Saturday, February 17, 2018

The wrong question

Thomas Edsall had a piece in the New York Times asking "why democracy has failed to stem the growth of inequality."  Building on work by Thomas Piketty, he proposes that the answer can be found in the changing composition of Democratic and Republican voters.  In this account, educated people have shifted towards the Democrats because of their position on various "social issues."  Since educated people tend to have high incomes, they are not very interested in programs to help the poor:   "the highly educated constituency currently controlling the party has been ineffective in protecting the material interests of the less well off."  That means that people with low incomes have less reason to vote for the Democrats, so some of them shift to the Republicans, increasing the influence of educated voters in the Democratic party, and further weakening its support for equality.

In fact, spending to help people with low incomes has increased substantially during the period of rising inequality, as I discussed in a post in July.   The American state doesn't do as much for people with low incomes as many European states do, or as much as some people (including me) think it should, but it has "stemmed the growth of inequality" if you focus on the gap between the poor and the middle class.

The question we should be asking is why the government hasn't done much to limit the gains of those at the top.  The shift of college educated voters towards the Democrats doesn't help to answer this question.  Edsall notes that between "1988 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted income of college graduates increased by 16 percent and for those with advanced degrees by 42 percent."  However, almost all of these gains occurred before 2000--since then, average incomes at all educational levels have been flat, and only people at the very top of the income distribution have made substantial gains.  So the majority of both more and less educated people seem to have a material interest in redistributing the wealth at the top.  There has been very little discussion of why this hasn't happened, but I have considered it here and here.  One important factor is that people are not very aware of how high incomes are at the top end:  when people are asked how much the chief executive of a national corporation makes, the average estimate is only about $500,000.  The high incomes of celebrities and sports figures get a lot of publicity, but those of CEOs and people on Wall Street generally do not.  Another factor seems to be that people just don't like the idea of very high taxes on anyone (see my second paper for further discussion).  As a result, public opinion doesn't put much pressure on the government to redistribute income away from the top.  On the other side, politicians seem to be less concerned with bringing attention to business misconduct or excess than they used to--this may be because of the increased importance of corporate contributions and the chance of making a good living as a lobbyist if you lose office.  I was struck by how quickly the Equifax security breach dropped out of sight as an issue--in the 1970s or 1980s I think there would have been congressional hearings, pointed comments about the generous salaries of the people in charge and questions about what they did to justify those salaries, and calls for new regulations.  Instead it was in the news for a few days, and then everyone moved on (and Equifax stock started rising again).    This lack of publicity means companies don't face much pressure to limit the growth of top incomes.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Poor us

I July, I wrote about a question from 1999 about whether "other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States."  Agreement was substantially higher among the less educated, although it was high at all educational levels.  I have looked for later questions on the same issue and haven't found any, but I did find an earlier example, from a 1946 NORC survey.  People were asked "Do you think that this country's interests abroad are being well taken care of by the President and other government officials, or do you think other countries are taking advantage of us?"  The results by educational level:

                             care     Taken advantage    DK
Not HS grad         29%       53%                    18%
HS grad                32%       58%                    10%
Some college        40%       50%                    11%
College grad         51%       38%                    11%

Less educated people were substantially more likely to think we were being taken advantage of.  This wasn't a reflection of party loyalty:  the president in 1946 was a Democrat (Truman), and at that time less educated people were more likely to be Democrats. 

There was an open-ended question about which countries were taking advantage of us.  The most popular answers were the Soviet Union and Great Britain--for those countries, and most of the others, there was no clear difference by education.  They coded some answers as "all of them, that can--all of Europe,"  and less educated people were substantially more likely to give that answer.  You could say that a substantial number of less educated  people thought that someone was taking advantage of us, but weren't sure who it was.

Although 1946 was a long time ago, this attitude still seems to be common.  It's certainly a major element in Donald Trump's world-view.  I recently discovered the Trump Twitter Archive, which includes almost all of Trump's tweets since 2009.  There are a large number along these lines:

"Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect—and much worse.”  (2012)

"When will our nation's sacrifices  be respectfully appreciated? Iraq and Libya should reimburse us in oil." (2011)

"Boycott Mexico until they release our Marine. With all the money they get from the U.S., this should be an easy one. NO RESPECT!" (2014)  He was referring to an ex-Marine who had been convicted of bringing loaded guns into Mexico, a violation of their laws).

