Monday, January 20, 2020

Coastal elites

A couple of years ago, I proposed that "American society has become a lot more socially egalitarian over the last 60 years or so. Educated people don't want to be thought of as snobs or elitists, and less educated people are less likely to think they should 'improve themselves' by emulating the middle class.  At one time, you could say that Democrats thought of themselves as the party of the common people, and Republicans thought of themselves as the party of successful people.  Now both parties think of themselves as the party of the common people, plus the fraction of the elites who care about or understand the common people."  I have looked for evidence bearing on this point, and report two examples in this post:  white people have become less likely to say that racial inequality is due to things that could be regarded as the fault of black people, and people have become more likely to say if someone is poor it's the result of "circumstances beyond their control" rather than "lack of effort."

My idea suggested that the change would be larger in the advantaged group--that is, that people would be less likely to be critical of people "below" them.  That is the case for race--blacks became a little more likely to say that racial inequality was the result of lack of effort or ability.  I didn't look at opinions about the causes of poverty then, but here are results for 1964 and 2018 broken down by education:

People at all educational levels have moved towards "circumstances," but the move is larger among more educated people.  As a result, the relation between education and opinions has changed.  In 1964, more education went with more chance of saying that poverty was due to lack of effort; in 2018, the correlation between education and opinions was essentially zero.  There was a relationship in 2018, but it wasn't linear:  people at middle levels of education were most likely to say that poverty was due to lack of effort.  The 2018 survey also distinguished people with graduate education, and they were even more likely to say that poverty was due to circumstances.

Of course, these are just two groups, so you could say that maybe elites have more contempt for certain kinds of people, like those who didn't graduate from college or those who live in the "heartland."  I have looked for more general survey questions, but haven't been able to find anything very relevant (although this one is interesting).

On the other hand, how much evidence is there for a rise in elite condescension?  The go-to example is Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables"--in which she said that not all Trump supporters were racists, xenophobes, etc.  She didn't say anything explicit about the social position of the two "baskets," but since her point was that many Trump supporters has legitimate economic grievances, that implies that working-class supporters were less likely to be "deplorables."  So it was a foolish remark, but not an example of contempt for the working class.   Then last week I saw the NY Times review of a new book by Nicholas Kristof.  The reviewer (Sarah Smarsh) wrote "even well-intentioned, coastal, college-educated scribes commit obliviously condescending word choices ('flyover country')...."  That reminded me that I recently read Paul Collier's The Future of Capitalism and noticed that he also cited the expression as an example of elite condescension.  Although I am coastal (grew up in NJ and lived most of my adult life in Connecticut) and college-educated (at an elite coastal institution), I'm not sure I've ever heard or seen "flyover country" used in a straightforward way--just in an indignant or ironic way.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I followed a link from Ross Douthat to an article written right after the 2016 election by Walter Russell Mead.  He said "the Republican Party’s extraordinary dominance in this election demonstrates just how costly the Democrats’ scornful rejection of 'hillbilly populism' has been." Finally, a good example of elite contempt!  I didn't remember anyone using this term, so I did a search, and the first thing that came up on Google was Mead's own article, then something from a book discussing Orville Faubus, then another book talking about an "older South," ..... nothing from a Democrat during the 2016 election.   OK, it would have been a good example if anyone had actually said it. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Friday, January 10, 2020

The Golden Age?

Ross Douthat had a looking-back-at-the-decade column in which he said "the 1990s, was a period of hubris, when we half-believed that we were entering a new age of domestic dynamism and global power — that our leaders deserved trust again  ...."   Or did we?    General confidence in government rose in the first half of the 1980s, but then declined, hitting a record low in 1990, bouncing back in 1992, and then falling to new low in 1994.   George Bush, despite success in the cold war and the first Gulf War, not only lost his bid for re-election in 1992, but got a smaller share of  than Jimmy Carter had in 1980.  Ross Perot got 19% of the vote in that election even though he had no political background and wasn't particularly well known before he ran for president.  Bill Clinton had a fairly high approval rating when he took office, but it declined rapidly--by June 1993, it was under 40%.  There was no dramatic negative event in that period--as I recall, there were just a number of relatively minor missteps but people judged them harshly.  Then there was the 1994 election, when the Republicans gained 50 seats and got their first majority in the House of Representatives in 40 years.  We've become used to Republican majorities over the years since then, so people have forgotten just how unusual this was--not only hadn't there been a Republican majority for 40 years, but there hadn't even been any close calls.  For example, after Reagan's landslide re-election in 1984, the Democrats still had a 252-182 majority in the House. 

