other side".
    – user2578
    Mar 3, 2021 at 4:05
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    Activity on ANY SE site may select for people who have free time, access to electronic devices, some degree of patience and interest in hearing what others have to say (those who don't tend to drift away or get removed) so they are not going to be a statistically flat sample, not to mention that SE is international and categorizations of bias will differ. This is an interesting question, but I don't think quantification is a realistic goal.
    – uhoh
    Mar 5, 2021 at 3:30
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    Also, not all users participate in all tags. For example, I usually browse new questions with a q=-[united-states]-filter to get rid of most of the US stuff I'm not interested in, and I usually abstain from voting on US specific questions and answers as well.
    – Hulk
    Mar 5, 2021 at 12:38
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    @Phillip That is a particularly strong case of the golden mean fallacy (argument to moderation fallacy), and I am disappointed (but not surprised) in the number of upvotes. Extremes from both sides expressing something is biased does not imply a tendency towards the thing being at the center or even balanced. frensbend describes one example of how this can happen. Another example is if side A expresses a thing is too biased to side B, and people on side B express the thing is biased to side A in order to gaslight the valid concerns of those of side A. This is a remarkably common phenomenon. Mar 24, 2021 at 5:42
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    Though if we try to quantify the bias, I'd expect that there are differences pending which type of question is being discussed. There is let's say issue of US politics (where everyone is American or anyway emotionally invested in spite of living ocean away), ME conflicts but there are less divisive questions as well. There are questions concerning ex. STV where there are no tribal believes and the discussion there seem without any visible bias.
    – Shadow1024
    May 26, 2021 at 20:28

5 Answers 5

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SE can be extremely Marxist in some cases. Like getting great many upvotes for claiming labor markets only exist in the fetid minds of the right wing. That's an answer from the same user who says there is no bias in SE.

I'm sure one can find more examples of one kind of weirdness or another. But like I said in some comments, it's going to be extremely hard to quantify the bias across all questions and answers unless one is willing to conducts some studies that aren't cheap to conduct.

Things about SE that were easy enough to study like early answers getting more votes than later ones were studied in academic papers as well.

If you're curious how such content-bias studies are conducted when there is enough motivation; you can look at how some such studies were conducted regarding Wikipedia's contents. Mind you, any such study involves either some kind of automated process that ranks contents by some keywords or uses human judges to score a small sample of articles/pages. Neither method is exactly foolproof. An example:

In Is Wikipedia Biased? (2012), the authors examined a sample of 28,382 articles related to U.S. politics as of January 2011, measuring their degree of bias on a "slant index" based on a method developed by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro in 2010, to measure bias in newspaper media. This slant index purports to measure an ideological lean toward either Democratic or Republican based on key phrases within the text such as "war in Iraq", "civil rights", "trade deficit", "economic growth", "illegal immigration" and "border security". Each phrase is assigned a slant index based on how often it is used by Democratic vs. Republican members of U.S. Congress and this lean rating is assigned to a Wikipedia contribution that includes the same key phrase. The authors concluded that older articles from the early years of Wikipedia leaned Democratic, whereas those created more recently held more balance. They suggest that articles did not change their bias significantly due to revision, but rather that over time newer articles containing opposite points of view were responsible for centering the average overall.

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    17 upvotes and 5 downvotes counts as a site wide basis?
    – Joe W
    Apr 10, 2021 at 1:19
  • @JoeW: who said that? Apr 10, 2021 at 2:05
  • 1
    You pointed to an answer getting many upvotes when it only has a total of 17 upvotes and also has 5 downvotes. Though looks like with the new attention it has gotten 3 more upvotes for a total of 20.
    – Joe W
    Apr 10, 2021 at 5:11
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    "Like getting great many upvotes for claiming labor markets only exist in the fetid minds of the right wing. That's an answer from the same user who says there is no bias in SE." - Funny how I immediately knew who the user in question was before visiting the links, and without any familiarity with them. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:31
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    Anyway, Wikipedia obviously has a strong left-wing bias now, because they systematically reject right-wing sources as failing to meet their reliable sources policy, and justify the claim of right-wing sources being "unreliable" on the basis of the right-wing ideas they promulgate, despite saying out the other side of their mouths that reliable sources are allowed to be biased. Meanwhile, they refuse to adjust their assessment of the reliability of left-wing sources when those are caught in blatantly untrue propaganda. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:34
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The Bias of the site can probably be quantified by the bias of its most active users and its moderators. They are the ones who influence its content the most.

