Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of the mainstream

In 1974, a Gallup poll asked:  

In which of these nations would you prefer to live: in a
nation where all business is owned and operated by the
government and everyone has about the same amount of money,
or in a nation where some people are rich and some are
poor depending upon their effort, training, or luck?

About 12% chose the first nation, 80% chose the second and 7% weren't sure.  The question basically offered a choice between the Soviet economic system (or a more egalitarian version) and Western capitalism, and when you look at it that way, 12% is surprisingly high.  What sort of people chose the first nation?  Some plausible hypotheses:

1.  Disadvantaged people--they weren't getting much out of existing system, so why not try something else?
2.  Less educated people--education might make people more aware of and more concerned with what other people thought, and therefore less likely to take positions out of the mainstream.
3.  More educated people--education might make people more likely to question established views.  Plus there are arguments that intellectuals are attracted to socialism.
4.  Younger people--it was the time of the "generation gap," when young people seemed to be alienated from American institutions.

The two factors that turned out to make a difference were race and income:  blacks and people with low incomes were more likely to choose the egalitarian socialist nation.  Education, gender, and age made little or no difference.  Among poor blacks, about half chose nation 1; among affluent blacks, about a quarter did.  About 20% of poor whites and only 7% of affluent whites chose nation 1.  So the first hypothesis is a clear winner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Back to Depression

In November 2010, I had a post on answers to the following question:
"As you may know, the United States went through a depression in the 1930s in which roughly one out of four workers were unemployed, banks failed across the country, and millions of ordinary Americans were temporarily homeless or unable to feed their families. Do you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all that another depression like that will occur in the US within the next 12 months?"  It had been asked a number of times between October 2008 and December 2009.  Since that post, it's been asked again (June 2011).  People are a little more pessimistic than they were in 2009:  the latest figures are  19% very likely, 29% somewhat likely, 32% not very likely, and 19% not at all likely.  The opinions of Democrats and Independents are about the same as they were in 2009, but Republicans have become considerably more pessimistic:  very likely has gone from 13% to 25%, and somewhat likely from 29 to 37%, while "not at all likely" has fallen from 20% to 9%.  You might have thought that the outcome of the congressional elections last November would have made Republicans more optimistic and Democrats more pessimistic, but apparently not.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Compromise vs. principle, 2006

In November 2006, the Democrats regained a majority in the House of Representatives after twelve years in the minority.  President Bush was unpopular--only 38% of people said that they approved of his performance.  A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll asked "When dealing with George W. Bush, do you think Democrats in Congress should compromise to get things done even if they have to sacrifice some of their beliefs, or should the Democrats in Congress stand up for their beliefs even if that means less might be accomplished?" and a parallel question about how Bush should act in dealing with the Democrats.  Overall 52% thought that both should compromise, 17% thought that Bush should compromise and the Democrats should stand firm, 11% thought that the Democrats should compromise and Bush should stand firm, and 13% said that both should stand up for what they believed in.  The other 7% said they were not sure about one or both questions.  Of course, opinions differed by ideology.

Who should compromise?
                  Both     Just Bush    Just Dems    Neither                    
Liberal             48%      30%           6%          10%
Moderate            61%      15%           6%          13%
Conservative        48%       8%          22%          15%       

Liberals and conservatives are almost a mirror image of each other--conservatives were somewhat more likely to say that neither should compromise, and liberals were a somewhat more likely to say that only the other side should compromise, but I doubt that either difference is statistically significant.  Moderates were more likely to say that both sides should compromise. 

So this is what you might expect to be the normal pattern--moderates want both sides to compromise, liberals and conservatives want the other side to compromise (that's emphasizing the differences--as I said last time, compromise is popular among all kinds of people).  But this was not a normal political situation--the Democrats were riding high, and the Republicans were on the defensive.  That is, it was pretty much the opposite of 2010, so the pattern should have been the opposite--both conservatives and moderates calling for compromise.  So it seems that both of the interpretations I mentioned last time are partly true--support for compromise increases as your side gets weaker, but there's also a tendency for conservatives to be less favorable to compromise than liberals.  Admittedly, this conclusion is based on only two examples, but that's how it looks now.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Compromise vs. principle

An interesting feature of current politics is that many Republican politicians seem convinced that the public wants them to take a hard-line position on taxes and spending, and that accepting any compromise will cost them votes.  This is almost certainly wrong, not just because most people are somewhere in the middle, but because most people have a general preference for compromise over conflict in politics, regardless of the specific issue.  A Gallup Poll from January has a good question on this point:

"Where would you rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means it is more important for political leaders to compromise in order to get things done, and 5 means it is more important for political leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done?"

Only 17% chose 5, while 35% chose 1.  (12% chose 2, 23% chose 3, and 12% chose 4).  People who said they were moderates favored compromise by 41% to 14%, while conservatives favored it by a much smaller margin, 27% to 22%.   It makes sense that people in the middle should be more favorable to compromise.  The surprise was that liberals were just like moderates, favoring compromise over sticking to beliefs by  43%-10%.  Maybe this was because liberals were in a weak position after the outcome of the November 2010 elections.  But maybe it reflects a general difference between liberals and conservatives--some people say that liberals are inclined to compromise and seeing the other guy's point of view, while conservatives just want to win.  It would be nice if you could compare answers to the question at different times, but unfortunately it's only been asked twice, the first in November 2010 (just after the mid-term election).  However, there are some related questions that were asked after the election of 2006, which I'll look at in my next post.

