Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Forgotten Beauty

In March 1951, the Gallup Poll had a question in which they gave people a picture (at that time, the polls were done in person rather than over the phone) and said:  "Here are pictures of six different girls all dressed alike.  I'd like you to look at each one and tell me which ONE you think is most beautiful." #4 was the most popular choice with about 57%, followed by #3 and #5 with about 15% each.   The others were at 5% or less.

Preference varied by education:  #4 was uniformly popular in all groups, but  #3 was the choice of less than 10% of the people with a grade school education and 28% of the college graduates, while #5 was the choice of more than 20% of those with a grade school education and only 5% of the college graduates.  There were similar, although less dramatic, differences by occupation and economic level:  #3 got more support in the "higher" groups and #5 got more support in the lower.  There were also big differences by race:  among blacks, #5 led #3 by about 30%-8%; among whites #3 led by about 16%-13%,

There were no gender differences in preferences for #3, but compared to men, women were more likely to prefer #4 and less likely to prefer #5.  Older people were less likely to prefer #3, but only a little more likely to prefer #5--they were more likely to prefer #1 and #2 (age was the only factor that had a clear connection to preferences for #1 and #2).

At this point, I should show the picture, but I don't have a copy and have never seen it.  It's not included in the documentation at the Roper Center.  The Gallup Poll used to have a newspaper column in which they highlighted findings from their polls, but I did a search and couldn't find it there.  The question is prefaced with "we have been asked to find out", which suggests they did it for some client.  Maybe it was a magazine that published an article about the poll, but if so I haven't found it.  Or maybe it was a commercial client (they occasionally put "market research" questions in their regular polls), in which case it's probably lost for good.

In conclusion, there seems to be something interesting going on, but I have no idea what it is, and little hope of ever finding out.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

If you're so smart.....

In a review of Robert Putnam's new book, Jason DeParle (a reporter for the New York Times) says "where Putnam succeeds is in describing the diverging life chances of children in rich and poor families. ('Rich' parents finished college; 'poor' parents have high school degrees or less.) "   Of course, education is not really equivalent to riches, as many adjunct professors could tell you, but this led me to wonder exactly how much overlap there is the incomes of different educational groups.  

It's easy to find statistics on differences in average income by education, but harder to find information on the whole distribution.  Here is a table, which I made from Bureau of Labor Statistics data on "usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers."

                  10th   25th  50th    75th   90th
Not HS Grad       301     374 488     657    887
HS Grad           367     482 668     960   1355
Some College      398     532 761    1111   1560
Bachelor's        529     744 1101   1647   2368
Advanced Degree   588     953 1386   2009   2974

Education raises the "ceiling" more than the "floor"--the 10th percentile for people with an advanced degree is less than twice the 10th percentile of people who aren't high school graduates, while the 90th percentile is about 3.3 times as high.  You can get a sense of the overlap by comparing percentiles--for example, someone who's at the 90th percentile for those who aren't high school graduates would be well below the median for people with a bachelor's degree.  

For a more detailed comparison, I assumed that earnings followed a log-normal distribution (which is usually approximately true except in the highest levels) and estimated the mean and standard deviation from the data above.  The resulting distributions are shown in this figure (I scaled it up to earnings per year):

The figure makes it clear that people without a high school degree have little chance of being rich, or even affluent.  People with just a high school degree, however, have a reasonable chance to make it to the upper middle class.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fifty years

During the 1930s and 1940s, Fortune magazine sponsored a series of surveys conducted by the Roper Organization.  It was probably the most important early series after the Gallup Poll.  Unfortunately it stopped in 1949--the Roper Organization continued, but most of the questions were never repeated.  However, in 1990 Fortune sponsored a survey that replicated some questions from 1939 and 1940.  

"Do you think your son's or daughters opportunities to get ahead will be better than, or not as good as those you have" [or "If you had children," etc.]

                   1939  1990     
Better              61%   68%                 
Not as good         14%   20%                
Same                10%    6%                
Not comparable       2%    2%                   
DK                  12%    4% 

Do you think the years ahead seem to hold, for you personally, a good chance for advancement or the probability of no improvement over your present situation?