It's possible to see who the most active users are by examining the https://politics.stackexchange.com/review/*/stats pages, where "*" is meant to indicate that it's not 1 page, but a collection of privileged-user pages.

The moderators' actions are a bit more elusive, but their actions as users are probably also quantifiable.

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There's an old saw I heard once that's worth considering:

Philosophy is the art of making a story that fits the facts; rhetoric is the art of making the facts fit a story.

I think this is doubly true when we turn to politics and society, but unfortunately it often takes some discernment to see the difference. The point, though, is that one is always telling a story, and telling a story invariably invokes a point of view. We cannot escape a trace of bias.

Musings aside, there's a difference in argumentation style between conservatives and liberals that might give the impression of systemic bias. Conservatism runs heavy on what Habermas called the normative reasoning style: arguments founded in ideas that are pre-given as true and immutable. Conservatism usually aligns itself with the status quo and sees itself as arguing from a moral high-ground, and so answers and comments from the conservative side of the spectrum tend to be on the short, straight, simple side. Few people belabor the status quo, because the status quo is (from their perspective) both self-evident and intrinsically good. Liberals, by contrast, usually feel like underdogs, because they tend to argue against the status quo in favor of some (to their eyes) positive change. This desire to 'argue for' leads them towards (Habermas') communicative reasoning style, which aims to convince and reach consensus. It's more deliberate, more complex, more geared towards nuance and fine distinctions, and all-in-all a much wordier style of expression. I imagine that all other things being equal, liberals are likely to use ten words for every word a conservative writes, if only because liberals feel the need to argue and defend things where conservatives will merely assert things as true.

And of course, this doesn't consider those out there just aiming to be 'influencers' (Habermas' dramaturgical style), or the trolls whose only goal is to score points (teleological reasoning style) regardless of which side of the spectrum they come from...

Written communication — even social media communication like this — disadvantages the normative reasoning style, because norms have most power when they are collective group expressions (pragmatically difficult to achieve on a site like this). Some conservative posters manage it, and other conservatives enter into the communicative style, so it works out. Any appearance of overall bias is just that, I think: an appearance, not a truth. The left may have more words by volume, but that doesn't necessarily translate to better answers or more cogent points.

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Yes. A very noticeable bias is the prevalence of a very western worldview on Po.SE.

This is understandable as the active members are mostly from western countries, as are the moderators. This allows them to shape the content on this platfrom by being dismissive of other political views or even selectively closing or deleting content to promote a particular viewpoint (especially when a view is contrarian to the western political one).

This is very apparent during political conflicts involving the west - like, the Russian-Ukraine conflict or the current Israel-Palestine conflict.

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  • While this is indeed the case, the bias is not , as you see it.
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 5 at 8:57
-5

Bottom Line Up Front:

Biased absolutely clearly conservative. It's the nature of those who talk Politics vs those who practice politics.

Longer Answer:

Definitions what does Liberal and conservative mean? Let's skip over the colloquial good and bad, black and white definitions.

Conservative - a person with conservative political views who supports tradition and is often opposed to change

Liberal - someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, ...

Why was the Roman senator Cato, and President Reagan both considered conservative yet likely didn't agree on much? Why were Thomas Paine, and President Franklin D Roosevelt considered liberals? It's about where they look for solutions. Left or Liberals when faced with a problem tend to think of new solutions. They look forward not backwards. Right or Conservatives when faced with a problem tend to fall back to solutions which have worked previously. Well known, better understood solutions.

The net effect is conservative ideas tend to be better on average. They are safer and generally understood to be better than the status quo before they're implemented. The draw back is they are also by definition compromises. There would have to have been some reason why those ideals once practiced were previously abandoned. Good and bad.