Overall, the public mood was very negative in the first half of the 1990s--it didn't start to improve until about 1995.  I don't have any explanation to offer--I just find it intriguing. 

While thinking about this, it occurred to me that I've sometimes suggested that Ross Perot appealed to the same general sentiments of "America First" that Donald Trump did, but I haven't actually looked at the evidence.  I looked at a survey in June 1993 that had questions about immigration, NAFTA, and a number of questions about economic competition with Japan.  Opinions about NAFTA and Japan had little or no connection with reported vote in the 1992 election (Perot later became known for opposition to NAFTA, but at that time most people said they didn't know what his position was, and many said they didn't know what Bill Clinton's position was).  Opinions about immigration did make a difference, though--support for Perot was 8% among people who who thought immigration levels should be increased, 11% among those who thought they should stay the same, and 16% among those who thought it should be reduced.  72% of the people who reported voting for Perot thought that immigration should be reduced, compared to 62% of Bush supporters, 62% of non-voters, and 55% of Clinton supporters.

That's not overwhelming, but it gives some support to my ideas about Perot's appeal.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Monday, December 30, 2019

Nationalism and internationalism

In 1964, a special Gallup survey asked people for their reactions to the following statement:  "We shouldn't think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home."  55% agreed and 34% disagreed (11% had no answer).  But there were large differences by education and age--the chance of disagreeing was less than 10% for people in their 80s with a grade school education, but about 2/3 for college graduates in their 20s--so it would have been reasonable to expect a gradual move away from agreement.  The question has been asked a number of times since then; the figure shows the percent who disagree:

There's a lot of short-term variation, but if there is any trend it is towards agreeing that we should  "concentrate more on our own national problems."  In the most recent surveys, the educational differences are still there (and about as strong as they were in 1964), but the age differences have disappeared. 

The same survey contained a question about immigration, which I've written about before.  In 1964, only seven percent said that immigration should be increased and 42 percent said it should be reduced; in the most recent survey, 28% said increased and 29% should be reduced.

What I think this shows is that a growth in "cosmopolitanism" doesn't necessarily mean a decline in nationalism, in the sense of a belief that you have stronger obligations to members of your own nation than to humanity in general.  A few days ago Pico Iyer had a piece in the New York Times in which he said "I’m delighted to return to a newly open and creative London where the average person was born in another country. My four grandparents, all born in India, came of age in a richly multicultured society, but one in which they had little chance of encountering neighbors from Cambodia or Haiti or Ethiopia, as so many New Yorkers or Angelenos can today."  That's the sentiment that has grown--that ethnic diversity is one of the good things about your nation, or that more ethnic diversity would make it better.   Of course, not everyone feels that way--there are people who liked London the way it used to be and are sorry to see changes--but that is a difference between two kinds of nationalism.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and Pew Research Center]

Friday, December 27, 2019

The New Age

David Brooks made an interesting observation in his column:  "We’ve seen gigantic events like impeachment, the Kavanaugh hearings, the Mueller investigation and the 'Access Hollywood' tapes They come and go and barely leave a trace on the polls, the political landscape or evaluations of Donald Trump."  According to the records kept by the Roper Center, Trump's lowest approval rating has been 32% and his highest has been 49%, and those are individual polls which are subject to sampling error--the averages of polls taken at about the same time have only ranged from about 35% to 45%.  That's a lot less variation than any of his predecessors (starting with Roosevelt).   But if you look more closely, it seems that the decline in volatility began with Obama.  He started with very high approval ratings, around 70%.  Those declined pretty steadily and by Fall 2009 he was at a little over 50%.  After that, they only ranged from the low 40s to the low 50s--about the same range of variation as Trump, at a higher level of approval.  All presidents from Roosevelt through GW Bush had more substantial ups and downs during their whole time in office. 