Advancement         56%   64%
No improvement      33%   30%
DK                  10%    6%

Do you believe that the great age of economic expansion and opportunity in the US is over or that American industry can create comparable expansion and opportunity in the future?

Over                13%    16%
Comparable          72%    78%
DK                  15%     6%

Putting them together, optimism about the future remained about the same.                 

Do you think your opportunities to succeed are better than or not as good as your father had?

Better              61%    79%   
Not as good         20%    13%
Same                12%     6%
Not comparable       3%     1%
DK                   5%     1%

People in 1990 were more likely to see improvement, although at both times most people were favorable.

Turning to economics,

Do you believe that a high tariff to keep out foreign goods in competition with American goods is a good policy or a bad policy?

Good              59%      47%
Bad               14%      37%
Depends           11%       9%
DK                15%       7%

A substantial shift towards support for free trade, although tariffs were still more popular.

Do you think the interest of employees and employers are, by their very nature opposed or are they basically the same?

Opposed            24%     43%
Same               56%     24%
DK                 19%     14%

A big change, and one that is the opposite to a what is sometimes said

Suppose it became necessary to increase taxes, which one or two of these methods would you most prefer?

Extend income tax 17%       x
Raise income tax  14%       5%
Corporate profits 21%      41%
Sin & luxury      41%      47%
Federal sales tax 14%      17%
DK                12%       7%

"Extend" means making more people liable to pay income tax (they had a fairly long description, which I won't quote).  That option wasn't offered in 1990, presumably because the share of people who had to pay income tax had increased a lot.  The big change was an increase in the share who favored increasing taxes on corporate profits.  Like the previous question, it suggests an increase in anti-business sentiment.  

It's interesting to think that 1990 was 25 years ago.  I hope Fortune will do a 75th anniversary follow-up.  

[Data from iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research] 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Good principle, bad example

The New York Times had an interview with Alan Krueger and Austen Goolsbee, chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisors in the first Obama administration, about the bailout of the auto industry.  The bailout was unpopular at the time but seems to have worked out pretty well.  When asked if it was was likely to be an issue in the 2016 election, Goolsbee said no:  "when things work out, there’s a tendency toward revisionism. Didn’t Nixon get only 20 percent of the vote in 1972 according to the polling in 1975?"  Did he? I looked for surveys from 1975 that asked about vote in 1972, but found only one, so I broadened the search to include 1976.  The results:

                  Nixon   McGovern    Other   Don't Remember
GSS (Feb 1975)      60%      35%        3%         2%
GSS (Feb 1976)      58%      36%        3%         2%
CBS/NYT (3/76)      57%      39%        3%         2%
CBS/NYT (4/76)      57%      37%        2%         3%

The actual vote shares were 61% for Nixon, 38% for McGovern, and 2% for others.  Although I'm sure Goolsbee is right about the general tendency, his example doesn't support him.

[Data from iPoll, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 27, 2015

Choose your facts

I picked up a copy of the Hartford Courant today and was reading an opinion piece by Jonah Goldberg.  Amidst a bunch of mysterious pop-culture references, a familar name jumped out:  James Stimson, a political science at UNC who has developed a measure of "policy mood":  basically, average public opinion on a liberal-conservative spectrum based on specific political issues, not self-description as liberal or conservative.  Then something surprising:  Goldberg said "In 2012, James Stimson, arguably America’s leading expert on U.S. public opinion, found that the country was more conservative than at any time since 1952."  I'm familiar with the policy mood measure, and that didn't fit with what I remembered.
   It turns out Goldberg is right:  see the policy mood data here.  He's also wrong:  see the policy mood data  here.  Here are the two measures shown on one graph (higher values mean more conservative).  They track each other closely until the early 1980s, and after that point have little in common

I don't know why. Neither of the data sites and none of the discussions and citations I've found mention the difference.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Rudy Giuliani has gotten a lot of attention for saying "I do not believe that the President loves America."  Brendan Nyhan points out that a number of other prominent Republicans have said similar things, and proposes race as an explanation:   "people dissociate Mr. Obama and other African-Americans with American identity."  But before thinking about explanations, we should ask whether there's anything that needs to be explained.  Although Giuliani says he felt a love of country from Bill Clinton, many Republicans weren't so indulgent when he first ran for president in 1992.   To some extent, lack of patriotism is a standard Republican accusation against Democrats, just as lack of compassion is a standard Democratic accusation against Republicans.  