"Now a small country like Sudan tells Obama he can't send any more Marines.  We are a laughing stock."  (2012)

It's possible that the belief that your country is being taken advantage of is a general part of nationalism, but I believe that it's especially strong in the United States.  Our self-image is of being generous--helping to rebuild Germany and Japan after the Second World War, welcoming immigrants, trying to promote democracy.  The flip side of that is a feeling that other nations don't appreciate our sacrifices or are taking advantage of our good nature.  I think Trump's appeal to this sentiment helps to explain his support in the "working class" (ie less educated people). 

PS:  The Trump Twitter Archive also helps to show why his "economic populism" faded so quickly--it didn't exist until he started running for office.  Up through 2014, his tweets on economic issues were standard conservative stuff--government spending is too high, deficits "will turn America into Greece," the " Fed's recklessness is going to lead to record inflation."  Even after that, he didn't have that many tweets about departures from orthodoxy.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 2, 2018

The moment of truth

When journalists write stories about "working class whites" they may talk to factory or construction workers, but it they mention any survey data, it involves differences between more and less educated people.  That's because very few surveys now ask about occupation.  The American National Election Study still does, but it's an academic survey, so things take time.  The data for 2016 was released in May, but it didn't include the occupation variable.  But the occupation data has now been released, so now it is possible to distinguish between the effects of occupation and education. 

It's known that the gap between more and less educated (white) voters was substantially bigger in 2016 than it was in previous elections.  What about the gap between blue and white collar workers?  The ANES has a detailed classification, with about 90 different occupations.  I reduced this to six categories:  managers, professionals, other white collar or technical, protective services, supervisors, and manual workers.  "Protective services" is not usually distinguished as a separate class, but they are hard to place and Donald Trump often boasts about getting their support, so I made them a separate category.  Limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites, here is support for Republicans in 2012 and 2016 relative to manual workers.

                         2012    2016
Managers          -.18     -.49
Professionals    -.34     -.78
White collar     -.12      -16
Protective          .49      .23
Supervisors       .24      .10
Manual                 0         0

To approximately translate these into percentage differences, multiply by 25.  For example, the Republican vote among supervisors was about 6% higher than among manual workers in 2012.  One thing to notice that the "New Deal" pattern, where Democratic support was higher among manual workers than among the middle classes, is pretty much gone; Democratic support is now highest among professionals.  The other is that there seems to have been a change between 2012 and 2016:  manual workers moved towards the Republicans relative to all other classes (or all others moved towards the Democrats relative to manual workers).  

These comparisons do not control for education.  If you do that, the effect of having a college degree is about -.23 in 2012 and -.72 in 2016--that is, about three times as large (these are close the gaps shown in the exit polls).  What about occupation after talking account of  education?  The estimated shift of manual workers is less than half as large as it was before including the control, and not anywhere close to statistical significance (a t-ratio of about 0.8).  That is, the major change in voting patterns involved education, not occupation.  Or in everyday terms, the big change was not that working-class whites turned to Trump, but that less educated whites turned to Trump.  You could say that this is just an academic distinction, because working class voters tend to be less educated.  But education and occupation are different things--of course they are correlated, but a lot of people without college degrees have white collar occupations (see this post).  I have argued that the changes had more to do with Trump's (and maybe Clinton's) styles and with views of the nation than with appeals to economic interests, and the fact that the change in voting patterns primarily involved education and not occupation supports this interpretation.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Populism of the past

Today, "populism" is usually a negative term, basically meaning bombastic, authoritarian, and incompetent (this article is an example).  Things used to be different.  In 1972, Irving Kristol (a conservative) started an article by asking "What is populism and why is everyone suddenly saying such nice things about it?"  Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield (liberals) published a book called A Populist Manifesto which started from a similar point--that lots of people were calling themselves populists--before making a case for progressive populism.  They held up Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign as a model for what they were proposing, and Eugene McCarthy's 1968 campaign as a sort of negative model.  The idea was that Kennedy tried to understand white working-class voters, while McCarthy ignored or dismissed their concerns. They said that if the Democrats followed McCarthy's example, the white working class would turn to people like Richard Nixon and George Wallace.  Similar claims are still made today--that if the Democrats had followed Robert Kennedy's example, they would have had more success in holding on to working-class voters.

In May 1968, a Gallup poll asked about hypothetical races between Nixon, Wallace, and the th(ree leading Democratic contenders, making it possible to compare the support for McCarthy and Kennedy. There were substantial differences--bigger than I expected.  First, Kennedy got 86% of the hypothetical vote among blacks, while McCarthy got only 46% (with 36% saying they'd vote for Nixon).   I don't know why McCarthy did so poorly--maybe it was because he had challenged Lyndon Johnson, who was still popular among blacks.   Because of this difference, I restricted the rest of the analysis to non-blacks.

