Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Losing legitimacy?

 Since the Dobbs decision, I have seen many claims that it has (or will) cause the Supreme Court to lose legitimacy (here is one example).  It does appear that most people did not want the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, but this is not the first unpopular decision (and almost certainly not the most unpopular).  That raises the question of why this particular decision should have a lasting effect.  It seems like a reasonable model to start with would be that decisions affect views of the court based on a combination of popularity and prominence, but that the impact declines over time as memories fade and people get used to the new situation (which is almost never as bad as critics of the decision predicted it would be).  On the other hand, there may be some decisions that have a lasting impact, maybe because they have unexpected consequences that keep them in the news (for example, if state differences in laws on abortion lead to disputes between states that produce more cases for the Court) or just because they seem so unfair to a substantial part of the public (the case that decided the 2000 election might be an example).  

According to the Gallup Poll, confidence in the Supreme Court has generally declined since the 1970s--see this post and the latest update from Gallup.  But there has been a decline in confidence in many institutions, so it's hard to say what part of that is unique to the Supreme Court.  So I looked for data going farther back, and found one from Gallup that was asked six times from 1963 to 1987:  "In general, what kind of a rating would you give the Supreme Court:  excellent, good, fair, or poor."  You could say that "confidence" gets at something deeper than "rating," but I think that most people don't  make much distinction, so that they are reasonably good substitutes.  What makes this question useful, aside from the general benefit of extending the period for which data are available, is that there were a lot of important decisions in the 1960s.

The average rating was lower in the middle (1968, 1969, and 1973) and then bounced back.  An interesting point is that there was less dispersion in 1986 and 1987 than there had been in 1963 and 1967--fewer "excellents" and fewer "poors".  There was a sharp decline in average confidence  between June 1967 and June 1968.  In my next post, I will try to find evidence, or at least hints, about what might have caused that.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, June 26, 2022



In 1946, a Roper/Fortune survey asked "Here are three different kinds of job:
A job which pays quite a low income, but which you were sure of keeping.
A job which pays a good income but which you have a 50-50 chance of losing.
A job which pays an extremely high income if you make the grade but in which you lose almost everything if you don't make it.
If you had your choice, which would you pick?"

Back in 2013, I had a post on this question, which noted that it was asked again in 1957 and said "unfortunately, the question has never been asked again."  That was wrong--it's been asked twice since then, as well as once in 1948 (maybe I should say "at least," in case I'm still missing some).  The results:

           Safe        50/50      Risky

1946      56%       21%        18%

1948      47%        32%        19%

1957       42%        26%        26%

1962       48%         33%        14%

1981        22%        34%         36%

There is a move towards more risk/more reward, with the exception of 1962.  I'm not sure if that reflects a short-term change or some other difference--the 1962 survey one was done by Gallup while the others were all by the Roper organization.  There was also a difference between 1981 and all previous surveys--the earlier ones had asked men and single women about their job, and asked married women about their husband's job--that is, what you would like him to have.  In 1981, they asked all employed people about their own job (and didn't ask people who weren't employed).  But there was still a change after adjusting for this difference:  "in 1957, men were almost evenly divided among the three options, while almost 50% of women chose the safe job and only about 20% chose the high income/high risk job."  In 1981, only 19% of men chose the safe job and 45% chose the risky one, while women were pretty evenly divided (29%/39%/32%).  

I wondered if opinions on this question were related to political views--that is, people who thought that they could "make the grade" would be more conservative.  The 1981 survey didn't have many political questions, but it did have one about whether you would describe yourself as a supporter or critic of President Reagan.  There was a relationship--people who favored riskier choices were more likely to be supporters, but it became considerably smaller and no longer statistically significant after adding a few controls.  One important control variable was race--black people were more likely to favor the safe job and less likely to support Reagan.  Another was education--more educated people were considerably more likely to favor the risky job, and more likely to support Reagan--here is support for Reagan by education among whites:

not HS grad      62%

HS grad            70% 

some college    75%

bachelor's         80%

graduate           71%

I was a bit surprised by that, even thought I knew that at one time education was associated with support for the Republicans and have written about that in this blog.  I felt like 1981 was part of the "modern" period of political alignments--I don't think that I would have been surprised to see that pattern just a few years before.  I guess the lesson is that thinking in terms of categories or eras has a strong appeal, even when you know that the changes were gradual.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Too bad to be true

 Michelle Goldberg had a column arguing that there has recently been a turn against feminism.  One piece of evidence is a poll sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  According to this poll, support for feminism was considerably lower among younger Democrats than among older Democrats.  In Goldberg's summary:

"Predictably, most young Republicans agree with the statement, 'Feminism has done more harm than good.' What was astonishing was how many young Democrats agreed as well. While only 4 percent of Democratic men over 50 thought feminism was harmful, 46 percent of Democratic men under 50 did. Nearly a quarter of Democratic women under 50 agreed, compared with only 10 percent of those 50 and older."  

