Friday, February 17, 2017

Immigration issue or immigration issues?

Thomas Edsall has a piece called "The Democrats' Immigration Problem."  In the first sentence, he asks "why is immigration such a problem for the Democratic party?"  I was struck by the assumption that "immigration" is a single issue.  There is a question of whether laws should be changed to make it easier or harder for people to immigrate to the United States, and a question of what should be done with unauthorized immigrants who are already here.  You can imagine someone who says that the law should be changed to allow more immigration in the future, but until that's done we should enforce the law that we have; or on the other side, someone who says we should allow people who've been living here to become citizens but then we should close the door.

Do people make these kinds of distinctions, or are they simply more or less favorable to immigrants?  I found a CBS News/NY Times survey from 2011 which asked "Should legal immigration into the United States be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?" and "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, or 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship, or 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S."

There is an association between opinions on the two issues--for example, 50% of those who say that immigration levels should be increased and only 26% of those who say that they should be reduced choose  "should be allowed to stay in their jobs and apply for citizenship."  But the association is weaker than the association between opinions about same-sex marriage (allowed/civil unions/no recognition) and abortion (allowed/with restrictions/not allowed), which are certainly two different issues.  In fact, the correlation between views on same-sex marriage and treatment of illegal immigrants is as strong (.22) as the correlation between treatment of illegal immigrants and desired immigration levels (.21).  So people do seem to treat the two issues as distinct, although related.

More educated people, people in the Northeast and West, Jews, and people in urban areas take more liberal positions ("increased" and "allowed to stay") on both issues, and evangelical Christians take more conservative positions.  The samples of blacks and Hispanics were unusually small for this survey, so it's not possible to say anything definite about ethnic difference.  The effects of age and gender, however, can't be described as simply liberal or conservative.  Young people are considerably more likely to favor increased levels of immigration, but no different in views of policy towards illegal immigrants.  Women are more likely to say that people who are here should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, but also more likely to say that immigration levels should be decreased.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Forgotten but not gone: the sequel

A few weeks ago, I showed the estimated effect of college education on Democratic vs. Republican voting in presidential elections from 1936-2012, using a combination of Gallup (1936-68) and GSS (1968-2012) data.  It occurred to me that the GSS also had a measure of income (in constant dollars).  Larry Bartels (Unequal Democracy) gives evidence from the 1952-2004 American National Election Studies suggesting that the association between higher income and support for the Republicans had become stronger over that period, although the association between higher education and support for the Republicans had become weaker.  I later found the same thing in an analysis that also controlled for occupation (the association between occupation and voting change in a more complex way, although in a sense it became weaker--read the paper for more detail than you probably want).

There's a good deal of sampling error in the ANES estimates, so the GSS is useful as a check.  The estimated effects (controlling for race, gender, education, and marital status) are shown in this figure (the scales are not the same but happened to be pretty similar):

There are some differences between ANES and GSS estimates for individual elections (especially 1980), but the general pattern is similar:  high in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then declining.  The decline is more evident with the GSS, since 2008 and 2012 remained low.  So it seems that Bartels' statement that "over the past half-century economic status [income] has become more important, not less important, in structuring the presidential behavior of white Americans" needs to be modified:  it  became more important from the 1950s through the 1980s, and then less important.  The general issue here is that the impact of education, income, and occupation don't follow the same path over time.  It might seem like they are all "indicators" of the same thing, your general position in society. so that when the impact of one moves in a particular direction, the impact of the others should as well.  But in fact, there are three different different things that need to be explained.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Everyone agrees that Donald Trump is a populist, but there's no consensus on what that means.  In a recent column, Thomas Edsall treats populism as equivalent to taking conservative positions in the "culture wars," but by that standard Trump is probably the least populist Republican candidate for president since Gerald Ford.  He rarely mentioned issues like same sex marriage and abortion, and even said positive things about Planned Parenthood.

