Thursday, January 21, 2021

The rise and decline of white supremacy

Thomas Edsall concluded a column on polarization in American politics by saying that it might decline as a result of generational change:  "It will be another decade before these millennial and Gen Z voters reach levels in the electorate powerful enough to shift the direction of national politics away from the obsolete doctrine of white supremacy. It can’t happen soon enough." Edsall isn't the kind of person I'd expect to use "white supremacy" in that context--he's a mainstream liberal, not an academic, and about the same age as Joe Biden.  That made me wonder about trends in use--it's clearly becoming more popular, but when did that start?  I did a search for mentions of "white supremacy" in the New York Times for recent years and then every 10 years going back to 1959:

The use of "white supremacy" took off in 2013-15, and its growth doesn't seem to be slowing down (39 mentions in the first three weeks of 2021, a rate which would produce over 700 for the whole year).

Of course, some of those references are historical, and some are to fringe groups.  But some of them, like Edsall's, involve general racial attitudes.  It's hard to say what it means in this context.  Understood as a "doctrine"--a conscious belief that whites ought to have a superior position, and that laws should help them keep that position--white supremacists are a tiny minority.  In 1944, the National Opinion Research Center asked a sample of white people "Do you think Negroes should have as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job, or do you think white people should have the first chance at any kind of job?"  51% said white people should have the first chance.  The question was asked a number of other times:

The last time it was asked was 1972, when 3% thought that whites should have the first chance and 96% thought that blacks should have an equal chance.  Of course, there are lots of other kinds of prejudice--for example, people might be reluctant to have blacks as neighbors, or think that blacks are less intelligent than whites, and you might say that those opinions are a form of "white supremacy."  Still, it would be hard to argue that more than maybe 10-15% of whites support white supremacy in that sense--not nearly enough to determine the direction of national politics.  

Of course, there are a lot of whites who say that racial inequality is bad, but we're already doing as much as we can.  I've had several posts saying that in the past few years whites have become more likely to believe that there is a lot of discrimination against blacks.  However, it's not clear whether and how this change has affected opinions about specific measures to address racial inequality.  In 1996, California voters approved of a referendum banning affirmative action in admissions to state universities (also state employment and contracting, but college admissions got the most attention).  This year, a proposal to repeal it was on the ballot, but it failed by almost the same margin that the original one passed by (I intend to do a post on that sometimes).  So if opposition to affirmative action is the sort of thing that Edsall means by "white supremacy," it's not clear that it's declining (and of course, it's not limited to whites, leading to ideas like "multiracial whiteness"). 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, January 16, 2021

In the news

 I have seen several interesting things in the newspapers over the last few days:

1.  The Washington Post reported on a survey showing that there has finally been a drop in Donald Trump's popularity after the Capitol riot.  One of the questions in the survey asked "As far as the future is concerned, thinking about our system of government and how it works--is this something you feel generally optimistic about, generally pessimistic about, or uncertain about?"  The question has been asked off and on since 1975.  Although this is the sort of thing I am interested in, I don't remember ever seeing that question before. Here is a summary measure:

There's definitely a downward trend.  Just looking at it, I would say that there's little or no trend in the 20th century, but a drop starting in 2008 (the survey was January, well before the financial crisis).  However, if you fit models, it's not clear if there's any deviation from a linear trend.  The value is the latest survey (a few days ago) is not the lowest ever--surveys in 2011 and 2013 showed less optimism.  I haven't checked, but I suspect that those were around times of standoffs over raising the debt ceiling.  

2.  The New York Times reported that the German Christian Democratic Party had selected a new leader, Armin  Laschet, but said that his position was not secure:  "If Mr. Laschet fails to gain popularity with voters, he might come under pressure to cede the chancellor nomination to another possible candidate who has yet to declare his intention to run: Markus Söder, the popular leader of the state of Bavaria and head of the Christian Democrats’ conservative sister party.  Relatively young, ambitious and calculating, Mr. Söder has morphed from a fierce Merkel critic during the 2015 migrant crisis into one of her most loyal allies during the pandemic."

