Sunday, October 21, 2018

Random observation

One of the questions in the General Social Survey is:  "If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?"  While looking for something else in the GSS the other day, I noticed this question and wondered if there was any trend.   One thing led to another, and here are trends by educational level (college graduate or not):

The likely reason that more educated people would be less likely to stop working is that they have more satisfying jobs.   Job satisfaction has stayed about the same in both groups over the whole period, so that doesn't account for the difference in trends.  On the other side, more educated people presumably have more interests outside of work--maybe that gap has grown, although I'm not sure why it would.  Or maybe it reflects changes in the sense of moral obligation to work?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The fault is not in other democracies, but in ourselves

I had a post almost two years ago about the idea that support for democracy was declining.  That started as an example for a class I was teaching, and I'm teaching the same class now, so I was going to reuse it.  But on looking back it didn't seem very clear, so hear is a new version. 

I looked at seven well-established democracies.  The basic question is:  "Various types of political systems are described below. Please think about each choice in terms of governing this country and indicate if you think that it would be a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing [your nation]:"

Here are the average ratings for "having a democratic political system"

There is no general pattern:  ratings increase in Spain and Australia, but decline in Japan and the United States.  At the beginning, Americans are third out of seven nations in their rating of democracy; at the end, we are eighth out of eight. 

Here are the average ratings for "having the army rule": 

The United States stands out here:  there has been a pretty steady increase.  In 1996, we were part of a group of three nations in the middle; in 2012, we had the most positive rating.  Having the army rule still gets a much lower rating than a democratic political system, but the gap has clearly narrowed.  This is unique to the United States--there is no clear trend in any of the other countries. 

[Data from the World Values Survey]

Friday, October 12, 2018

A new identity?

In my last post, I talked about perceptions of discrimination against blacks and whites.  I combined the two questions to get the numbers who said that there was more discrimination against whites, more against blacks, and equal amounts.   If you go back to the individual questions, which were asked in 2015:

Against blacks:

                    A lot       some    only a little   none at all
Whites             28%       45%      19%            6%
Blacks              63%      28%         7%           1%

Against whites:

Whites              9%       37%         32%       21%
Blacks              6%       27%         32%       30%

There is a big difference between blacks and whites in how much discrimination they see against blacks.  The difference in how much discrimination they see about whites is much smaller--whites see a little more, but not much.  For example, almost 80% of whites think that there is some discrimination against whites--but 70% of blacks think that there is some discrimination against whites.

The same question was asked in 2005.  At that time, the results were:

Against blacks:

                    A lot       some    only a little   none at all
Whites             22%       54%      14%            8%
Blacks              52%      34%         7%           5%

Against whites:

Whites              6%       39%         24%       27%
Blacks              7%       34%         20%       33%

The same pattern held then.  Between 2005 and 2015, perceptions changed a little.  Whites shfted from seeing "none at all" to "only a little" against themselves and and more saw "some" discrimination against blacks, with a decline in all other categories.  The number of blacks seeing "a lot" of discrimination against themselves grew from 52 to 63%.  However, nothing very dramatic.

I read a piece in the New York Times the other day (published a couple of months ago, but I missed it then), which said that there was "growing self-recognition among white people, prodded into being by demographic change and broader conversations about how racial identity works," which "could certainly lead toward self-acceptance and harmony . . . But we’re also staring at copious evidence of this self-recognition swinging in the other direction. . . . Some of us fixate on maintaining racial dominance, conjuring ethnonationalist states or a magical immigration formula that somehow imports half of Scandinavia. A majority of white Americans currently believe that their own race is discriminated against. News accounts fill with white resentment and torch-lit white-power marches. ...."  That would mean that white opinion was polarizing--there is no sign that is happening.  As I ,said last time, only a small minority of whites think there's more discrimination against whites than blacks--I haven't seen any survey results that would give an estimate of the number of "white nationalists," but I'm confident that it's even smaller.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, October 6, 2018

What's the problem?

I saw a story in the New York Times the other day which reported on polls finding relatively tolerant attitudes towards immigrants and then quoted one of their reporters as saying she "had not expected voters to be quite so tolerant. . . since polls had previously found 'much higher support for people saying discrimination against whites had become as big of a problem as that against blacks and other minorities.'"  That reminded me that I had seen a number of stories mentioning that question .  The usual interpretation is summed up in this title "Why white people think they're the real victims of racism."  I had also noticed something that seemed to cast doubt on that interpretation.    In a 2012 survey, 53% of whites agreed with the statement that "today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities," but so did 27% of blacks.  So if we say that most white people think they are the real victims of racism, we have to say that 27% of blacks think so too.   That doesn't seem credible.

