SOUNDING BOARD '96 'CLUSTER ANALYSIS' MAY HELP ILLUMINATE REGION'S DIVERSE VIEWS Series: Sounding Board "96

By Jo Mannies Post-Dispatch Political Correspondent | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 24, 1996 | Go to article overview

SOUNDING BOARD '96 'CLUSTER ANALYSIS' MAY HELP ILLUMINATE REGION'S DIVERSE VIEWS Series: Sounding Board "96


Jo Mannies Post-Dispatch Political Correspondent, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WHEN YOU look in the mirror, what do you see?

Someone like retired welder Otto Gordon, who is fearful about crime? Or worried about jobs, as is artist Judith Cato? Or, like Jerri Eggerding, are you just tired of politicians who promise too much and deliver too little?

If so, you may have lots of company.

Gordon, Cato and Eggerding represent three of eight groups - each of which represents a bloc of people in the St. Louis area with similar backgrounds and similar views.

In an effort for us at the Post-Dispatch to tap into the thoughts of people on both sides of the Mississippi, we are starting an occasional series called "Sounding Board '96."

Webster's defines a sounding board this way: "a person or thing used for spreading ideas around; a person on whom one tests one's ideas, opinions, etc."

We will be calling on people like Gordon, Cato and Eggerding to be a sounding board. During this election year, they will help us - and you, the readers - understand the issues on the minds of residents. Sometimes we will print those comments in stories. Sometimes we will use those comments to help us ask questions of politicians.

We have used a computer to set up the groups of like-minded people by analyzing the answers of St. Louis area residents in Missouri and Illinois who took part in the Post-Dispatch's Show Me poll last summer. Combined, the eight groups contain 143 poll participants who agreed to be interviewed periodically this election year on political and social issues.

The poll and arrangement of the groups were conducted for the Post-Dispatch by the Center for Advanced Social Research, part of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Grouping poll participants is an effective practice called "cluster ana lysis," said Esther Thorson, associate dean for graduate studies at the journalism school and the supervisor of the poll and the groupings.

The members of each group don't have identical views on every subject, but they "tend to share a lot of characteristics," Thorson said. "The eight groupings are really just a more accurate way of characterizing people living in the St. Louis area," she said.

That's because the old clustering methods - by gender, race or political party - no longer work. Men and women, whatever their race or religious beliefs, are dispersed all over the political landscape.

"Even people belonging to the same party are more divided on basic values and political attitudes than ever before," Thorson said. "Social scientists have been telling us for some time that these traditional labels no longer provide a good roadmap for describing how we Americans feel about politics - and why we feel that way."

For the Post-Dispatch, the computer grouped people by their poll opinions on several issues, from economics and government to religion and lifestyle. …

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