3.  The New York Times also had a story on conflicts in the Republican party.   A quotation:  “'What President Trump has done has realigned the political parties, and either the establishment of the Republican Party recognizes that or we don’t — and I believe that we will,' said Representative Ken Buck, who is also the Colorado G.O.P. chairman. He suggested that the party should be attentive to Mr. Trump’s working-class support and avoid being 'hyperfocused on the suburban vote.'"  I didn't know who Ken Buck was, so I looked up his Wikipedia biography.  It turns out that both of his parents were lawyers in New York City and he went to Princeton.  

These last two items are related to my previous post.  At one time, elite colleges played an important part in creating an "establishment"--someone with Buck's background would probably have become a moderate Republican and someone with Tom Cotton's background would probably have become more moderate as a result of attending an elite college.  That's no longer the case, at least on the conservative side.  More generally, as the example with the Christian Democrats shows, mainstream political parties usually tend to draw ambitious politicians from the extremes towards the center.  That no longer happens in the Republican party.  If anything, it's the reverse--a moderate will be pulled towards the extremes, as seen in Mitt Romney's unconvincing efforts to pass himself off as "severely conservative" (I think that was how he put it) in 2012. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The insulted and the injured

 I concluded my last post by saying that Republicans seem to like the idea of being a "working-class party."   In principle, this could be based on an assessment of the potential for maximizing total votes--having a strategy that promises gains in the working class that outweigh any losses in the middle class.  But it seems to be more of a desire in search of a strategy--they think it would be a good thing but don't have much in the way of ideas about how to do it (see the articles I linked to in this post).  Moreover, some of the leading proponents of this idea have "elite" backgrounds, as Paul Krugman points out.  He mentions Ted Cruz (Princeton and Harvard Law) and Josh Hawley (Stanford and Yale Law); Tom Cotton, another leading Republican "populist," is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.  He asks "these aren’t people who have been mistreated by the system. So why are they so eager to bring the system down?"  His proposed answer is that Republicans  have "been cut off from the rest of society.  .  .  . They don’t get news from the outside world, because they get their information from partisan sources that simply don’t report inconvenient facts."  This doesn't seem likely to me--I'd guess that people like Cruz, Hawley, and Cotton follow the mainstream media pretty closely, if only to find things to get indignant about (in fact, Cotton was a member of the editorial board of the Harvard Crimson as an undergraduate).  

I suggested an alternative explanation in a previous post, and I'll expand on it here.  On the whole, American higher education leans to the left, but there are differences among institutions, and elite colleges and universities are generally farther to the left.  There are also differences among units within universities, so that someone who majors in political science and goes to law school will encounter a more left-wing environment than someone who majors in economics and goes to business school.  So students with conservative views who go to an elite university and take an interest in politics will find that the great majority of people around them disagree with their views.  Being in a small minority can be tough even if the majority is fair-minded and tolerant, and majorities often aren't, even (or maybe especially) at universities.  As a result, they will tend to develop a sense of resentment against "elites"--i.e., those jerks I knew in college.   Moreover, given that most of the people they knew in college wouldn't dream of voting Republican, they're not going to see much prospect of appealing to college-educated voters.  So they turn to the working class as an alternative (and perhaps as a way to upset liberal elites who think that the working class ought to be supporting the left).   That is, resentment of "elites" is characteristic of conservative elites rather than of the general public.    

I don't know of a good way to test this hypothesis, since it involves small groups that can't even be identified in most surveys.  But I did run across some more data suggesting that resentment of elites isn't a strong influence among average voters.  The 2018 General Social Survey has some questions about various negative experiences in day-to-day life.  The relevant ones are how often "you are treated with less courtesy and respect than other people" and "people act as if they think you are not smart."  Answers had no clear connection to choices in the 2016 election or to opinions on a variety of political issues.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

I concede NOTHING!