Unfortunately there aren't many useful survey questions, but in 1988 a CBS/New York Times poll asked people if they would consider the presidential candidates very patriotic, somewhat patriotic, or not very patriotic.

                  Very    Somewhat   Not Very
Bush              68%        22%      4%
Dukakis           55%        31%      4%

During the 2008 primary season, the same question was asked about John McCain, Hilary Clinton, and Barack Obama:

McCain            70%         22%     5%
Clinton           40%         47%    11%
Obama             29%         46%    22%

After McCain and Obama had won the nominations, it was asked again:

McCain            73%          21%     4%
Obama             37%          39%    18%

So there is something to explain, although it's not just about Obama:  Hilary Clinton was also seen as considerably less patriotic than Dukakis had been in 1988. 

People were also asked to rate themselves in a number of surveys.  In 1991, 55% said they were "very patriotic," 37% "somewhat patriotic," and 5% "not very"; similar results came up on three surveys in the 1980s.  Just after 9/11, 72% said very patriotic, and in 2006 it was 62% very patriotic, 33% somewhat patriotic, and 4% not very patriotic.  Those results surprised me--I would have guessed about 70 to 80% for very patriotic.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Race, Poverty, and Policy

A 1994 CBS/New York Times survey asked about the racial composition of poor people, the racial composition of people on welfare, and a number of questions about attitudes towards welfare and welfare policy.  I'll talk about the relationship between views of the racial composition of people on welfare and welfare policy--the relationship between views of the racial composition of the poor and policy are similar.

First, the opinions of blacks and non-blacks (I'll say "whites" for short)  about the racial composition of the poor are about the same, but a there is a difference in beliefs about the racial composition of people on welfare:  44% of whites say most people on welfare are black, only 20% say most people on welfare are white; among blacks, it's 29% and 27%.

Among whites, people who think that more people on welfare are black differ on many questions--I have put the option they are more likely to favor in bold:

"Would you be willing or unwilling to pay more in taxes in order to provide job training and public service jobs for people on welfare so that they can get off welfare?"

"what is more to blame if people are poor--lack of effort on their own part, or circumstances beyond their control?"

"what is more to blame if people are on welfare--lack of effort on their own part, or circumstances beyond their control?

"do you think that most people who receive money from welfare could get along without it if they tried, or do you think that most of them really need this help?"

"Do you think that most welfare recipients really want to work, or not?"

"Do you think that there are jobs available for most welfare recipients who really want to work, or not?"

"Do you favor or oppose limiting how long mothers with young children can receive welfare benefits?"

"As part of a welfare reform program, do you think the government should create work programs for people on welfare and require them to participate in the programs, or not?"

The answers of whites who thought that a larger proportion of people on welfare were black were uniformly more negative or less sympathetic, with the possible exception of the last question.  In most cases, the differences were pretty large:  for example, 50% of those who said that most people on welfare said that lack of effort was to blame if people were poor, but only 34% of those who said that most people on welfare were white blamed lack of effort.

However, there were also some questions on which there was no statistically significant difference (and in most cases, not even a pattern suggesting a difference):

"Do you agree or disagree:  it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't take care of themselves."

"Do you think that government spending on programs for poor children should be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?"

"Do you think that government spending on welfare should be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?"

"Do you think that most of these jobs [that welfare recipients could get] pay enough to support a family?"

"Do you think that women with young children who receive welfare should be required to work or should they stay at home and take care of their young children?"

"Which of these statements comes closer to your view about welfare reform:  welfare recipients in a work program should be allowed to receive benefits as long as they are willing to work for them OR after a year or two, welfare recipients should not be eligible for a work program and should stop receiving benefits?"

"Do you think that unmarried mothers who are under the age of 21 and have no way of supporting their children should or should not be able to receive welfare?"

There seems to be a pattern.  Belief that more welfare recipients are black goes along (or went along--this was 20 years ago) with a belief that welfare recipients could get work, but don't want to.  However, the result isn't a loss of support for welfare spending, but an increase in support for work requirements (for people without small children).

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]