While liberal ideals tend to be inherently more dangerous. Trying something new is just more prone to fail. Alternatively for systemic problems, (healthcare crisis, global warming, civil rights in the 1960's) conservatives have no historic solution to look back upon, they are prone to favor the status quo rather than take a risk. Most social, scientific progress are inherently liberal ideals, new thinking. While if you show me any society which functions there is conservative hands at work.

The United States was founded by Lefties. Washington, Jefferson, all the founding fathers were Revolutionaries. Revolutionaries are by definition extreme lefties.

Our Historical examples from above. Cato was a Senator of Rome and during the Roman revolution he was strongly in favor of returning to a Republic, that's why he is considered a conservative. Paine was an age of enlightenment thinker who also favored Republics but is considered liberal because in Paine's time republics were a new solution, the old tried and true solution was Monarchies. Their really were no republics in Paine's time, not on the scale of France and the U.S as he was advocating. (ignoring Ragusa, small city state republic in modern day Dubrovnik.)

As a society you really need both. You need liberals because they give you progress. You need conservatives because they are better at keeping things running. Business and things like markets work better with stability. Ideally for a functional society you need both because they are linked.

Now America in general is a country historically blessed by moderation. Our Most conservative presidents and most liberal ones were moderates. They possessed both liberal and conservative traits which is to say they were competent.

Now is this site left or right. The question is only quantifiable if you can categorize every question and answer as novel or historical. Clearly a political science board is historical in nature. New historically unsupported ideals probable exist here but in general being able to site historical examples or recount historically what happened is an exercise which calls one to look back. This site is driven by the past generally speaking. Thus this site is Conservative. clearly.

Most people are not 100% one way or the other. Would make no sense. Most people are a healthy mix and like Washington or Cato are categorized by a handful of decisions. The modern colloquial definition me good you bad is a meaningless façade which masks reason..

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    "This site is driven by the past generally speaking. Thus this site is Conservative.": I'd argue that there is a major flaw in your argument, in that looking to the past vs the future makes sense when implementing policies, but is meaningless when discussing policies, which as you say mostly refers to the past. We can review past liberal policies; the fact that they're in the past doesn't change the fact that they were liberal policies at the time they were made. Aug 21, 2023 at 10:07
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    This site is driven by the past generally speaking. Thus this site is Conservative. clearly. - Am I conservative if I say "this is how it is and it sucks?", was Karl Marx a conservative when he described history as a history of class struggles? Describing something is not the same as agreeing that things should be this way.
    – xyldke
    Aug 21, 2023 at 10:32
  • My point is not to debate Marx but rather to give a counterexample to your claim that explaining history or the status quo makes one conservative. I don't think that's the case because a progressive project requires an understanding of the status quo you want to change. In Common Sense, Paine explained the British Monarchy before criticizing it, yet you use him as an example of a liberal. Why couldn't the users in this stack be similar?
    – xyldke
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:41
  • @xyldke, Karl Marx tried to make conservative arguments in justifying Communism by rooting it along historical lines. Conservatives did not find these arguments persuasive because his version of history, interpreted purely along economic lines; was new and fraught with problems. Marx's interpretation of history is not one any historian would make or agree with. Marx's solution to the problems of industrialization were not based on history however; it was entirely new, Communism.
    – user47010
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:42
  • @xyldke I agree to make note of history in describing a problem does not make one conservative or liberal. But basing answers along historical lines does. Finding answers in what has worked in the past, vs looking for new solutions. And it's not "my claim", it's in the dictionary and history is complete with examples.
    – user47010
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:47
  • Am I correct in thinking that you mainly refer to the methods employed by this stack and not in the positions supported?
    – xyldke
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:51
  • @SteveMelnikoff That's kind of my point. Often Political Science questions are rooted in history, Weather dealing with liberal or conservative policies answers about those policies would be more about observations. A more liberal argument in reinterpreting historical events is certainly represented here, but I would argue those who quote historic support for their answers are better received
    – user47010
    Aug 21, 2023 at 14:58
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    @xyldke, both. I don't see liberal or conservative as absolutes. Most people employ a healthy mixture. The difference between a Ronald Reagan and a Franklin Roosevelt; wasn't absolute, it was more percentages.
    – user47010
    Aug 21, 2023 at 15:09

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