Dear Thomas Frank

January 14, 2018

(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

It’s a funny thing: academics are all easily reachable by email, but non-academics can be harder to track down.

Someone pointed me today to a newspaper article by political analyst Thomas Frank that briefly mentioned my work. I had a question for Frank, but the only correspondence I had with him was from ten years ago, and my email bounced.

So I’ll send it here:

Dear Thomas:

Someone pointed out a newspaper article in which you linked to something I’d written.

Here’s what you wrote:

Krugman said that the shift of working-class people to the Republican party was a myth and that it was not happening outside the south. . . . Here are some examples: a blog post from 2007; a column in the Times in 2008 (“Nor have working-class voters trended Republican over time,” he wrote. “On the contrary, Democrats do better with these voters now than they did in the 1960s”); his book, Conscience of a Liberal, published in 2007 and reprinted in 2009 and 2015; and a Times column in 2015, in which Krugman was still insisting that: “The working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the south.” . . . I know: Krugman wasn’t the only one saying things like this. Here’s a political scientist making the same point in tones of utmost contempt, implying that no serious professional in academia or prestige journalism could possibly disagree with him.

In that last place you link to this post of mine from 2012.

Your remark about me expressing “utmost contempt” is fair enough; I guess that is one thing you and I have in common, that we are not always patient with people who we feel have made a mistake.

Beyond issues of tone, though, is there anything I wrote in that post that you think is actually incorrect? From your newspaper article you seem to be expressing a negative take on that post of mine, but as far as I am aware, there are no errors in that post; everything I wrote there is accurate. So I’d like to know what specifically I got wrong there. Thanks in advance for explaining.


I should perhaps clarify that I’m serious about asking what I got wrong. I can well believe that I made a mistake; I’d just like to know what it is. I’m guessing it’s just a matter of emphasis, that Frank doesn’t actually think I got anything wrong in that post; he just would’ve written it differently. But maybe not; maybe there’s something I’m completely missing here. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Anyway, if any of you is in contact with Thomas Frank, please forward this along to him. He can respond in the comments or by email.

P.S. I have more to say on the topic of who is voting for Democrats and who is voting for Republicans—as has come up before, terms such as “blue collar” and “working class” are somewhat loaded in that they often seem to summon up images of white men—but here I just want to figure out exactly what it is of my writing that Frank is disagreeing with.

P.P.S. Someone sent me Thomas Frank’s email address so I sent him my question (that is, the part of the above post beginning with “Dear Thomas” and ending with “Yours Andrew”). And he responded!

Here is his response, in its entirety:

Dear sir:

Thanks for writing.

I think my article speaks for itself.


Thomas Frank

Wow! “Dear sir”—I don’t hear that one very often. I wonder how he responds to female correspondents. “Dear Madam”? “Dear Miss or Madam”? I can’t imagine.

Anyway, I can understand the response: after all, Frank, unlike me, makes his living from writing so he can’t very well just give out political commentary for free. Remember that Samuel Johnson quote.

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