So what changed with Obama?   In a previous post, I suggested that the Republican strategy of complete opposition meant that he couldn't have any real political successes--even when he got his way, as with the Affordable Care Act, it looked ugly.  In contrast, all previous presidents had some achievements that got bipartisan support.  Trump has been like Obama in this respect--Democrats have been united in opposition and he hasn't made much effort to get anyone to break ranks. 

This reminded me of a piece by John Sides in the Washington Post a few days ago.   He had a figure showing that from Kennedy to GW Bush, presidential approval was related to "consumer sentiment" (ratings of economic conditions)--with Obama and Bush, the connection has disappeared. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Old news

Sometimes I start on a post but abandon it, usually because it no longer seems interesting or gets too complicated.  One of these times was in August, about an article that was part of the New York Times 1619 project.  I was reminded of it by a letter to the Times criticizing some aspects of the project, and after digging up my analysis, I decided it was worth writing about, although it is kind of complicated.

The article, by Linda Villarosa, was called "How false beliefs in physical racial differences still live in medicine today."  Specifically, it was about the belief that blacks don't feel as much pain as whites.  It started with an account of a 19th century physician who believed that blacks had thicker skin and conducted brutal experiments to try to find evidence for his hypothesis.  Then it moved to the present and cited a review of studies that concluded that "black and Hispanic people .... received inadequate pain management compared with white counterparts."

Then came the part that caught my attention.  It said that a 2016 survey found that "when asked to imagine how much pain white or black patients experienced in hypothetical situations, the medical students and residents insisted that black people felt less pain."  I was curious about how big the differences were, so I read the paper.  It described a study that gave each medical student a pair of hypothetical cases, one black and one white, and asked them to rate how much pain the patient was likely to be feeling and how it should be treated (opioids vs. something weaker).   There were several scenarios, and they were rotated so that each respondent got a different one for his or her cases but the total number in each was the same for the black and white examples.

It didn't report the mean pain ratings for hypothetical black and white cases, but showed this figure:

Figure A shows the average pain rating for the black and white case by number of false beliefs about physical differences between the races.  Medical students who had a high number of false beliefs rated the white cases as experiencing more pain; medical students who had a low number of false beliefs rated the black cases as experiencing more.  High and low were defined relative to the mean, so that implied that medical students with average numbers of false beliefs rated the black and white cases about the same.  

The authors included their data as a supplement to the article, so I downloaded it and calculated the means.  The average rating for the black cases was 7.622, on a scale of 1-10, while the average rating for the white cases was 7.626--that is, almost identical.  The study also asked how the different cases should be treated--135 gave the same recommendation for both of their cases, 40 recommended stronger medication for their white case, and 28 for their black case.  Since the total distribution of conditions was the same for the black and white cases, this means that in this sample, treatment recommendations were different for black and whites.  However, the difference was not statistically significant at conventional levels (p is about .14)--that is, the sample difference could easily have come up by chance. 

So you could conclude that, in this sample, there is no evidence that medical students rate the pain of blacks and whites differently, but perhaps some evidence that they treat white pain more aggressively.  (If you just went by statistical significance, you would accept the hypothesis that they treat hypothetical black and white cases the same, but a more sensible conclusion would that you should collect more data).  The paper, however, didn't do this.  They used pain ratings to predict treatment recommendations for black and white cases, and then looked at the predicted treatment differences for students with high and low numbers of false beliefs:  "participants who endorsed more false beliefs (+1 SD) were less accurate in their treatment recommendations for the black target compared with the white target [β = 0.15, SE = 0.06, t(192) = 2.47, P = 0.014].  Conversely, participants who endorsed fewer false beliefs (−1 SD) did not differ in their treatment recommendation accuracy [β = −0.06, SE = 0.06, t(192) = −1.05, P > 0.250]."

The problem with this analysis is that, to quote the title of an article by Andrew Gelman and Hal Stern "The difference between 'significant' and 'not significant' is not itself statistically significant." That is, if you tested the hypothesis that β had equal magnitude and opposite signs for black and white cases--that treatment recommendations were affected by ratings of pain but not by race--you would not be able to reject it.