 In 2016 and 2020, surveys sponsored by CNN asked "Once every state has officially certified its vote for president, do you think that the loser of the presidential election has an obligation to accept the results and concede, or not?"  The results:

Oct 20 2016      77%     20%    2%

Aug 15 2020     87%     10%     4%

Oct 4 2020        86%        9%    5%

There were also a couple of surveys after the election asking if Donald Trump should concede--in early December, before the electoral college vote, 65% said that he should and 29% that he should not; a few days after the electoral college vote, 70% said he should and 26% that he should not. 

So despite the general increase in partisan polarization, there's still strong support for the principle that the loser should concede (and it may have been even stronger in 2020 than 2016).  It's not surprising that Donald Trump was unwilling to concede, but it's interesting that he didn't get much pressure from Republicans, even after the Electoral College vote.  Most leading Republicans didn't say much, and some, notably Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, vocally supported Trump.   Hawley and Cruz both clearly want to be president, so on the face of it they would seem to have an interest in pushing Trump out--not by openly confronting him, but by talking about how the Republican Party needs to look to the future, bring in a new generation, etc.  But rather than doing that, they attached themselves to a project that was certain to fail.   Why?  I think there are two main factors.  One is that they guessed that after Trump left office he wouldn't get as much media attention, so that his support would fade.  By sticking with him now they'd help themselves with his supporters, leaving them well placed to start the 2024 campaign.  The other is the fascination that many Republicans have with being a "working-class party"--that is, keeping the kind of voters that Trump attracted and not worrying too much about the ones he repelled.  A Washington Post story with the headline "Republicans largely silent about consequences of deadly attack and Trump's role in inciting it" closed with this quotation:   "'If you can replicate his draw amongst rural, working-class voters without the insanity, you have a permanent governing majority,' said Josh Holmes, a top adviser to McConnell."  The reasoning may be that "the insanity" is what drove away middle-class voters, while something else was what appealed to "rural, working-class voters."  So if you keep that something else but drop the insanity, you can expand the coalition.  

 However, I don't think that's the whole story--it's striking that Republicans talk about being a "working-class party" rather than a "multi-class party."  Traditionally, conservatives have deprecated appeals to class interests, and held that their policies benefit all classes.  But now, they seem to regard getting working-class votes as better than getting middle-class votes.  One reason for this is the general growth of social egalitarianism that I've mentioned in several posts.  I'll discuss another possible reason in my next post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Saturday, January 2, 2021

2000 at last

 I have been saying that I'll have a post about public opinion on the 2000 election, and here it is.  The Supreme Court decision ending the recount was issued on December 12 at about 10PM.  Several Democrats immediately urged Gore to concede, but at about 11:30 his campaign issued a statement saying that they were reviewing the decision and would say more on the following day.  The New York Times story which I'm relying on for this information concluded by saying "the Gore camp was on hold tonight, in part, aides said, because Mr. Gore wanted his team to comb through the ruling for any leeway for Mr. Gore to stave off a concession. It was also clear that the Gore team wanted to assess the reaction from its allies and see whether an outcry, particularly by black voters, might trigger enough public concern to sustain Mr. Gore if he tried to seek redress."  The next day, the Times had a story saying "Vice President Al Gore plans to deliver his concession in a speech to the American public tonight, according to people close to him."  He did, saying "while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession."  On December 14 and 15, ABC News and the Washington Post conducted a poll focusing on the decision, and Gallup followed with one on Dec 15-17.  Of course, these weren't the only surveys that asked, but I'll focus on them because they had a range of questions and were conducted soon after the court decision.  Neither of the polls asked people how they voted in the 2000 election, but the ABC/Washington Post asked "who did you personally want to become the next president," and the Gallup survey asked about vote in a hypothetical 2004 race between Bush and Gore, so I'll take these questions and talk about Bush and Gore supporters.   

