Friday, April 21, 2017

The decline of reasons

The General Social Survey has a series of four questions introduced by the statement, "On the average [Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans] have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people.  Do you think these differences are."  The possibilities offered are "mainly due to discrimination," "because most [N/B/A-A] have less in-born ability to learn," "because most [N/B/A-A] don't have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty," and "because most [N/B/A-A] just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty."  These were separate questions, not options--respondents answered yes or no to each one.

Yes answers to the discrimination or education questions was correlated with more liberal opinions on policy (e. g., that the government should spend more on improving the conditions of blacks); a yes answer to the willpower question was correlated with more conservative opinions.  A yes answer to the in-born ability question was in the middle--it had some association with conservative opinions, but not as strong as the willpower question.  This may seem strange, but you can argue that people should not be held responsible for conditions that are not their fault.

Here are the figures for the proportion of blacks and whites saying yes to each question; I omit people of other races because the numbers were small.  (Blacks were not asked these questions in 1977).






The proportion saying that discrimination was the main reason declined for both whites and blacks, but more for blacks.  There was, however, a substantial rise between 2014 and 2016 for both races.  I wonder if that resulted from the news stories and videos about police treatment of blacks in the last couple of years?

The proportion of whites who said that the differences were because blacks had less in-born ability declined substantially; the proportion of blacks increased, and has been consistently higher than the white proportion since 2000. 

The proportion of whites who said that the differences were due to less chance for education declined slightly; the proportion of blacks who said this declined more substantially.

Finally, the proportion of whites who said that the differences were because blacks had less motivation declined, while the proportion of blacks rose.  Opinions on this question among blacks and whites are now about the same.  

To summarize, whites have become substantially less likely to say yes to the two "conservative" choices, and somewhat less likely to say yes to the two "liberal" choices.  As a result, the number who said no to all rose substantially, from about 5% to over 15%.  People who said "no" to all had somewhat more conservative opinions than people who answered yes to at least one, suggesting that they have sort of a fatalistic outlook--"that's just the way things are, and there's not much you can do about it."

Blacks have become more likely to say yes to the two "conservative" options, and less likely to say yes to the two liberal ones.   As a result, there's been a convergence on three of them--the exception is inborn ability, which blacks are now more likely than whites to see as a reason.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where the working class are

For several years, I have been saying that journalists write as if the "white working class" is found somewhere out in the Midwest.  It occurred to me that there was a way to check on my impression--search for news stories that included "white working class" and the name of a particular state.  I did that for stories in the New York Times for the last 12 months.  Many of the mentions of states are incidental--for example, this story is mostly about the views of some Democratic politicians in Ohio about how to win back the white working class, but it says "it's not enough for new national Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez to tell voters, as he did recently in New Jersey, that Trump and Republicans don't care about them," so I count it for both Ohio and New Jersey.

Some states in the Northeast:

New Jersey        24
Connecticut         9
Massachusetts    17
Maine                   9
New Hampshire  38

Pennsylvania, which could be regarded as split between the Northeast and the Midwest, has 93.  My impression is that almost all of them are about the part of the state from Allentown and Scranton on west, but I didn't check that.  Moving on to the Midwest:

Ohio                  91
West Virginia    20
Michigan           55
Wisconsin         66
Illinois               12
Minnesota         20

The Midwestern states got substantially more mentions in conjunction with "white working class" than the Northeastern ones did.  In some cases, that might be because they were "battleground" states or unexpected wins for Trump, but Ohio was a pretty safe Republican state in this election, and West Virginia, which was a lock for Trump, got twice as many mentions as Maine, which was competitive.

I also tried three large states from various parts of the country:

California        45
Texas               36
Florida             64

Those were higher than I expected, but the Midwest is still over-represented relative to its population--the combined total for California, Texas, and Florida is below the total for Ohio and Michigan or Ohio and Wisconsin.  So my impression seems to have been correct.

Note:  I left out New York because many of the mentions were for the New York Times, and Indiana and Vermont because stories might mention Mike Pence or Bernie Sanders and include their state in describing them.

[Thanks to Robert Biggert for inspiring this post]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The best of times, the worst of times

In January 1983, the Roper Organization asked "In America, each generation has tried to have a better life than their parents, with a better living standard, better homes, a better education, etc. How likely do you think it is that today's youth will have a better life than their parents--very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?"  The question wasn't asked again until 1995, but since then it has been picked up by other survey organizations and asked fairly often.  The averages, counting very likely as +2, somewhat likely as +1, somewhat unlikely as -1, and very unlikely as -2:


There seems to be some correlation with economic conditions.  The drop between 1983 (when employment was over 10%) and the mid 1990s is puzzling, but as I've noted in other posts, Americans seemed to be disgruntled in the mid-1990s.  The other puzzle is that it hasn't recovered much since the recession of 2008.  