My interpretation is that the "yes" answers combined two kinds of people--those who think that whites are the real victims and those who think that there's a lot of discrimination against all kinds of people.  The second view could represent general cynicism or a kind of racial solidarity.  I couldn't think of any way to test the interpretations, so I looked for a survey that asked separately about discrimination against blacks and whites.  I found a recent one I had not seen before, from 2015.  The exact question was "now please tell me how much discrimination there is against each of these groups in our society today. How about ****? Would you say there is a lot of discrimination, some, only a little, or none at all?"  They asked about "African Americans" and "White Americans," so you can compare the responses to see how many people said there was more against African Americans, how many said it was equal, and how many said whites.  The results:
                     More vs. W        Equal       More vs.  AA
Whites                11%                39%           48%
Blacks                  2%                21%            72%

So not many whites think that they face more discrimination than blacks do.  There are a lot of people who think discrimination against blacks and whites is about equal--more among whites, but a significant number even among blacks.  Is that because they think that neither is discriminated against, or both are?  And does it matter?  I will discuss that in my next post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


For a long time, going back to at least the 1950s, there seemed to be a growth in tolerance of people with unpopular opinions.  Recently there have been some claims that things are moving in the other direction.  Often these are about particular kinds of people, like liberals, millenials, or college students, but I'll start with people in general.  The General Social Survey has a series of questions going back to the 1970s about whether various kinds of people should be allowed to "make a speech in your community," "teach in a college or university," and if their books should be removed from your public library.   It asks about five types of people:  a Communist, "a man who admits that he is a homosexual," "a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country" (or militarist for short), "a person who believes that blacks are genetically inferior" (racist),  and "a person who is against all churches and religion" (atheist).   I computed a score of tolerance for each one by adding the three items (which were all yes/no).  The means:

Support for the rights of a type of person depends on two things:  how you feel about what they say or do and how committed you are to the general principle of tolerance.  The more rapid increase for the "man who admits that he is a homosexual" can plausibly be explained by a trend towards acceptance of gays and lesbians.  On the other side, the lack of an increase for the racist can be explained by a trend toward stronger disapproval of those views.  The other three all have very similar upward trends.  Apart from the difference in trends, the year-to-year changes are very similar.  I thought there might be some distinctive movements at least for the Communist, as people might have seen it as less of a threat after the breakup of the Soviet Union, but there's no evidence of that.  The period 2004-10 saw a plateau or slight decline in tolerance, but then it started up again through 2016.  So unless you think that people happen to have become more sympathetic to Communists, militarists, and opponents of religion, it seems that there has been and still is a fairly steady growth in support for the principle of toleration.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Making a difference

I've written several times about opinion on the minimum wage.  Surveys almost always find strong support for increasing it.  For example, a poll in January 2014 asked "As you may know, the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. Do you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10?"  72% were in favor and 26% opposed.  Not many surveys have asked about the possibility of lowering it, but there was one at about the same time (December 2013):  "The federal minimum wage is now $7.25. Do you think the federal minimum wage should be raised, lowered, or should it remain the same?"  Including that option didn't make any discernible difference--71% said raised, 25% remain the same, and 2% lowered.  Some surveys have raised the possibility that an increase in the minimum wage would reduce employment, but that doesn't reduce support by much.  An example from December 2013:  "Some people say the minimum wage should be raised to help low-income workers get by. Others say raising the minimum wage will lead some businesses to cut jobs. Given these arguments, do you support or oppose raising the minimum wage? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?"  66% were strongly or somewhat in favor, 31% strongly or somewhat opposed.

But a Fox News poll in January 2014 included another argument:  "As you may know, the federal government sets the national minimum wage--the lowest rate in dollars per hour that most workers should be paid--which is now set at seven dollars and twenty-five cents an hour. Which of the following comes closest to your view on how the federal government should handle the minimum wage?...The government should raise the minimum wage because it would help lots of people pay their bills. The government should not raise the minimum wage because it would cause businesses to cut jobs. There shouldn't be a minimum wage because government shouldn't tell businesses what to pay their employees."  On this question 56% were in favor of raising it, 25% said it should stay the same, and 15% said there shouldn't be a minimum wage.  The question was repeated in September 2014 and only 49% favored an increase, with 21% saying there shouldn't be a minimum wage.  So the point about principle apparently had a lot more impact than the point about job loss.  It's also interesting that including it didn't just move people from saying it should not be increased to saying it should be abolished--it cut into the number supporting an increase.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Not sure I believe this

"How serious a problem do you think racial discrimination against blacks is in this country--a very serious problem, a somewhat serious problem, not too serious, or not at all serious?":  This question was first asked in October 1995 and repeated a number of times, most recently in September 2016.  The means, with "very serious" counted as 4, "somewhat" as 3, "not too" as 2, and "not at all" as 1:

There is a decline between 1995-6 and 2008-10, but then an increase.  The lowest value was in November 2008, just about the time that Barack Obama was elected president.  As the title suggests, I'm not sure I believe that there really was a large increase between 2010 and 2015-6.  It seems that answers to this question might be influenced by context--if you ask the question after questions about various kinds of racial inequality, ratings of seriousness would be higher than if it's part of a serious of miscellaneous questions.  Perhaps the surveys were different in this respect.  However, the possibility of a shift is interesting, since most recent commentary on racial attitudes has emphasized the lack of change--for example, a column by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times today said that Obama's health care proposals "hit the wall that often confronts Democratic policymakers: race" and drew parallels to the late 1960s. 

If there was a change between 2010 and 2015, and a further change between 2015 and 2016, why did it happen?  The most obvious possibility would be the publicity given to police violence against blacks, which in many cases was supported by video evidence.  Some people argue that this led to a backlash, with whites rallying around police, but maybe it had a straightforward effect--some people were persuaded that there was a real problem.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]