The ABC/Washington Post survey asked "Do you consider Bush to have been legitimately elected as president, or not?"  Only 20% of Gore supporters, said that they did.  The Gallup survey asked "Now that George W. Bush has been declared the winner and will be inaugurated next January, will you accept him as the legitimate president, or not?"  68% of Gore supporters said that they would.  So two apparently similar questions give very different results.  I think that is because people can interpret "legitimate" in different ways--did he deserve to win, and should he be accepted as the winner.   For example, if a team won a championship as the result of a bad call by a referee, someone might say that they weren't a "legitimate champion," without supporting an effort to strip them of their title and declare the other team the champion.   Similarly, someone might believe that Gore probably got more votes in Florida, think that the Supreme Court decision was a mistake, and nevertheless accept that according to the rules we have, Bush won.  By mentioning the inauguration, the Gallup question pointed towards the second interpretation.  The Gallup survey also asked "which comes closest to your view of the way George W. Bush won the election:  he won fair and square; he won, but only on a technicality; he stole the election."  Only twelve percent of Gore supporters thought that he won fair and square, 53% thought he won on a technicality, and 34% thought he stole the election.  Opinions on those questions were closely related:  almost everyone (99.5%) who thought he won fair and square and the great majority (82%) of those who thought he won on a technicality, but less than half of those who thought he stole the election (38%) said they would accept him as the legitimate president. 

The ABC/Washington Post survey asked two questions about the Supreme Court justices:  "Do you think the majority in the U.S. Supreme Court that ruled in Bush's favor did so (mainly on the law and evidence in the case), or (mainly because it wanted to help Bush become president)?" and a parallel one about the minority that voted for Gore.  Very few Bush supporters, but 60% of Gore supporters thought that the majority ruled mainly because they wanted to help Bush.  Views of the minority followed a different pattern--among both Bush and Gore supporters, about 60% thought they voted on the basis of the law and evidence and about 30 because they wanted to help Gore.  Bush supporters may have been feeling magnanimous because they had won, and Gore's lead in the popular vote may have led some to feel that he at least had a case.  The fact that a substantial number of Gore supporters thought that the minority was motivated by political considerations is more puzzling.  Maybe it reflects a more general view about the court--that liberals are (or were then) more likely to think that political considerations were necessarily involved.  

Finally, the ABC/Washington Post survey asked people if they agreed or disagreed with the statement: "Whatever its faults, the United States still has the best system of government in the world."  89% agreed--94% of Bush supporters and 85% of Gore supporters.  That question was asked a number of times between 1992 and 2011, and 2000 had the highest level of agreement (the differences were small, but big enough to take seriously).  

Putting these results together, I think you can draw the following conclusions:

1.  After a close election, a substantial number of people are ready to believe that it was stolen.  This is understandable: lot of people are attracted to conspiracy theories, and few people have any information about voting security or vote counting.  Believing that the votes were counted correctly in Florida, or Wayne County, or even in your own town, is mostly a matter of trust.

2.  At the same time, most people were willing to accept the results, even if they saw them as tainted in some sense.  I think the results of the "best system of government" question are remarkable--even a real patriot might reasonably have thought that a system which had so much trouble counting the votes fell a bit short of being the best in the world.  

The difference between 2000 and 2020 is that in 2000 the Democrats quickly conceded rather than trying to promote the idea that the election had been stolen, or that the court decision was illegitimate.   I've seen survey results indicating that most Trump supporters think that he really won, but I haven't seen any more general questions about support for the system.  I hope that someone asks (or has asked) the "best in the world" question again.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Not simple enough

 Once again, I have gotten diverted into another topic.  Yesterday morning, Donald Trump tweeted about a paper by John Lott called "A simple test for vote fraud with absentee ballots in the 2020 Presidential election", which according to Trump "estimates 11,350 absentee votes lost to Trump in Georgia. Another 289,000 'excess (fraudulent) votes' across GA, AZ, MI, NV, PA, and WI."*  Lott is an economist best known for work arguing against gun control.  He's been involved in a number of controversies, but has published extensively in scholarly journals, and I happen to have read one of his papers recently and it seemed solid.  So he's not someone like L. Lin Wood or Sidney Powell who can be dismissed out of hand.  How much of a case does he have?

