Are liberals more profane than conservatives? Online, the answer seems to be yes. Profanity, those taboo words banned from the broadcast airwaves, is a feature of many people's daily lives. It's much less so in the establishment media world. TV and radio broadcasts are legally prohibited from using it, most newspapers (including this one) have traditionally refrained from its usage.
That's not the case with the Web, where bloggers and readers face no such restrictions. That likely comes as no surprise; what may be surprising, however, is to what degree profanity seems to be a feature more common on one side of the political blogosphere than the other.
Which side is that? For answers, I turned to the search engine Google to see how common swearing is in the right and left blog universes by looking up the late stand-up comic George Carlin's "seven dirty words" in the most popular blog communities.
The results showed that online liberals tend to use profanity a lot more than online conservatives.
(Before I get further into the results, let me say that I am deliberately making a distinction between blogs that do not usually allow readers to make comments and those that do. This means that some sites, such as the popular Instapundit or Newsmax, were not included.)
Searching for Mr. Carlin's seven words and some popular variants at the top 10 conservative Web communities yields about 70,000 results. That is dwarfed in comparison to the 1.9 million instances of profanity on liberal sites.
Things aren't quite that clear-cut, however, since some Web sites have more pages than others. According to Google, the top 10 conservative sites have about 6 million pages, while the top 10 liberal sites have about 13 million.
Dividing the number of instances of profanity by the number of pages of the sites on which they appear, then multiplying the result by 100 yields what might be called a "profanity quotient."
The top 10 liberal sites (Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Democratic Underground, Talking Points Memo, Crooks and Liars, Think Progress, Atrios, Greenwald, MyDD and Firedoglake) have a profanity quotient of 14.6.
The top 10 conservative sites (Free Republic, Hot Air, Little Green Footballs, Townhall, NewsBusters, Lucianne.com, Wizbang, Ace of Spades, Red State and Volokh Conspiracy) have a quotient of 1.17.
(CORRECTED PARAGRAPH:) That's quite a disparity. Liberals are more than 12 times likely to use profanity than conservatives on the Web.
One thing that is interesting to note is that the profanity ratio of a particular site seems somewhat related to the writing style of the bloggers who run it.
For instance, the Ace of Spades blog has the highest profanity quotient on the right. This is likely due to the fact that "Ace," the anonymous proprietor of the site, regularly uses profanity in his own writings and therefore is much less inclined to want to crack down on readers who respond using it.
Notable also in these stats are the liberal blogs Eschaton, Crooks and Liars, and Firedoglake, where profanity is so common you basically cannot take part in the discussion without running into it.
On the flip side, the popular conservative community Lucianne.com, run by literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, seems to have no profanity at all.
Why such a disparity between the right and left online?
Some on the right may take this as a sign of their superior intelligence. Others may theorize that it's simply because liberals are angry at President Bush.
More than likely, it is a reflection of how things are offline. Conservatives, especially those who are more religious, are less likely to use profanity in their daily conversation.
Matthew Sheffield is a Web consultant and creator of NewsBusters.org. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.