Sunday, June 26, 2016

Another way to look at discrimination

It's sometimes said that most whites believe that America is a "colorblind society," or even think there is more discrimination against whites than against blacks. I've had several posts on this general issue, looking at questions that asked directly (see this post for links).  This time I'll take another approach and look at responses to distinct questions about how much discrimination there is against blacks and against whites.  In 2005, a survey sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice asked) "Would you say there is a great deal of discrimination, some discrimination, only a little discrimination, or none at all against. . ." various types of people.  Blacks and whites were among those asked about, but were not close to each other.  Among whites, 48% saw more discrimination against blacks, 10% against whites, and 43% chose the same category for both.  In 2106, the American National Election Studies Pilot Survey asked "How much discrimination is there in the United States today against each of the following groups?"  The possible responses were "a great deal," "a lot," "a moderate amount," "a little," and "none at all."  This time, 52% saw more discrimination against blacks, 18% against whites, and 30% chose the same category for both.

The drop in the number choosing the same category is at least partly a result of the larger number of categories in 2016.  However, there is a clear change in the ratio perceiving more against blacks to more against whites, from almost 5:1 in 2005 to about 3:1 in 2016.  There were some differences in survey procedures--2005 was a random-digit phone sample and 2016 was a weighted opt-in internet panel.  That could make a difference, although I'm not sure of the direction.  Also, in 2016, the questions about blacks and whites were separated by only one item (Hispanics).  My guess is that if this made any difference, proximity would reduce the number of whites saying there was more discrimination against whites, because some would regard it as something they "shouldn't" say.

The general result fits with others suggesting that white perceptions of discrimination against blacks fell somewhat after the early 21st century.  The general estimate of the proportion seeing more discrimination against whites (10-20%) is about the same as with the direct questions.

PS:  for blacks, the 2005 percentages were 64, 3, and 33 (more against blacks, whites, same); the 2016 percentages were 80, 17, 4.

PPS:  The 2005 questions also were asked in 1996, but unfortunately the original data don't seem to have been preserved, so it's not possible to do a parallel analysis for that year.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

World government

It appears that an overwhelming majority of Americans who have an opinion on the subject think that Britain should remain in the European Union. But how many would support the United States joining an organization like the EU? My guess is very few. But back in 1946, the Gallup Poll asked "Do you think the United Nations organization should be strengthened to make it a world government with power to control the armed forces of all nations, including the United States?" 54% said yes, and only 24% no, with the rest undecided. The question was asked again in 1946 and 1947, with similar results. In 1951, the margin was smaller, at 49-36%. In 1953 and 1955, there were narrow margins against the idea. That was the last time the question, or anything like it, was asked. Of course, opposition probably would have increased if anyone had seriously tried to implement a plan like this, but for a while many Americans were willing to at least contemplate the idea.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Republicans are scarce at elite universities today.  A recent poll of Harvard seniors found that only 4% said they would vote for Donald Trump in a race against Hillary Clinton.  Of course, some of that is Trump (although it's not directly relevant, I can't resist mentioning that he's involved in a dispute with the Harvard Lampoon), but only 19% said that they voted for Mitt Romney in 2012.  As I observed in a previous post, things used to be different:  in 1932, polls at 17 elite colleges and universities found a median of 63% for the Republican (Herbert Hoover), and only 17% for the Democrat (FDR), with 19% going to the Socialist candidate.  In 1936, there was an even more extensive series of polls conducted at almost 100 universities.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down the complete list, but I have been able to find figures for twenty colleges and universities, mostly from the Vassar Miscellany News (Oct 31, 1936), supplemented by the Princeton Alumni Weekly (Nov 6, 1936).  Here they are, ranked from biggest margin for Roosevelt over Landon on down:


                 Dem    Rep    Soc Comm
NYU              66% 20% 3%   1%
Columbia         57%    26%     6%  10%
Chicago          55% 29% 8%   8%
Johns Hopkins    54%    33%     7%   5%
Barnard         49%    37%     7%   5%
Radcliffe        52%    43%     2%   3%

Michigan         45.7%  46.3%   5%   3%
California       42%    46%     7%   5%
Harvard          45%    51%     3%   1%
Cornell          40%    52%     4%   3%
Bryn Mawr        39%    55%     5%   1%
Yale             33%    61%     4%   1%
Brown            33%    61%     3%   1%
Vassar           28%    61%     7%   4%
Smith            31%    61%     4%   1%
Dartmouth        28%    64%     5%   1%
Princeton        25%    70%     3%   0.5%
Amherst          24%    70%     5%   0.6%
Williams         19%    74%     4%   1%
Sarah Lawrence   13%    78%     7%   3%

Mean             39%    52%     5%   3.5%
National         60.8%  36.5%   0.4% 0.2%

The two small left-wing parties did much better among students at elite universities than among the public as a whole.  But a majority went for the Republicans, in a year when that party lost by what is arguably the biggest landslide in modern American history. 