One obvious point is that his statistical evidence isn't very strong.  He has two separate analyses, and the key estimates in both have p-values of about .07.  He doesn't acknowledge that, and disguises it in various ways, including the classic "statistically significant at the .05 level for a one-tailed test."  There's also a big jump from statistical analysis to conclusions--the abstract speaks of "fraudulent votes" rather than something like "excess votes beyond those predicted by the model."  But could you at least say there's suggestive evidence, something that calls for further investigation?  One analysis, the one about "excess" votes in certain counties in swing states, just isn't convincing in principle.  The model was basically about increase in turnout over 2016, and it appears that the increase was greater in certain counties where fraud had been alleged.  Lott interprets that increase as evidence that there was ballot box stuffing in those counties, but another possibility is that the Democrats just made special efforts to get out the vote in them.  Given that those counties were heavily Democratic and located in states that were expected to be close, that seems very plausible.  The other analysis was more complex.  It involved differences between the distribution of absentee votes and in-person votes in Georgia, comparing Fulton county (Atlanta) to surrounding areas.   Lott argued that it was easier to manipulate or fake absentee votes than regular ones, so fraud would show up as a large discrepancy between different kinds of votes.  For example, suppose that outside of Fulton county, 60% of the in-person votes and 50% of absentee votes were for Trump, and in Fulton county, 40% of the in-person votes and 30% of the absentee votes were for Trump.  Then you'd just say that Trump voters preferred to vote in person, as surveys suggested would happen.  But suppose that in Fulton county, 40% of the in-person votes and only 10% of the absentee ballots were for Trump.  Lott says that would be evidence of fraud (votes being switched, Biden votes manufactured, or Trump votes discarded), on the grounds that "while Democrats were pushing their voters to vote by absentee ballot, there is no reason to expect that rate to differ between two precincts that are next to each other and are similar in terms of their in-person voting support and their demographics." And I can't immediately think of a reason why it would, so this approach seems more promising.  

But rather than just computing differences between absentee and in-person votes, he regressed the Trump share of absentee votes on the Trump share of in-person votes plus a dummy variable for Fulton county.  The problem with doing that is that there is no sense in which the in-person share is a cause of, or even prior to, the absentee share (or vice-versa)--they are just two variables that are correlated with each other.  In this situation,  if the Trump share of the vote is lower in Fulton county, then the Fulton county variable is in effect correlated with the error term in the regression, producing spurious results.**  Lott didn't make his data available, but a look at his regression estimates suggests that this misspecification accounts for his "Fulton county effect."

I include a little simulation at the end, in which both in-person and absentee votes are a function of a precinct-level propensity to support Trump plus a random error term, and "Fulton county" precincts have a lower propensity to vote for Trump.  If you do a regression with a Fulton county dummy, it is highly significant, but if you compute the gap between absentee and in-person ballots, it is the same in and out of "Fulton county."

*The phrase "excess (fraudulent) votes" doesn't appear in Lott's paper, although "excess votes" and "fraudulent votes" do.  

**I'm simplifying, because he looks at differences between pairs of precincts, but the basic point remains the same.

> propensity<-c(4000:7000)/100
> min(propensity)
[1] 40
> length(propensity)
[1] 3001
> person<-propensity+3*rnorm(3001)
> absent<-propensity-10+3*rnorm(3001)
> fulton<-propensity<50
> m1<-lm(absent~person)
> summary(m1)

lm(formula = absent ~ person)

    Min      1Q  Median      3Q     Max
-14.191  -2.785   0.017   2.793  14.553

             Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
(Intercept) -3.736393   0.459804  -8.126 6.41e-16 ***
person       0.886926   0.008248 107.530  < 2e-16 ***
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 4.15 on 2999 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared:  0.794,     Adjusted R-squared:  0.794
F-statistic: 1.156e+04 on 1 and 2999 DF,  p-value: < 2.2e-16

> m2<-lm(absent~person+fulton)
> summary(m2)

lm(formula = absent ~ person + fulton)

     Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max
-12.6099  -2.6932   0.0678   2.6976  14.7024

            Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
(Intercept)  6.63930    0.74541   8.907   <2e-16 ***
person       0.72331    0.01234  58.621   <2e-16 ***
fultonTRUE  -4.13916    0.24041 -17.217   <2e-16 ***
Signif. codes:  0 ‘***’ 0.001 ‘**’ 0.01 ‘*’ 0.05 ‘.’ 0.1 ‘ ’ 1