Here are the figures for all age/party/gender groups.

                 DM             RM                  DW              RW

18-49   41%-46%     31%-62%       71%-23%      34%-52% 

50+      94%-4%       52%-42%       87%-10%      32%-51%

change   -48%              -21%               -15%             +2%

I show the pro-feminist position (disagree) first.  The last row is the change in support for feminism from older to younger, defined as the average of changes in disagree and agree.  For example, among Democratic men, disagree fell by 53 and agree increased by 42, and (53+42)/2 rounds to 48.  So the survey showed a huge drop in support for feminism among Democratic men, substantial drops among Republican men and Democratic women, and essentially no change among Republican women.  

You rarely see numbers like 4% on agree/disagree questions, even among partisans.  For example, in 2012, Gallup asked if "there should or should not be a law that would ban the possessions of handguns, except by police and other authorized persons."  This is an issue that's divided the parties for a long time, and it's hard to imagine a Republican politician supporting it--but 11% of people who identified as Republicans did.  Also, the gap between younger and older Democratic men is implausibly large.  The two groups are just arbitrary divisions in a continuous variable--that is, you're not comparing "young" and "old," but mixed groups that both include a lot of middle-aged people.   

The best match to the SPLC question I could find was in a 2020 Pew survey, which asked "overall, what impact, if any, has feminism had on the lives of" various groups.  The groups included black women, white women, and Hispanic women.  First, I counted "helped" as +1, "hurt" as -1, and "made no difference" as 0.  Then I summed the scores, and counted +3 (helped all groups) as equivalent to disagreeing with the "more harm than good" position, negative scores (hurt more groups than it helped) as agreeing, and scores of 0-2 as mixed.  

The figures for the age/party/gender groups:

                   DM               RM                  DW              RW

18-49      58%-13%      40%-24%       51%-16%      46%-15% 

50+         60%-14%      43%-21%       53%-11%      42%-15%

change       -1%               -3%                  -4%               +2%

They show little generational difference among any group.  Also, although Democrats are more favorable, the partisan differences are smaller than in the SPLC poll.  This seems reasonable to me, since "feminism" can be interpreted in many different ways.  

The SPLC poll shows similarly implausible results on some other questions--for example, only 2% of Democratic men over 50, but 42% of Democratic men aged 18-49 agree that "transgender people are a threat to children."  They didn't give details on their methodology--just said it was from an online panel of 1,500 people--so it's hard to guess what went wrong.  Maybe it was something strange with the weights, so that the group figures are dominated by a few people.  However, that would be more likely to occur in small groups, such as black Republicans, and all of the age/gender/party groups would be expected to be fairly large.  But in any case, the SPLC survey can't be taken seriously.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

There's No U

 The New York Times had a story about the health effects of coffee, based on a paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study found that coffee drinkers had substantially lower mortality rates compared to people who didn't drink coffee, even after adjusting for a large number of variables involving health, diet, and exercise.  The point that caught my attention was that the story emphasized that the results involved moderate coffee consumption, and concluded with a warning: 

 "The study showed that the benefits of coffee tapered off for people who drank more than 4.5 cups of coffee each day.  Past studies have shown that consuming 'extreme amounts' — over seven cups per day — can take a toll, she [Christina Wee, professor at Harvard medical school and deputy editor of the Annals] said.

'Moderation is good,' Dr. Goldberg [professor at NYU medical school] said. 'But too much of a good thing isn’t necessarily more of a good thing.'"  

I like coffee, and probably fall into the "extreme amounts" group, so I wanted to see how strong the evidence was.  

The estimated relationship between coffee consumption and mortality rates is shown in this figure from the paper:

The first column is people who drink unsweetened coffee, the second people who drink coffee with sugar, and the third is people who drink it with artificial sweetener--all are compared to people who didn't drink coffee.  For unsweetened coffee, it looks like the reduction in mortality is about the same for all of the range of 3-8 cups, and for coffee with artificial sweeteners, it gets larger the more you drink.   It's only for coffee with sugar that there's evidence that high amounts are worse than moderate amounts.  The confidence intervals are pretty wide in all cases, so they don't rule out the possibility that the reduction in mortality gets smaller with larger amounts of unsweetened coffee, but they don't support it either.   It seemed strange that the Times story emphasized a point that wasn't really supported by the analysis, but on reading the article more closely, I can see why it did.  It was just following the paper, which mentioned a "U-shaped association with mortality" several times.  Moreover, the paper was accompanied by an editorial (written by Dr Wee) which said "they found a U-shaped association."  