I think that the best starting point is one suggested by Ross Douthat:  populism is a "set of ideas [that] commands public support but lacks purchase in elite policy debate."  It might seem that the exact nature of those ideas would be idiosyncratic--they would just be things on which there happened to be a gap between elite and pubic opinion at a particular place and time.  However, there is a reasonably coherent set of ideas that meet this definition in most western nations since the end of the Second World War.  One component is nationalism:  the belief that nations have an obligation to think about their own people first and take care of problems "here at home" before worrying about the rest of the world.  Reluctance to accept immigrants and suspicion of free trade follow from this.  On foreign policy, the populist position is sometimes characterized as "isolationist," but it would be more accurate to say that it's impatient with diplomacy, international agreements, and long-term obligations:  we should intervene when the nation's interests are at stake and then get out.  On domestic policy, populism favors generous benefits to “deserving” people, like veterans, old people, and low-paid workers, but not general aid to the poor.  It favors requiring companies (especially big companies) to offer good wages and benefits, and shifting the tax burden from individuals to corporations.  It accepts ad-hoc intervention in the economy such as taking action against companies that make "excessive" profits.  Finally, it's in favor of "law and order":  it's impatient with protections for the rights of people accused of crimes, and doesn't have much interest in free speech for people with unpopular points of view.  Why do I say that these are "populist" positions?  Because they are all positions that are pretty popular among the public but are usually ignored or brushed aside in policy debates.  On some of them it's a matter of degree:  for example, elites are not against generous benefits to retired people, but they are more likely to say that demographic realities mean it will be necessary to raise the retirement age and cut benefits.

Advocating positions that are popular among the public might seem like a recipe for lasting political success, but Douthat says that populism has several forces that undermine it.  One is "it often embraces bigotries and extremisms that in turn color the reception of its policies."  That would limit its appeal, but it had already appeared in the campaign and didn't prevent Trump from staying close enough to win the presidential election, or Republicans from winning clear majorities in both houses of Congress.  Another is incompetence and disregard for organization--that's definitely been on display over the last two weeks.  A third is that elites unite against it.  That would be the case in a healthy political culture, but the contemporary United States is not a healthy political culture:  Trump has encountered only mild criticism from Republicans in Congress (“We all get disappointed from time to time,” Mr. McConnell said. “I think it is best to avoid criticizing them [judges] individually.”)  Is there anything else that might hold a populist program back?  Some populist policies might not remain popular if there were a serious attempt to implement them.  For example, polls show a lot of support for an effort to deport all illegal immigrants, but if that actually happened there would be a lot of sympathetic cases, and support would probably decline.  Populist economic policies would be likely to lead to recession and possibly to inflation or shortages.  But it's unlikely that we will get to the point of implementing a populist economic program--Trump's administration seems to be divided, and almost all other Republicans are committed to cutting taxes and regulations on business--basically, an anti-populist program.  So on economics, I think the Trump administration is likely to get the worst of both worlds--bad economic performance because of protectionism and ad-hoc intervention and bad publicity because of measures that appear to (and do) benefit business at the expense of the public.

[Thanks to Robert Biggert for discussion of these issues.]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning from Trump

It's often said that Donald Trump did well among less educated voters because he seemed to care about them.  As Arthur Brooks put it, "like him or hate him, learn from him. Learn from him that there should be nobody who’s left behind. And that everybody should be treated with a sense of their own dignity."  Of course, Trump didn't treat "everybody" with dignity.  But if you take Brooks seriously but not literally, maybe Trump gave a large number of voters the sense that he was concerned about them.

A number of surveys have asked if various political figures "care about people like you."  Here are the figures for presidential candidates.  When possible, they are taken from surveys shortly before the election:

                   Cares        Doesn't
Trump               46%          54%    Nov 2016 (post-election)
H. Clinton          47%          51%    Aug 2016
Trump               37%          60%    Aug 2016
H. Clinton          46%          51%    May 2016
Trump               42%          55%    May 2016
H. Clinton          47%          52%    May 2015
Obama               61%          35%    Jan 2012
Obama               57%          41%    Oct 2011
Obama               66%          33%    Oct-Nov 2008
McCain              54%          44%    Oct-Nov 2008
GW Bush             50%          46%    Oct 2004
Kerry               54%          40%    Oct 2004
Dick Cheney         40%          50%    July 2004
GW Bush             51%          41%    Oct-Nov 2000
Gore                58%          34%    Oct-Nov 2000
GHW Bush            51%          39%    May 1991
Dukakis             55%          33%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            42%          48%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            52%          37%    Sept 1988
Reagan              56%          37%    Oct 1984
Mondale             70%          22%    Oct 1984
Carter              55%          32%    Nov 1979
Ford                47%          35%    July 1976
Carter              48%          22%    July 1976

Trump did not do well in terms of being seen as caring about "people like you"--in fact, he did worse that anyone else on the list, despite tough competition from Dick Cheney (it's not comprehensive, so I can't say it was the worst ever).   So what we can learn from Trump is that it's possible to win even if most voters think you don't care about people like them.