Residual standard error: 3.959 on 2998 degrees of freedom
Multiple R-squared:  0.8126,    Adjusted R-squared:  0.8125
F-statistic:  6499 on 2 and 2998 DF,  p-value: < 2.2e-16

> gap<-absent-person
> t.test(gap~fulton)

        Welch Two Sample t-test

data:  gap by fulton
t = -0.078946, df = 1987.1, p-value = 0.9371
alternative hypothesis: true difference in means is not equal to 0
95 percent confidence interval:
 -0.3386609  0.3124506
sample estimates:
mean in group FALSE  mean in group TRUE
          -9.958066           -9.944960


Sunday, December 27, 2020

Having eyes, see ye not?

 I am eventually going to get around to a post on public opinion about the 2000 election controversy--I've found some interesting things.  But I was interrupted by running across a good example of something I've discussed before (most recently here)--a tendency to treat "elites" as more or less identical to the educated middle class.  Tim Carney writes "It should be obvious to everyone with eyes that today’s Democratic Party is the party of the elite. All of the wealthiest congressional districts are represented by Democrats. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump mostly by outperforming in upper-middle-class white suburbs. The GOP’s strongest constituency is whites without a college degree. A quick glance at the early data suggest Republicans’ biggest gains are among non-whites without a college degree."  The striking thing about that passage is that he provides four pieces of evidence and none of them support his claim.  Congressional districts are pretty big, averaging about 800,000 people, so even the richest ones are not exclusively upper-class.  And I've shown that at the county level, the presence of rich people seems to push other people towards the Democrats.  So the relationship between average income and Democratic vote is interesting, but doesn't tell us that people with high incomes voted Democratic.  That's a subtle point, but the next three clearly don't involve elites.   You could say that that we can extrapolate, so if people of moderately high social standing are more Democratic than people of low social standing, then people with very high social standing will be even more Democratic.  However, you can't put much faith in extrapolations that go way outside of the observed data; moreover, the relationship between social standing and voting is complicated.  At one time, it was fairly accurate to simply say that people who ranked higher were more Democratic, but now it depends on what characteristic you're talking about: more education is associated with support for the Democrats and higher income with support for the Republicans.  

Since elites are by definition a small minority, there's not much survey evidence on elite opinions, but one survey of high-income people in the Chicago area indicated that they were moderately conservative on economic issues.  There are also some statistics on political donations--in 2020, 62% of people who donated $100,000 or more gave to Republicans.  So the limited evidence available suggests that economic elites lean Republican.   But a lot of conservatives seem to want to believe that elites support Democrats, so they don't need evidence--it's just "obvious."  This leads to some data--from 1987 to 1996 several CBS/NY Times surveys asked "in general, do you think that the [Democratic/Republican] Party favors the rich, favors the middle class, favors the poor, or does it treat them all the same."  After a long gap, a CBS News survey asked the question again in 2017.  Here's what people who identified as Republicans said about the Republican party:

                1987            1996            2017

Rich            30%            31%            12%

Middle        14%            20%            24%

Poor            0%                3%                2%

Same          50%            43%               56%

and about the Democrats:


               1987            1996            2017

Rich            18%            24%            34%

Middle        13%            16%               6%

Poor            25%             36%             26%

Same          36%            17%               22%


So among Republicans, there was a shift away from seeing their party as favoring the rich and towards seeing the Democrats as favoring the rich.  In 1987, more Republicans thought that the Republican party favored the rich than thought the Democrats did (30% to 18%)--in 2017, it was reversed (12% to 34%),  Democrats' perceptions of the parties, in contrast, didn't change--at all three times, over 80% thought that the Republicans favored the rich, and about 75% thought that the Democrats favored the middle class or treated them all the same.   Independents shifted towards seeing both parties as more interested in the rich--going from 54% to 63% on the Republicans and 14% to 36% on the Democrats. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion  Research]