The original data was available for some of the surveys, so I broke it down by party identification for those.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the supporters of the different parties all had about the same expectations.  In the two surveys taken while George W. Bush was president, Republicans were more optimistic; in the surveys taken while Barack Obama was president (counting December 2008 as part of his presidency), Democrats were optimistic.  That is, expectations have become polarized by party identification.  That could be because of change in communications technology, with supporters of each party increasingly living in "bubbles."  However, I think that what has happened since 2008 suggests that something else is also at work.  Between January and December 2008, expectations dropped among Republicans and Democrats, which is to be expected given the decline in economic conditions (unemployment rose from 5% to 7.3%).  They dropped by more among Republicans, which is reasonable because their candidate had lost in the presidential election.  Between December 2008 and October 2010 they dropped sharply among Republicans and stayed about the same among Democrats.  By that point, unemployment was even higher (9.4%), although it was dropping, so either response could be seen as reasonable.  Between October 2010 and April 2011 expectations dropped sharply again among Republicans and stayed the same among Democrats.  Unemployment had fallen slightly (to 9.1%), so it's not clear why expectations should have declined.  Finally, the last survey for which a breakdown by party is available was in December 2012, when unemployment had fallen to 7.9%.  Democrats became a bit more optimistic, while Republicans remained as pessimistic as ever.  That is, during the Obama presidency, expectations kept becoming more negative among Republicans even while conditions were improving--Republicans were far more negative in December 2012 than they had been in December 2008, when there seemed to be a real possibility that we were facing another Great Depression.  That is, opinions among Democrats have pretty much followed economic conditions, while opinions among Republicans have diverged from them.


My thought is that this is connected to the rise of ideological conservatism that I discussed in my last post.  A lot of conservative intellectuals have become attracted to the idea that we are at a crossroads, with a choice between advancing towards utopia and falling into barbarism (or at least becoming like Western Europe).  That mood can trickle down to ordinary people who aren't paying that much attention to politics.  As a result, things like Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling, or whatever else was going on in Obama's first term, had as much effect on Republican views as the economic collapse of 2008.    

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A return to facts

This is a question that the Gallup poll asked three times:
"Do you think people who are successful get ahead largely because of their luck or largely because of their ability?"


                Luck         Ability        DK/NA
1939         16%            80%           4%
1970           8%            86%           6%
2016         13%            81%           6%

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The beginning of ideology

I have had several posts (this is the latest) trying to explain why American conservatism became ideological, but wasn't satisfied with any of them.  I identified several factors that might facilitate that developmetn, like a sense of being embattled as education and the media came to be dominated by liberals, but no primary impetus. Now I think I've found one, suggested by Irving Kristol in his Neoconservatism:  The Autobiography of An Idea (with an assist from Samuel Huntington, American Politics:  The Promise of Disharmony).  It is "the fact, noted by all historians and observers, that the United States is a 'creedal' nation" (Kristol, p. 376).  That creed has canonical texts (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence), which means that there's a possibility of "fundamentalist" movements that say we need to go back to those texts in order to find the answers to our problems.  Of course, liberals can do that too, especially with the Bill of Rights, but it's hard to deny that the founders saw only a small role for government, especially the federal government.  So after the appearance of social welfare programs and the rise of the "administrative state," appeals to the Constitution had a better fit with conservatism.  This was what led American conservatism to become ideological--it wasn't just an appeal to "tradition," which can mean many different things, but to to specific ideas expressed in specific documents.

Although I think Kristol had the right answer, he had the wrong question.  He thought that the exceptional feature of American conservatism was that it was populist.  There is a strong populist tradition in America, but populist conservatism is different from ideological conservatism.  Kristol held that the people had an instinct to do the right thing (as he saw it):   "today [1995] populist opinion--as every poll shows--is more concerned about cutting the federal deficit than about lowering taxes, which as come as a great surprise to many [traditional] conservatives, who learned in their 'political science' classes that 'the people' always want to be pandered to" (p. 384).  In reality, popular opinion reliably favors low taxes and "don't tread on me" rhetoric, but also programs like Social Security and "reasonable" regulation of business.

