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Sportsmen's bell

posted May 27, 2012, 8:56 AM by Scott Slocum   [ updated Oct 14, 2014, 7:37 PM ]
When you think about the politics of outdoor sportsmen and sportswomen (fishing, hunting, and trapping), you might picture a range of types, with the "bleeding-heart" liberal on the far left, and the "what I do is none of your business" libertarian on the far right. You might picture the arguments between these types as a series of campaigns to preserve or reclaim "how things should be." You figure they know from past experience that they can't get everything they want this year, but they'll get what they can, and hope to build on it next year. Even more important than that, though, is to keep things off of the "slippery slope" that they imagine would lead to a landslide of large changes in favor of their opponents.

There probably is an actual "slippery slope" on some issues, but let's look and see if there's one on the bell curve of sportsmen's politics. My apologies to the political scientists that have probably said this already, but whose work I don't have at hand and thus won't reference today.

A bell curve is a graph that can be used to represent all sorts of complex things--like the opinions of the American people and their legislators on sportsmen's politics. It's a picture that's drawn from mathematical equations, and from those equations, statisticians can also estimate, say, the probability that a majority of the American people or their legislators will vote for a particular change (assuming that their legislators aren't playing politics too much with it, at the expense of their constituents). They're doing this all the time, and you can read more about the process in any statistics book (or just take a quick look at figure 1 below, or its Wikipedia article on Normal distribution).

Obviously, a regular guy like me doesn't have the data to make an accurate model, but I'm going to propose a "five-slice" model based on a bell curve to estimate how people will ask legislators to vote for or against regulations on outdoor sportsmen.

Normal Distribution
Figure 1--bell curves (including the standard normal distribution in red) from the Wikipedia article on Normal Distribution.

So here's the five-slice model, really simply: slice the bell curve into five equal-size vertical sections with the center slice in the center of the curve. The center slice (the largest group of people) represents the people who aren't going to ask their legislators for anything on the issue. The outer slices represent people who, on the left, want progressively more regulations; and, on the right, want progressively fewer regulations. You see that there are fewer people in the outer slices, just like there are fewer "bleeding heart" liberals who want to prevent people from killing animals than there are people who want to enforce responsible sportsmanship. Just like there are fewer "what I do is none of your business" libertarians than there are sportsmen who know that there have got to be game laws to keep poachers from taking over.

And here's the five-slice model's prediction, really simply: there's no slippery slope on this subject. A proposal that's nearer the center gets the support of more people: beginning with those who are near the center (and all they want is that proposal), and including those who are farther from the center and will "take what they can get." As a proposal gets farther "out there" (farther away from the center of the bell curve), fewer and fewer people vote for it, it doesn't pass, and it doesn't lead down a slippery slope.

So to those "don't give an inch" fear mongers who say that if sportsmen do, they're going to lose a mile; no, not really.

Slippery Slope, with a stable, reasonable center
Figure 2--Slippery Slope with a stable, reasonable center.