The main focus of the paper wasn't the shape of the relationship, but whether there was a difference between sweetened and unsweetened coffee--specifically, whether the (apparent) benefits were smaller for sweetened coffee.  In fact, the sample wasn't very useful for estimating the shape, because there weren't many people who drank large amounts.  The paper didn't describe the distribution in detail, but the mean number of cups per day for those who drank coffee was 2.4, with a standard deviation of 1.3, so 7 cups would be about 3.5 standard deviations above the mean.*  

So why did the paper and the editorial emphasize a secondary point and mischaracterize it?  I think it's a combination of two things:  

1.  Traditionally people modeled non-linear relationships using polynomial regressions, starting (and often ending) by adding x squared.  A regression with x and x-squared will always be symmetrical around the minimum/maximum.  So people got into the habit of  thinking in terms of U or inverted U shapes, and that has persisted even after more flexible methods of modelling non-linear relationships have come into use.  

2.  Medical people are inclined to start from the assumption that extreme consumption of anything is bad.

2a.  When communicating with the public, they are not purely concerned with conveying information, but also with getting people to do the right thing, or not encouraging them to do the wrong thing.  Since some people tend to excess, emphasizing moderation is part of that.

*The data were from Britain.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Who cares about gun control?

 My last post discussed a question about the importance of the abortion issue in voting:  "if you would only vote for a candidate who shares your views on abortion, consider a candidate's position on abortion as just one of many important factors, or not see abortion as a major issue."  A parallel question has been asked about gun control.  There was also one on immigration policy, although it was asked only a couple of times over a short period.  The means, with higher numbers meaning more important:

The self-rated importance of both abortion and gun control has increased in the 21st century.  I interpret that as one aspect of a general increase in ideological polarization.  A more surprising point is that gun control consistently ranks above abortion in importance (and immigration does as well on the two occasions when it was asked)--my impression, which I think is widely shared, was that abortion was the most important "social issue," and gun control was one of a number of issues in the second rank.  The difference in means is primarily a result of differences in the number who say it's not a major issue.  

Maybe that's because some people didn't think that elected officials had that much influence over abortion--they thought that the courts would decide.  

In my last post, I found that people who were opposed to legal abortion rated it as more important than those who were in favor.  There was also a tendency for people with middle opinions (e. g., should be allowed only in the first trimester) to rate it as less important.  A CNN/ORC poll from January 2013 included the question on the importance and a number of questions about gun control measures.  For a basic one, "do you favor or oppose stricter gun control laws" people who were opposed were more likely to say that they would only vote for a candidate who shares their views (19% vs. 15%) but also more likely to say it wasn't a major issue (20% to 14%).   The means were almost identical.  A majority favored stricter laws, but it wasn't overwhelming (about 55%).  There was also a three-way question:  "do existing laws make it too easy to buy guns, too difficult, or are they about right?"  A majority (52%) of the people who said "too difficult" said that they would only vote for someone who shares there views; however, only a tiny minority, about 3%, thought it was too difficult.  There was little or no difference between ratings of importance in the "too easy" or "about right" groups.  There was a question about a ban on "semi-automatic assault guns"--people who were opposed were more likely to rate the issue as essential, but also more likely to rate it as not important.  There was also a question on whether you had a gun in your household--that also showed little or no difference in ratings of the importance of the issue.  

So far, this doesn't give much support to the conventional view that opponents of gun control are more passionate about the issue.  But there was also a question, asked of gun owners, about whether you felt that the federal government was taking away your right to own a gun.  Among gun owners who said yes, 24% said they would only vote for someone who shared their views and 14% said it wasn't a major issue; among gun owners who said no, the figures were almost exactly reversed, with 12% saying essential and 24% not a major issue.  Gun owners who didn't think the federal government was trying to take away their right to own a gun rated the issue as less important than non-owners.  

I think this last point says something about party competition today--rather than supporting measures that voters in the middle want, parties try to convince their supporters that they are the think end of the wedge:  e. g., an apparently reasonable restriction on gun ownership is just one step in a plan to take away your guns.  That might help to explain a paradox discussed in the New York Times today--that gun control measures which seem popular in the polls often get much less support when they are offered to voters in state referendums.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Can't quit you

 I seem to keep getting drawn back to opinions on abortion--here are a few more points that I haven't previously discussed.  

1.  Since the 1990s, Gallup has asked "if you would only vote for a candidate who shares your views on abortion, consider a candidate's position on abortion as just one of many important factors, or not see abortion as a major issue."  The averages, with higher values meaning more important*:

  There is a good deal of short-term fluctuation, but it seems clear that there is an increase in recent years.  Another example of polarization appearing or accelerating in the 21st century.  

2.  In 2000, one of the surveys asked if abortion should be legal in all circumstances, legal in certain circumstances, or illegal in  all.  The ratings of importance by opinions on legality:

                         only     one of many      not major           % of total

legal                  15%            54%                 30%                   30%

circumstances   10%             55%                 35%                   50%

illegal                31%             49%                 18%                   15%

People who thought that abortion should always be illegal were more likely to rate it as essential, while people who took a middle position were least likely to.  There were also questions on whether it should be allowed in different trimesters.  

