Saturday, March 18, 2017

Depressed by politics?

Arthur Brooks reports that people who are more interested in politics are less happy:  "I analyzed the 2014 data from the General Social Survey collected by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to see how attention to politics is associated with life satisfaction. The results were significant. Even after controlling for income, education, age, gender, race, marital status and political views, being 'very interested in politics' drove up the likelihood of reporting being 'not too happy' about life by about eight percentage points." I would have expected the opposite relationship, mostly because of the "locus of control" issues he discusses later in the article--basically, people who feel like they have control will be more interested in the world in general, including politics, and be happier.

Since the article didn't show the details of his analysis, I looked at the relationship.  The GSS has a question "How interested would you say you personally are in politics?" with the options "very," "fairly," "not very," and "not at all."  The cross-tabulation:

                                    How happy?
                       very     pretty    not too     N
Very interested         31%        48%        20%    186
Fairly                  33%        57%        10%    522
Not very                27%        60%        13%    354
Not at all              24%        55%        20%    172

Combining all people who didn't say "very interested," about 13% reported being not too happy.  So it looks like Brooks was more or less right.  But in 1990 and 1996, the GSS asked the same question on interest in politics, except that it included a "somewhat interested" category.  The cross-tabulation (combining the two years).

                                                                             
                                   How happy?
                      very      pretty      not too     N
Very interested         43%        48%          8%     335
Fairly                  31%        57%          8%     652
Somewhat                31%        61%         11%     800
Not very                27%        63%         10%     437
Not at all              31%        54%         15%     183

So it looks like I was right:  the more interested you were, the happier you were.  But why was the relationship different in the 1990s and 2014?  My guess is that if someone is very interested in politics, their happiness is affected by the state of political life, and in 2014 most people regarded the state of political life as bad.      

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A tale of two parties

A couple of weeks ago, I had a post about perceptions of economic conditions.  Contrary to what is often said, they are not all that negative now.  I noted that even in October 2008, they were not nearly as unfavorable as they'd been at several times in the past.  They did briefly fall to very low levels--for example, in a poll taken September 27-30 only 2% said the economy was getting better and 76% said it was getting worse, but they bounced back quickly.  By October 17-19, it was 5% better and 54% worse:  that is much more favorable than during the mild recession of 1990, and about the same as October-November 1987, which was not a recession at all.  In that post, I promised an explanation for this (relative) optimism, so here it is.

Perceptions are related to party identification--if you're a supporter of the President's party, your assessment is more favorable.  Moreover, the relationship seems to be considerably stronger than it was in the past.  For example, compare July 1996 and August 2012.  In 1996, 12% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats thought conditions were getting better; in 2013, 6% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats thought things were getting better.  The overall scores (favorable minus unfavorable) were similar, -11 in 1996 and -5 in 2013.  But that hides offsetting shifts in opposite directions:  supporters of the President's party (Democrats) were a lot more favorable in 2013 and supporters of the opposition (Republicans) were a lot more negative.  I think that explains why assessments of the economy were not that negative during the "great recession"--partisan loyalty kept the rating from falling too low.  In principle, it seems likely that this would be symmetrical--that ratings will never get all that favorable, because supporters of the other party would be slow to acknowledge that the economy was doing well.  However, in order to test that, we'd need to have a real economic boom, which hasn't happened in this century and is unlikely to happen in the near future.



[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, March 3, 2017

More about immigration

In November, I had a post about change in opinions on whether immigration should be reduced, stay the same, or increased.  A few weeks ago, I had another post observing that views about the right level of legal immigration could be distinguished from views about what should be done with immigrants who are here in violation of the law.  This post will look at whether opinions on the second point have changed.  Unfortunately, there is no question that has been asked regularly over a long period of time, but there are three relevant ones that have been asked a number of times in this century.  One is "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, or 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship, or 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S."  Here is the average counting the first option as +1, the second as zero, and the third as -1.

That looks like a positive trend--the correlation between the average and time is .57, with a p-value of .03.  

A second question was asked twice in 2006, once in November 2015, and once in June 2016:  "do you favor or oppose...deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home countries?"  The percent in favor was 50, 47, 52, and 32.  It's hard to interpret that, since the figures for the last two surveys are so different, even though they are just six months apart.  Still, it suggests a move away from support for deportation.