McCarthy did substantially better than Kennedy among college graduates, although both of them ran behind Nixon (McCarthy trailed by 36%-50%, while Kennedy trailed by 19%-64%).  Kennedy did better among people without a high school diploma (who were almost 40% of the sample).  Income was measured with 11 categories, so it's more convenient to compute the mean income by vote.  The average income of Kennedy supporters was only a little higher than the average of Wallace supporters and undecideds, and substantially lower than that of Nixon supporters.  (The differences among Kennedy, Wallace, and undecideds were not statistically significant).  The average incomes of McCarthy supporters was closer to that of Nixon supporters than to either Wallace supporters or undecideds.

At that time, the Gallup poll asked about the occupation of the "chief wage earner."  McCarthy did considerably better among professionals and managers, and Kennedy did somewhat better among all of the other occupational groups.

So in terms of demographics, the Newfield/Greenfield account holds up.  But support for Wal]lace was almost exactly the same in the hypothetical race with Kennedy as in the one with McCarthy (actually a little higher with Kennedy).  That is, although Kennedy appealed to the kind of people who were inclined to support Wallace--less educated, lower incomes, lower-status occupations--he didn't seem to appeal to the people who were inclined to support Wallace.  86% of the people who said they'd support Wallace in a three-way race involving McCarthy said they'd support him in a three-way race involving Kennedy.  There was considerably more movement between Nixon and the possible Democratic nominees.

Kennedy and McCarthy didn't do as well as Humphrey in a hypothetical three-way race--I wouldn't put much weight on that, simply because people may have been more familiar with Humphrey.*  But McCarthy did a little better than Kennedy among whites, almost exactly balancing Kennedy's advantage among blacks. So it looks like Kennedy would have attracted different voters, but not necessarily more voters.

*In terms of demographics, Humphrey's support was in between Kennedy's and McCarthy's.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Family or skills?

I've written about public opinion on several aspects of immigration, but there is one that I haven't considered:  whether decisions about who to admit should give more weight to "merit." This issue also hasn't received much attention in surveys, but in 2007, 2013, and 2017, there was a relevant question:  "When the US government is deciding which immigrants to admit to this country, should priority be given to people who have family members already living in the US, or should priority be given to people based on education, job skills and work experience?"  The overall distribution of opinions:

                   Family    Work
2007             34%         51%
2013             28%         59%
2017             44%         46%

The difference between times is statistically significant.  There also are shifts in the relation with partisanship--I show the percent saying family minus the percent saying education, skills, and experience:

                   R            D     I
2007           -29         0     -22
2013           -30      -25     -38
2017           -29     +20       -3

Republicans were almost exactly the same at all three times, but Democrats and Independents moved towards education and skills between 2007 and 2013 and then towards family between 2013 and 2017.  Another way to put it is that there were moderate differences by party in 2007, small differences in 2013, and large differences in 2017. 

I don't remember if immigration policy was particularly in the news in May 2007 or April 2013, but in August 2017 the Cotton-Perdue bill, which would shift the priority away from family ties and towards skills, had just been introduced.  My guess is that Democrats and independents were reacting against the proposal, but that raises the question of why Republicans didn't move in favor of education and skills.  It may be because Donald Trump hadn't emphasized the issue in his campaign or his presidency up to that point--he'd focused on illegal immigration and vetting for terrorist sympathies.  So Democrats may have been more sensitive to proposed changes. 

In the last few months, Trump has started pushing for changes in immigration law; ending "chain migration" and the "lottery system" have become two of his favorite twitter themes.  So if this question is asked in the near future, I think Republicans will shift in favor of skills, and Democrats and Independents will shift further against it.  I also think that overall support for skills will decline, because Trump's remarks last week linked the issue to race in the public mind.  A shift to skills would almost certainly shift the composition of immigrants towards whites.  However, although the idea of a skill-based system had been discussed by people who were interested in public policy, it hadn't received a lot of news coverage, so the average person answering the question probably didn't think about this implication.  Blacks were more likely than whites to favor family ties, but the difference was small (43.5% vs. 36%).  But after last week, race will be the first thing that many people think about; maybe his base will move towards favoring skills, but blacks, Hispanics, and many whites will move in the other direction. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"People love me. . . . Everybody loves me"

I've had several posts questioning the claim Donald Trump had a strong connection to the public (this one, for example).  But what if we focus on less educated people (often miscalled the "working class"), who did vote for him in large numbers?  A Pew survey in October 2016 asked if Donald Trump would be a great, good, average, poor, or terrible president if elected, and asked the same question about Hillary Clinton.  The averages by education (some college or less vs. degree or more), with great=5....terrible=1.