Never                 28%              51%             20%                    30%

First                      5%              55%            40%                     39%

First & second   15%               56%            29%                     18%

all                      20%                51%            25%                       9%

The same basic pattern, although the difference between the extreme positions is smaller.  However, the extreme pro-abortion position (allowed at any time) was held by a only a small minority.  

So in 2000, it seems clear that people who were opposed to abortion regarded the issue as more important.  Of course, 2000 was quite a while ago, but that's the most recent one for which the full data are available and they had detailed questions on abortion (some of the later ones have asked if people considered themselves pro-life or pro-choice:  see the Gallup link above for breakdowns on those).

3.   Religion is an important influence on opinions about abortion today--specifically, Evangelical Protestants are more likely to oppose it.  I've seen claims that this link didn't appear until the late 1970s, and that the issue was created as a sort of cover for segregation--that is, leaders of the "religious right" wanted to preserve segregation, but they knew that wouldn't be a winning issue, so they looked around for another issue that would help their friends (especially Ronald Reagan) take power.  I may look into this more closely later, but here's a quick analysis.  The GSS asks people about their general religion, and then asks Christians about their denomination.  It has a classification of denominations as fundamentalist, moderate, or liberal.  The percent saying abortion should be legal for a single woman who doesn't want to marry the father:

                                    1972-80       1981-2000    2002-2021

Fundamentalist               35%               29%             23%

Moderate                        45%                42%            37%

Liberal                            73%                64%            63%

The gap was about equally large at all times.**  That doesn't directly contradict the idea that the "religious right" coalesced around opposition to abortion, but it suggests that it was mostly leaders shifting their own positions rather than changing their followers' positions.

*I counted "don't know" as equivalent to not a major issue--if you don't affirmatively say that something is important to you, that means it's not that important.  But there weren't many--no more than 5%. 

**Support for abortion declined over the period in all Christian groups.  But it didn't decline in the population as a whole, mostly because the number of people who don't identify with any religion (who tend to support legal abortion) grew substantially.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, May 20, 2022

But will they come when you call?

 While thinking about the draft Supreme Court decision on abortion, I looked at the court opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992).*  I found that, in addition to legal reasoning, it contained some sociology (or political science):  "Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution."
      "        The Court is not asked to do this very often, having thus addressed the Nation only twice in our lifetime, in the decisions of Brown and Roe."  Of course, in 1992 there was still division over many issues involving race (as there is today), but the national division over segregation was over:  virtually everyone agreed that segregation was wrong.   Did the Supreme Court decision contribute to this change?  The Gallup Poll asked the following question a number of times:  "The US Supreme Court has ruled that racial segregation in the public schools is illegal.  That means that all children, no matter what their race, must be allowed to go to the same schools.  Do you approve or disapprove of this decision?"  The figure shows the ratio of approve:disapprove

There was some shift towards approval:  in May 1954 (about a week after the decision) 55% said they approved and 40% said they disapproved and in May 1961 63% approved and 32% disapproved.  The last figure is from a question asked by Harris in 1966:  "In 1954, the U.S. supreme court ruled that it was illegal to require Negro children to go to all Negro or segregated schools. Do you personally think that decision of the U.S. Supreme Court was right or wrong?"  64% of those who had an opinion said it was right and 36% said it was wrong.**  The difference between the questions makes comparison difficult, but at least you can say there was still substantial division over the issue in 1966, twelve years after the decision.  Finally, the Gallup question was repeated (with a small change in the introductory wording) in a survey for the fortieth anniversary of the decision in 1994:  88% approved and 11% disapproved.  

Ideally, there would have been questions before the decision about how people hoped the court would rule.  I couldn't find any, but there was a question in 1950 that asked which statement you agreed with: "Children of all races, and colors, should be allowed to go to the same schools together everywhere in the country. Children of all races and color, should be allowed to go to the same public schools together everywhere except in the South, where white and Negro children should go to separate schools. White children and Negro children should be required to go to separate schools everywhere in the country."  42% said same schools, 17% same except in the South, and 36% said separate schools.  Judging from those answers, 42% favored the result of the court decision and 53% opposed it.  That suggests that the Supreme Court decision made some difference for public opinion, but that most of the change was part of the gradual long-term liberal movement in racial attitudes.  

*I'm quoting from opinion by O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, which was joined by Stevens and Blackmun for the passage I quoted.  Rhenquist, White, Scalia and Thomas dissented,

**Those figures were taken from a published source which didn't show the percentage of "don't knows"; that's why I show the ratio of agree to disagree rather than the percent agreeing.   

[Data from the Roper Opinion for Public Opinion Research]