The division between the populist and ideological stands of conservatism explains the collapse of the "repeal and replace" effort.  The populist position would be to keep the parts that imposed burdens on large employers and insurance companies, but drop those that imposed burdens on ordinary people--taxes and the individual mandate.  The proposed act was a compromise between the populist position and the generic conservative inclination to scale things back and cut costs, so it was unacceptable to people who were serious about getting the government out of health care.  But a program that really got the government out of health care would be totally unacceptable to the public, so that meant that there was nothing that could get the votes to pass.

Of course, there is always a division between people who want to go farther and faster and people who are more cautious.  But the divisions are especially contentious in this case because the ideologues see the mainstream conservatives not just as timid, but as traitors to the cause.  On the other side, the behavior and public statements of the mainstream conservatives about the ideologues have been restrained, even deferential.  There are occasional expressions of irritation, but nothing like the constant attacks on "RINOs" that come from the right.  I think the reason is that the mainstream conservatives give the ideologues credit for standing on principle, maybe even see them as "the conscience of the party."  As a result, the ideologues have a disproportionate influence.

 





Friday, March 24, 2017

Don't let go

I did some further investigation into the relationship between interest in politics and happiness and found that the GSS included another question on interest in politics in 1987:  "How interested are you in politics and national affairs?"  If you take the four samples with interest and happiness variables (1987, 1990, 1996, and 2014) and control for income, education, age, gender, race, and marital status, more political interest is associated with more happiness:  the t-ratio is 3.3 and the estimated effect of increasing interest from the lowest to highest level is about the same as the estimated effect of increasing income by a factor of 4.*

However, the piece by Arthur Brooks that I discussed in my last post seemed to be talking about the effects of excessive interest in politics--"hitting your twitter feed fifty times a day."  So maybe it's a non-linear relationship, with moderately interested people happier than people at the extremes?  No--it's pretty much linear in the combined sample.

I proposed that the relationship differed in 2014 than in 1990 and 1996.  On looking closely, it seemed to be the position of people who said they were "very interested" that changed.  More precisely, here are estimates of where the "very interested" are relative to the linear trend (positive numbers mean happier than predicted):

             est     se
1987        .024   .038
1990        .097   .056
1996        .156   .051
2014       -.124   .048

Given the standard errors, it's not possible to be confident about whether there were any differences among 1987, 1990, and 1996, but 2014 is almost certainly different from at least 1990 and 1996.  It seems reasonable that people who are highly interested in politics will be affected by how things are going in politics, so I think this supports the interpretation in my previous post:  the relationship depends on the nature of politics at the time.  Or if you want it in the form of eternal wisdom, attaching yourself to external things can bring either happiness or misery, depending on the quality of those external things.  

*Brooks also controlled for self-rated political ideology.  I'm not sure that you should, so I left it out, but whether you include it or not doesn't make much difference.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Depressed by politics?

Arthur Brooks reports that people who are more interested in politics are less happy:  "I analyzed the 2014 data from the General Social Survey collected by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to see how attention to politics is associated with life satisfaction. The results were significant. Even after controlling for income, education, age, gender, race, marital status and political views, being 'very interested in politics' drove up the likelihood of reporting being 'not too happy' about life by about eight percentage points." I would have expected the opposite relationship, mostly because of the "locus of control" issues he discusses later in the article--basically, people who feel like they have control will be more interested in the world in general, including politics, and be happier.

Since the article didn't show the details of his analysis, I looked at the relationship.  The GSS has a question "How interested would you say you personally are in politics?" with the options "very," "fairly," "not very," and "not at all."  The cross-tabulation:

                                    How happy?
                       very     pretty    not too     N
Very interested         31%        48%        20%    186
Fairly                  33%        57%        10%    522
Not very                27%        60%        13%    354
Not at all              24%        55%        20%    172

Combining all people who didn't say "very interested," about 13% reported being not too happy.  So it looks like Brooks was more or less right.  But in 1990 and 1996, the GSS asked the same question on interest in politics, except that it included a "somewhat interested" category.  The cross-tabulation (combining the two years).

                                                                             
                                   How happy?
                      very      pretty      not too     N
Very interested         43%        48%          8%     335
Fairly                  31%        57%          8%     652
Somewhat                31%        61%         11%     800
Not very                27%        63%         10%     437
Not at all              31%        54%         15%     183

So it looks like I was right:  the more interested you were, the happier you were.  But why was the relationship different in the 1990s and 2014?  My guess is that if someone is very interested in politics, their happiness is affected by the state of political life, and in 2014 most people regarded the state of political life as bad.