It's sometimes said that class differences were sharper in 1936 than they had been in 1932.  To quote Archibald Crossley, one of the pioneers of opinion polling, "In 1932 there was a countrywide wave of protest against Hoover, reading into all income levels.  In 1936 anti-Roosevelt feeling ran high in the upper-income classes." Presumably students at these institutions were mostly from the upper income classes, but of the 14 that had conducted polls in 1932, Republican support fell in 11 of them, and fell by more than 5% at seven of them.  Of course, college students don't necessarily reflect the opinions of their parents, but I recall that one of the earliest Gallup polls asked about vote in 1932, and reported class differences were not noticeably weaker than they were in 1936. I'm not aware of any definite evidence that class differences increased.

The Socialist vote, which fell from 19% to 5% among elite college students between 1932 and 1936, fell from 2.3% to 0.4% among the general public (the socialist candidate was Norman Thomas in both elections).  So even if there wasn't a change in class alignments, it seems that there was a change in ideological alignments, in the sense that many progressives who had been skeptical of Roosevelt in 1932 were won over in 1936.  In the general public, the socialist vote was too small for this to make much difference, but it is something that people who were interested in politics would have noticed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Music has charms....

One of the many controversies around the Donald Trump campaign involves the music at his campaign rallies.  A number of artists, notably the Rolling Stones, have asked him to stop playing their songs.  Of course, Trump made his selections based on what he wanted, not on market research, but a Pew survey from 2009 provides some insight into what his audience might like.  It asked people whether they liked or disliked the following musicians:  Bob Dylan, Madonna, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, the Jefferson Airplane, Nirvana, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin.   The favorites among people who said they were conservative or very conservative and that they considered themselves a Republican or leaned Republican (lower numbers mean liked better):

Beatles                  1.64
Elvis Presley         1.66
Frank Sinatra        1.72
Aretha Franklin    1.73

And the least favorite:

Madonna              2.42
Grateful Dead      2.35
Kanye West         2.21
Nirvana                2.20

Among liberal Democrats, the favorites were:

Beatles                    1.34
Aretha Franklin      1.49
Rolling Stones        1.56
Jimi Hendrix           1.59

and the least favorite:

Madonna                 2.06
Grateful Dead         2.02
Kanye West            1.92
Jefferson Airplane  1.80

As you can see from the numbers, liberal Democrats generally liked all of the musicians better, but the rank order was similar among the two groups--the biggest exceptions were Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Those may seem obvious, but if you want something to puzzle over, the Jefferson Airplane is  16th out of 19 among liberal Democrats and 6th among conservative Republicans.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Back to the beginning

My first substantive post on this blog was about a question that was asked in 1950:  "If you had a son of college age and he could enter any college or university in the United States and you had enough money to send him, to which one would you most want him to go?"  Harvard took first place, which wasn't surprising, but Notre Dame was second, which was (at least to me).  I speculated that its high standing was because a lot of Catholics wanted their (hypothetical) son to go to a Catholic college.  It came back to mind this semester when I wanted an example to illustrate the point that the difference between Catholics and Protestants used to be a lot more important in American society than it is today.  So I broke the top choices down by religion:

Protestant           Catholic             Jewish

Harvard 7.6%         Notre Dame 24.3%     Harvard 18.2%
Yale 6.2%            Harvard 7.9%         Chicago 7.8%
USMA 2.6%            Yale 3.5%            Columbia  6.5%
Michigan 2.5%        MIT  3.5%            NYU 6.5%
Illinois 2.4%        USMA 3.2%            Cornell 3.9%
MIT 2.4%             Michigan 2.6%        Notre Dame 3.9%
Columbia 2.0%        Berkeley 2.3%        CCNY 3.9%
Minnesota 1.9%       Fordham 2.3% 
Berkeley 1.8%        Columbia 1.8%
Ohio State 1.8%      Cornell 1.8%
                     Penn 1.8%

The general pattern was what I expected, but I wasn't ready for the degree to which Notre Dame led among Catholics.  Among Protestants, the top choice (Harvard) had less than the combined totals of #2 and #3; among Catholics, Notre Dame had more than the combined totals of the next six.  

The University of Chicago was the second choice among Jewish parents, and was just off the top ten among Protestants, but was chosen by only one Catholic parent.  I don't know enough about the history of that university to offer an explanation.  