Finally, one asked if you "favor deporting as many as possible or do you favor setting up a system for them to become legal residents?"  That was asked in 2007, 2009, 2010, and several times since 2015.  

That looks like a definite decline in support for deportation.  However, in 2007-2010 the question started with "If it were possible to locate most illegal immigrants currently in the United States, would you"; in 2015-6 it started with "What do you think should happen to the illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States."  That change might account for some or all of the difference between the early and later years--people may be more favorable about immigrants who are "currently working" than immigrants in general.  But there does seem to be a sharp drop in support for deportation between 2015 and 2016, as with the second question.  

None of these questions gives definitive evidence, but taken together they suggest that opinions on policy towards illegal immigrants have moved in a liberal direction in recent years, which raises an obvious question:  how do you square that with the success of Donald Trump?  I will take up that question in a later post.

[Data from the Rope Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

No need to explain

In the last few months, there have been many attempts to explain why the public is so discontented.  Nicholas Eberstadt says the discontent is a response to real economic problems, while Roger Cohen finds it more mysterious, an example of "the madness of crowds."  But before trying to explain why people are discontented, we should check and see whether they really are.  Eberstadt says "growing majorities hold that America is 'heading in the wrong direction."  A few weeks ago, I had a post about the right direction/wrong track question, and there's no sign of growth--opinions have gone up and down since the 1970s, and at the moment they are pretty much in the middle.  Eberstadt also says "overwhelming majorities of respondents . . . continue to tell pollsters, year after year, that . . . America is still stuck in the middle of a recession."  There have been some questions like that--the latest one in the iPOLL database has 20 percent saying that we are in a recession and 60 percent saying we are not--but they don't go back that far so I looked at a question that was first asked in the 1970s:  "Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?"  That has been asked so frequently that I just included the ones from the 1970s plus one from every year starting in 1980.  I tried to get one from October, otherwise September, August..... (I avoided November or December in case responses are affected by the outcome of elections).  The results, summarized as percent saying better minus percent saying worse:


By historical standards, people are not especially negative today--in fact, they are a bit on the positive side.  The median value is -14, and in October 2016, it was -4.  Even in October 2008, assessments were not nearly as negative as in the late 1970s or the mild recession of 1990.  I think I have an explanation for that, which I will offer in a later post.  But for now, I'll just say that people are not especially discontented about the economy or "things in this country"--the see them as pretty much normal, not especially good and not especially bad.  What they are discontented with is politics, specifically politics in Washington.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Friday, February 24, 2017

Looking backward

Sunday was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which provided the basis for sending people of Japanese ancestry (and some of German or Italian ancestry) to internment camps.  As far as I can tell, no contemporary survey asked people whether they agreed with the policy.  In December 1942, a Gallup poll asked "Do you think the Japanese who were moved inland from the Pacific coast should be allowed to return to the Pacific coast when the war is over?"  35% said yes, 48% no, and 15% weren't sure.  There was also a follow-up "Should American born Japanese be allowed to return to their homes on the coast after the war?" and about 23% gave a combination of no or not sure on the first and yes on the second.*

In 1946, a NORC survey asked "do you think the average Japanese person who lives in this country is loyal or disloyal to the American government?"  50% said loyal, 25% disloyal, and 25% didn't know.  People who said "loyal" or "don't know" were asked "do you think the average Japanese person now living in this country who is not a citizen should or should not be allowed to become a citizen?"  Combining the two, 42% said should be allowed to apply for citizenship, 21% sail loyal but should not, and 25% said disloyal (and presumably should not), and the rest not sure about loyalty and whether they should be allowed to apply.

In 1991, a Gallup poll asked " Here in this country, the U.S. (United States) government required many U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to leave their homes and move to relocation camps during World War II. Looking back, would you say you approve or disapprove of this action?"  33% said they approved and 62% disapproved.

The 1942 survey didn't ask about education, but the 1946 and 1991 surveys did.  In both cases, it was associated with more sympathetic attitudes towards Japanese-Americans.  In 1991, 36% of people without a high school diploma said they approved and 50% disapproved; among college graduates it was 22% approve and 75% disapprove.

