The president and CEO of a national women's organization expressed her outrage this week over a study from Penn State University which indicates that the existence of hate groups in a particular county is correlated to the number of Wal-Mart stores.
Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, expressed her anger with the study in an article titled "Elitism of the Left," which appeared on her organization's website on Monday.
"Penn State must have had to do amazing mathematical gymnastics to correlate that the hard-working families who shop at Wal-Mart are members of hate groups," wrote Nance. "But that's the trouble with leftist elites. They hold fast to their egotism and preconceived notions, dismissing everyone who opposes their ideologies as ignorant and bigoted."
The study, titled "Social Capital, Religion, Wal-Mart, and Hate Groups in America," appeared in the April edition of Social Science Quarterly and was conducted by Stephan J. Goetz of Penn State University, Anil Rupasingha of New Mexico State University and Scott Loveridge of Michigan State. The hate group statistics used in the study came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Mongtomery, Ala.-based civil rights organization.
Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics, told The Christian Post on Thursday that Nance was wrong about the study in that it doesn't associate any particular demographic with hate groups.
"Our study doesn't say anything about women or the women who shop at Wal-Mart," said Goetz. "All we can say is there's something that's happening in the community where we're observing this effect, but it's not any particular group that is manifesting these behaviors."
Another point of contention Nance found with the study was the claim that Wal-Mart's slogan, "Save money. Live better," actually triggers hate in some people because they are susceptible to "religious priming."
Goetz's study points to recent psychological research which showed that when people were exposed to Christian words like "Bible," "Christ," "prayer," "sermon," and more, they were more likely to support racist attitudes.
Likewise, phrases like "work hard" and "be frugal" – which he says are not exclusively Christian but could be considered analogous to Christian teachings about thrift and savings – could trigger such attitudes.
Goetz hypothesizes that one factor that may affect the correlation between hate groups and Wal-Mart stores is the closure of small businesses, which have a hard time competing with the big chain store. These closures affect the social cohesion in a community, and may cause some people to misplace their frustration with the changes and lash out at people groups who aren't necessarily the cause of the changes.
Rejecting the study, Nance cited a statistic from She-Conomy.com which states that women make 85 percent of the purchasing decisions in the U.S. She said many hard-working mothers shop at Wal-Mart, and they are often conservative, intelligent, pro-family and pro-life – the opposite of what she calls "leftist elites."
"Nothing about the lives of American women who shop at Wal-Mart correlates to hate groups, but this study does correlate with left wing propaganda and elitism," Nance wrote.
Goetz doesn't blame Wal-Mart for the hate groups, but he says it is important to study the connection between the two.
"Walmart doesn't go into a community and create hate groups as such," he says, "but we're trying to understand all those indirect linkages through which this could occur."