                              No degree       degree
Trump                        2.49              2.09
Clinton                       2.56              3.03

There was little difference among people without a college degree, but Clinton rated a little higher.  She was much higher among people with a college degree.

The same question had also been asked in a survey from April 2011, which asked about some people who were being mentioned as possible candidates for the Republican nomination.  That group happened to include Donald Trump.

                              No degree       degree

Trump                         2.56            2.10
Romney                      3.08            3.04
Palin                           2.51            2.10
Huckabee                   3.20            2.80
Ron Paul                    2.82            2.61
Gingrich                    2.68            2.46
Bachmann                 2.66            2.38

            Despite everything that happened between April 2011 and October 2016, the average assessment of Donald Trump among both educational groups was almost the same at the two times.  All of the potential Republican candidates got higher ratings from less educated people--the difference was small for Romney, but large for Trump and several others.\


\In December 2007, the same question was asked about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

                             No degree       degree

Obama                       3.27            3.44
Clinton                       3.14            3.08

Clinton's rating among college graduates was about the same in 2007 and 2016, but her rating among people without a college degree dropped substantially.  What happened?  My first thought is that the accumulation of scandals or quasi-scandals might have had more impact on less educated voters, who might pay more attention to personality than ideology.  I also have the impression that her association with Bill Clinton's administration, a period of declining unemployment and even wage growth, counted for more in 2008 than in 2016, partly because it was more recent then and partly because her time as Secretary of State intervened. 

But the overall point is that Trump's success in 2016 was more about the weakness of the opposition than about any positive appeal.  Of course, he had a lot enthusiastic supporters--in a country of 320 million, even a small minority can be a lot of people.  But the public as a whole, and even the less educated part of the public as a whole, were not that enthusiastic.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What have reformicons learned?

Ross Douthat has a column called "What has Mitt Romney learned?"  The idea is that Romney's opposition to Trump is praiseworthy, but that he had helped to pave the way for Trump by running as a traditional pro-business conservative in 2012 and making no effort to offer anything to the working class.  It all seemed reasonable until this passage near the end "there is a small caucus in the Republican Party for a different way, for a conservatism that seeks to cure itself of Romney Disease by becoming genuinely pro-worker . . . It basically consists of Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of (ahem) Utah, plus perhaps Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and a few other figures ..."

Rubio ran for the Republican nomination in 2015-6.  He got lots of media coverage and seemed to be well financed, but didn't get many votes.  Those that he got weren't mainly from the working class, but from "establishment Republicans."  That is, when working class voters were offered a choice between the leading "pro-worker conservative" and Donald Trump, they unhesitatingly went for Donald Trump.  I don't find this hard to understand--if you read the elite media, you knew that Rubio was supposed to be a reform conservative, but in the debates he was just one more guy talking about how conservative he was and how Hillary Clinton would do irreversible harm to the America we knew and loved.  

What would a pro-worker conservatism be like?  Douthat links to a piece by Pete Spiliakos, which says that the problem with the recent tax bill is that its benefits are skewed towards high earners, with too little going to the middle and working classes--in other words, exactly what Democrats are saying.  A reasonable short definition of the difference between left and right on economic issues is that the left is in favor of using the power of the state to help people with low and moderate incomes at the expense of people with high incomes, and that the right opposes that.  So a pro-worker conservatism would have to involve some move to the left, because being pro-worker is a basic principle of the left.  Of course, it could involve more than that--for example, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit but cutting back on the minimum wage, or reducing occupational licensing--but it can't avoid it entirely.  

However, as I have observed before, both politicians and intellectuals in the Republican party seem to be consumed by the desire to prove how conservative they are, and how strongly they oppose progressivism and all of its works.  With politicians, this means that if someone compromises, he or she is vulnerable to being pushed out by someone who promises to take an even harder line.  With intellectuals, it means that even those who want reform assume that any reform has to come from the right and therefore convince themselves that people like Rubio, Lee, and Cotton might be the answer.  The result is that both establishment and reform conservatism are ineffectual.