One way to look at this comparison is that it shows that there was probably a change in public opinion.  The fact that the Gallup poll didn't even ask about general approval of the order suggests that they didn't think it was controversial.  Also, at that time they frequently classified and recorded answers that didn't fit into the standard categories:  they counted 1% as giving what they called "yes, if" answers, but didn't record anyone as saying something along the lines of "they never should have been moved in the first place."   in 1991, a clear majority disapproved.  Another way to look at it is that something that was universally condemned among political and legal elites by 1991 still had significant support in the general public.



*Some of the "don't knows" weren't asked the follow-up:  if they had, it would probably have been up to 25% or 26%.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Immigration issue or immigration issues?

Thomas Edsall has a piece called "The Democrats' Immigration Problem."  In the first sentence, he asks "why is immigration such a problem for the Democratic party?"  I was struck by the assumption that "immigration" is a single issue.  There is a question of whether laws should be changed to make it easier or harder for people to immigrate to the United States, and a question of what should be done with unauthorized immigrants who are already here.  You can imagine someone who says that the law should be changed to allow more immigration in the future, but until that's done we should enforce the law that we have; or on the other side, someone who says we should allow people who've been living here to become citizens but then we should close the door.

Do people make these kinds of distinctions, or are they simply more or less favorable to immigrants?  I found a CBS News/NY Times survey from 2011 which asked "Should legal immigration into the United States be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?" and "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, or 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship, or 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S."

There is an association between opinions on the two issues--for example, 50% of those who say that immigration levels should be increased and only 26% of those who say that they should be reduced choose  "should be allowed to stay in their jobs and apply for citizenship."  But the association is weaker than the association between opinions about same-sex marriage (allowed/civil unions/no recognition) and abortion (allowed/with restrictions/not allowed), which are certainly two different issues.  In fact, the correlation between views on same-sex marriage and treatment of illegal immigrants is as strong (.22) as the correlation between treatment of illegal immigrants and desired immigration levels (.21).  So people do seem to treat the two issues as distinct, although related.

More educated people, people in the Northeast and West, Jews, and people in urban areas take more liberal positions ("increased" and "allowed to stay") on both issues, and evangelical Christians take more conservative positions.  The samples of blacks and Hispanics were unusually small for this survey, so it's not possible to say anything definite about ethnic difference.  The effects of age and gender, however, can't be described as simply liberal or conservative.  Young people are considerably more likely to favor increased levels of immigration, but no different in views of policy towards illegal immigrants.  Women are more likely to say that people who are here should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, but also more likely to say that immigration levels should be decreased.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Forgotten but not gone: the sequel

A few weeks ago, I showed the estimated effect of college education on Democratic vs. Republican voting in presidential elections from 1936-2012, using a combination of Gallup (1936-68) and GSS (1968-2012) data.  It occurred to me that the GSS also had a measure of income (in constant dollars).  Larry Bartels (Unequal Democracy) gives evidence from the 1952-2004 American National Election Studies suggesting that the association between higher income and support for the Republicans had become stronger over that period, although the association between higher education and support for the Republicans had become weaker.  I later found the same thing in an analysis that also controlled for occupation (the association between occupation and voting change in a more complex way, although in a sense it became weaker--read the paper for more detail than you probably want).

There's a good deal of sampling error in the ANES estimates, so the GSS is useful as a check.  The estimated effects (controlling for race, gender, education, and marital status) are shown in this figure (the scales are not the same but happened to be pretty similar):


There are some differences between ANES and GSS estimates for individual elections (especially 1980), but the general pattern is similar:  high in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then declining.  The decline is more evident with the GSS, since 2008 and 2012 remained low.  So it seems that Bartels' statement that "over the past half-century economic status [income] has become more important, not less important, in structuring the presidential behavior of white Americans" needs to be modified:  it  became more important from the 1950s through the 1980s, and then less important.  The general issue here is that the impact of education, income, and occupation don't follow the same path over time.  It might seem like they are all "indicators" of the same thing, your general position in society. so that when the impact of one moves in a particular direction, the impact of the others should as well.  But in fact, there are three different different things that need to be explained.