Notre Dame was tied for fifth choice among Jewish parents, and was among the top 15 among Protestants.  That could have been because of academic reputation, but football may also have been a factor.   Notre Dame had been national champions (according to the AP poll) in 1943, 1946, 1947, and 1949.  Most of the people answering the survey had not attended college themselves, and probably didn't have much information to base a response on, so some may have said Notre Dame simply because it was a name that they knew.  However, even if Notre Dame's standing was boosted by football, Catholic parents clearly had a strong inclination to favor Catholic colleges (Fordham was also in the top 10, and Boston College just missed).  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The future has arrived

This is partly a follow-up to a post from a few weeks ago and partly a reaction to Ross Douthat's column on working-class support for Donald Trump.  Douthat's argument is that in poor areas with a lot of social dysfunction, people who are poor don't vote at all, and people who are somewhat better off have a negative view of the welfare state--they see themselves as paying taxes to support their lazy or irresponsible neighbors.  I think he's  right, and have made essentially the same argument myself.   However, this analysis isn't relevant to the question of working-class support for Trump for two reasons:  it's not about support for Trump, and it's not about the working class.  As far as Trump, a negative view of the welfare state would lead to greater support for Republicans in general, not Trump in particular.  Poor states tend to give more support to the Republicans, but I don't think that they gave more support to Trump--if anything, Trump seems to have done better in the more affluent states. As far as class, the argument is relevant to everybody who's not at the bottom--it's not just the blue-collar worker, but the doctor, lawyer, or successful businessperson who could look around and see people who seemed to be suffering the consequences of their own bad choices.  So the analysis is about why poor areas support the Republicans, not about which individuals support Trump.   

Douthat links to Nate Silver's analysis of exit poll data, which indicates that the incomes of Trump voters are not very different from the incomes of people who voted for other Republican candidates.  Trump voters do have less education, but the difference seems to be purely one of education, not income (and therefore probably not class, although as I mentioned in my last post, few surveys now ask about occupation).  Why would education be relevant to support for Trump?  This is where my post from a few weeks ago comes in.  There are a lot of issues on which many people take positions that are pretty much ignored among political elites.  One of them is illegal immigration, on which a lot of people have supported proposals to deport everyone who's here without authorization or build a wall along the Mexican border, but until the rise of Trump, those weren't taken seriously by political elites.  Another is the proposal to ban discrimination by appearance, which I discussed in the post from a few weeks ago.  

What unites these issues, and a lot of others, is that there seems to be a lot of popular support for "there ought to be a law" policies:  that people should be discouraged or forbidden to do "bad" things and encouraged or required to do "good" things.  Moreover, this sentiment is often stronger among less educated people.   That may be because education affects values--e. g., education is associated with more support for civil liberties.  Another factor is that educated people may give more thought to how something would work in practice--e. g., would it really be possible to expel all illegal immigrants, or to enforce a ban on discrimination by appearance?

The gap between popular and elite opinions would seem to give a lot of opportunity to candidates who appealed to popular positions that don't get much elite support.  But usually those candidates don't go far (e. g. Tom Tancredo in 2008).  I think that's because people usually figure that the elites know what they are doing to some extent--if all "respectable" political figures condemn or dismiss a position, there's probably something wrong with it.  But when confidence in the elites is very low, like now, that barrier is gone, and there is an opening for candidates who are outside the mainstream.  And for the reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph, the non-mainstream positions may be particularly appealing to less educated voters.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Trump and his trumpeters

Many stories about Donald Trump ascribe his support to "working class" voters.  But none of them cite any figures about class differences in support for Trump, for the good reason that almost all commercial surveys stopped asking about occupation sometime in the 1970s.  So if you adopt a conventional definition of the working class as people employed in manual occupations, we don't know, and maybe never will know,  if working class voters helped Trump to get the Republican nomination.   (The American National Election Studies and General Social Survey still ask about occupation, so eventually we'll be able to say something about class and the general election).

Surveys today generally ask about education and family income, and Trump clearly does better among less educated voters.  In the ANES Pilot Study, 42% of people without a high school diploma and only 29% of people with a college degree said they favored Trump*.  If you control for education--that is, compare people with the same levels of education but different incomes--there's no evidence that income makes any difference.

You could say that the conventional view is right:  since people in working-class occupations have less education than people in middle-class occupations, it's reasonable to think (although not certain) that working-class voters are more likely to support Trump.  However, speaking of a class difference focuses attention on economics; calling it an educational difference focuses attention on other factors.  For example, there's a lot of evidence that education increases support for civil liberties and acceptance of complexity and ambiguity, and those things certainly seem potentially relevant to support for Trump.  If we just had information on education, those two interpretations would be about equally credible.  But the fact that income doesn't make any clear difference after controlling for education suggests that the non-economic side of education is more important.

The usual account is that working-class voters are turning to Trump out of frustration with a long period of flat incomes.  But it's not just the working class that has experienced that--it's a substantial majority of people.  Depending on the exact time period and how you measure things, the group that's had a substantial increase in income might be as small as the top 1%, and not bigger than the top 20%.  So to the extent that economic frustration matters, it should apply to large parts of the middle class.  In fact, there is a hint in the ANES data that support for Trump is lower among people with incomes of more than $100,000, but the sample is too small to be sure about that.

*All figures refer to Republicans and Independents who leaned Republican or didn't lean towards either party.