There are a couple of interesting patterns,  First, Democrats consistently are more likely to be seen as caring about "people like you."  Someone (I think Butler and Stokes, Political Change in Britain) observed that in Britain, Labour was seen as more concerned about ordinary people and the Conservatives as more effective.  Second, Hillary Clinton did poorly for a Democrat.  This seems to be specific to her rather than a downward trend for Democratic candidates.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Forgotten but not gone, part 2

Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting Democratic vs. Republican in presidential elections, 1936-2012.

The black line is from the data described in my last post; the red line is from the cumulative GSS.  The two sets of estimates for 1972-1992 should be exactly the same, since they both use GSS data (1968 was a combination of GSS and Gallup data).  They are not quite identical, so there must have been small differences in how I coded education or what I counted as missing data, but the differences are very small.  Over the whole period, there is a definite tendency for college education to shift in a pro-Democratic direction, but also a good deal of variation from one election the the next.
Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting.

The discrepancies are larger, but the trend is clear:  college education makes more difference as time goes on, and there isn't much variation from one election to the next.  Since voter turnout among people with college degrees is high, in practice this means declining turnout among people who didn't attend college.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Forgotten but not gone

In 1996, I compiled information on education, occupation, and vote in American presidential elections from 1936 to 1992.  The 1936-68 data was from Gallup polls.  In the early 1970s, Gallup stopped asking about occupation, but the General Social Survey appeared, so it was possible to continue the series.  I never published anything from this, and had forgotten about it until during this election campaign.  Remarkably, I not only still had the data, but had it in a form that could be read.  So here, at long last, is the estimated effect of higher education (college graduate=2, some college=1, high school or less=0) on Democratic vs. Republican voting, 1936-92:

The black line includes a control for race (and its interaction with election), but not occupation; the red includes a control for occupation (and its interaction with election).  The estimates with and without controls for occupation are not very different:  in both cases, the effect of education moves in a generally pro-Democratic direction over time.  At the beginning of the period, people with more education were more likely to Republican; by the end, there was little difference.  The 1972 election (Nixon vs. McGovern) stands out as the only one in which more educated people were substantially more likely to vote Democratic than less educated people.  We can take the history on from 1992 using exit polls (see this post).  In 1996-2012 the effect of education didn't change much, but in 2016 in moved in a pro-Democratic direction again.  The scales aren't really comparable, but the 2016 gap was much bigger than 1972.  In 1972, about 40 percent of whites with college degrees supported McGovern, against 33% of whites without college degrees, for a percentage difference of 7; in 2016, the percentage difference was about 18.
         The data I compiled also included non-voters.  Here is the estimated effect of college education on non-voting (vs. voting for any candidate):  again, black is without controls for occupation and red is with controls.

In 1936, college graduates were only slightly more likely to vote than people with no college, but the difference grew steadily.  Of course, you can't learn about non-voting from exit polls, but I believe that the difference has grown since then.  I may update the data using the GSS and see.

PS:  I just show the effect of higher education--the effect of differences in education up through high school graduate hardly changed at all over the period.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research; I should also acknowledge the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where I was a fellow when I compiled the data.]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

American carnage

According to Donald Trump's inaugural address yesterday, "the crime and gangs and drugs" are running rampant in America.  Does the public see it this way?  A couple of years ago, I had a post about perceived changes in the crime rate in "your area."  But perceived changes in the national crime rate are probably more relevant here.  Since 1989, the Gallup poll has frequently asked about whether crime in the United States is higher or lower than it was a year ago.  The figure shows a summary of responses (logarithm of the ratio of "higher" to "lower") to questions about the United States and "your area."
 Over the whole period, more people see crime as up in the nation than in their own area.  That's a common pattern--people generally see things close to them as being better than things far away.  But there has been very little change in perceptions at either level over the last ten years or so.  There are several things that seem like they might have led to a perception of increased crime in the nation--well-publicized terrorist incidents, protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, a real increase in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016--but there's no sign that they made much difference.

This is more evidence for something I said in a recent post:  Americans are not particularly angry or fearful now.  In my view, Trump won because of a combination of partisanship, popular positions on some issues [economic nationalism], and plain luck, not because he was particularly in tune with the "spirit of the age."

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]