So to summarize, the statement that "the medical students and residents insisted that black people felt less pain" is false:  they rated black and white pain as virtually equal.  I don't blame Villarosa for that--the way it was written, I could see how someone would interpret the results that way.  I don't really blame the authors either--interaction effects can be confusing.  I would blame the journal (PNAS) for (1) not asking the authors to show means for the black and white examples as standard procedure and (2) not getting reviewers who understand interaction effects. 

On the more general 1619 project, my thoughts are:
1.  Most of the articles I read weren't very convincing
2.  but it's a perspective that deserves to be heard
3.  and it was published in the NY Times Magazine, which doesn't claim to be a straight news section, but to give perspectives and interpretations

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Over there

I was looking at the final Ipsos/Mori poll before last week's British election, and saw a remarkable table.  The key figures:

Age        Conservative    Labour
18-24          19%                56%
25-34          28%                49%
35-44          36%                34%
45-54          47%                29%
55-64          53%                26%
65-74          58%                21%
75+             57%                23%

I knew there would be some age differences, but these are extremely large--bigger then education or region.  Usually age differences in party choice represent generation, not age itself--that is, people don't change as they get over.  My rough calculation is that if these generational differences hold, the Conservative lead would disappear in 10 years (other things equal). 

A few other things:

1.  I discovered that Ipsos/Mori has a useful collection of polling trend data.

2.  Many accounts of the election said that it was Labour's worst showing since 1935.  That is true in terms of seats, but not in terms of vote share.  In terms of votes, Labour did worse in 2010 and 2015 (among others) than in 2019.  Labour jumped from 30.4% to 40% in 2017, and fell back to 32.1% in 2019.  Since Jeremy Corbyn was party leader in both 2017 and 2019, this counts against the claim that Labour's defeat in 2019 was because of Corbyn's left-wing policies. 

3.  So should the story be about Boris Johnson?  The Conservatives were up by 1.2% over 2017, while the Liberal Democrats were up by 4.2%, and the Green party was up by 1.1%.  The Scottish National Party was up by 0.9%, which is impressive considering that they run candidates only in Scotland, which has about 1/10 of the population.    So a large part of the story seems to have been a fragmentation of the left of center vote.  With single member constituencies, that meant that the Conservatives picked up seats at Labour's expense in England and the SNP picked up seats at Labour's expense in Scotland.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Lying m************

A week or two ago, an article accusing Pete Buttigieg of being "a lying motherf*****" went viral on  Twitter.  Buttigieg's offense was that he was "more willing to perpetuate the fantastic narrative of negro neighborhoods needing more role models and briefcase-carriers than make the people in power stare into the sun and see the blinding light of racism."   Another way to put it was that his offense was to have shown more more concern with advancing racial equality than with denouncing the "people in power" as racist. 

Twitter has moved on to other things, but this reminded me of an  earlier post on beliefs about the reasons for racial inequality.  The questions were whether racial differences were "mainly due to discrimination," "because most [negroes/blacks/African-Americans] 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."  Among whites, there had been large declines in the number saying they were because of less in-born ability and less motivation, and little change (maybe a slight decline) in the number saying they were because of the other two.  That is, whites were less likely to choose the two answers that could be seen as disparaging.  The pattern among blacks is different:  declines for discrimination and education, and increases for ability and motivation.  The figures for blacks and whites as a whole can be found in the previous post:  what I'll do here is break it down by education for the "early" (1985-9) and "contemporary" (2010-18) periods.  First, in-born ability:

 Next, motivation or will power:

In the early period there were substantial differences in opinion by race and education.  In the contemporary period, the educational differences remain, but the racial differences have essentially disappeared.  That is, large majorities educated people of both races reject explanations that "blame the victim," but many less educated people (of both races) accept them. 

I also thought of another post, about the reasons that people are poor:  lack of effort or circumstances beyond their control.  The percent saying "lack of effort" minus  the percent saying "circumstances":

 A definite trend towards "circumstances."   

Taken together, I think that these changes support an idea I proposed a couple of years ago:  there is a shift towards social egalitarianism.  One aspect of this shift is that that advantaged people are less likely to say that the problems of disadvantaged people are their own fault. 

In my view, this change in outlook is basically a good thing, even though it sometimes leads people to focus on pinning the blame on "privileged" people rather than reducing inequality.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]