PS:  I just found a post on the Marginal Revolution blog citing the same Gallup poll in support of the idea of a general difference between liberals and conservatives.

PPS:  And this one by Ezra Klein saying no, it's just a reflection of the current political situation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let me have men about me that are moderately overweight

A few months ago, I had a post on the relationship between height and satisfaction with life.  It's possible to look at the relationship between weight (relative to height) and satisfaction with life using the same data set.  From the height and weight that people report, you can calculate their Body Mass Index.  According to the Centers for Disease Control standards, a BMI of 18.5 or less makes you underweight, 18.5-25 is normal weight, 25-30 is overweight, and more than 30 is obese.

For men, the maximum average reported satisfaction with life occurs at 26.6, a little above the average BMI for men (27.3).  For women, it occurs at 22.3,  which is significantly below the average BMI for women (25.9).  To translate that back into everyday terms, someone who is 5'4" and weighs 130 pounds has a BMI of 22.3.  I also looked at the range of BMI values for which satisfaction is close to the maximum.  The definition of close is necessarily arbitrary--I made it .01 on a 4 point scale.  For men, average satisfaction values are "close" for BMI values between 24.4 to 29.3.  For women, they are close in the range 20.4 to 24.6.  So overall, the men who are most satisfied with life are those who are moderately overweight by the standard definition; the women who are most satisfied are in the "normal" range.

Monday, July 11, 2011

3 AM in America

According to a column by Frank Bruni in the New York times, Jon Huntsman recently said “for the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got.”  I remember people saying similar things in the 1970s and the early 1990s.  "For the first time" always seems to be part of the lament, as if everything had gone smoothly for all of American history until the present.  Questions about optimism and pessimism have been pretty common since the 1980s, but were rare before them.  The longest-running one is "As you look to the future, do you think life for people generally will get better, or will it get worse," first asked by Gallup in 1952 and by a number of other organizations since then.

          Better Worse Same Don't know
Feb  1952  45   33   12   10
July 1962  55   23   12   10
Jan  1979  46   46    3    6
Sept 1989  57   28   12    4
Jan  2009  61   31    3    5

The most recent figures sound remarkably favorable considering the economic situation in January 2009.  Maybe that's the result of general good feeling around Obama's inauguration; maybe people felt like we'd been through the worst of the recession and the economy would bounce back quickly, or maybe there's a mistake in reporting the numbers.  I'll look at that possibility later.  But in any case, this decade has a way to go before it can match the 1970s in terms of feeling bad.

Note:  the 1989 question was somewhat different--it asked about people in the United States over the next 10 years.  I don't think that these differences would have much effect on people's answers, but I can't be sure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Boys and Girls--II

The Pew survey I mentioned in my last post also had questions about whether certain characteristics were more true of men or women (people could also say that there was no difference).  The characteristics were intellingent, decisive, hard-working, compassionate, emotional, ambitious, arrogant, creative, manipulative, outgoing, and stubborn.  Here are the correlations between opinions on these topics and preferences for a girl vs. a boy.  A positive sign means that people who thought the characteristic was more true of women were more likely to prefer a girl; a negative sign means that people who think it was more true men were more likely to prefer a girl.  You could say that positive signs mean the characteristic is valued--people prefer a child of the sex they think has that characteristic.  

Hardworking      .107
Intelligent      .056
Outgoing         .044
Decisive         .043
Creative         .039
Ambitious        .015
Compassionate   -.008
Stubborn        -.015
Arrogant        -.021
Manipulative    -.059
Emotional       -.094

For example, people who thought men were more intelligent than women preferred a boy by 54%-21%; people who thought women were more intelligent than men preferred a boy by a much smaller margin 39%-30%.  In general the correlations seems reasonable, but I'm surprised that hardworking is the strongest positive association and compassionate make no difference.  I'd think it would be much better to have a lazy and compassionate child than a hardworking and hardhearted one.  

Of course, this analysis combines men and women.  It seems obvious that there will be differences between the sexes--that women will value qualities like compassion and creativity more than men do.  It seems obvious, but there's not much evidence that it's true.  For example, the correlation of beliefs about compassion and preference is -.052 among men and .015 among women.  Neither correlation is statistically significant, and the difference between them isn't either.  The general pattern of correlations is similar for men and women.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Boys and Girls

The Economix blog in the New York Times recently had a post showing that Americans say they would prefer a boy to a girl if they could have only one child.  This preference is just about as strong as it was 70 years ago, despite great changes in other attitudes about gender.  The latest survey (2011) finds 40% saying they'd prefer a boy, 28% saying a girl (the rest saying it didn't matter or they weren't sure).  Back in 1947, it was 40% and 25%.  Another surprising thing:  the preference for a boy was stronger among young people, who in other ways have more egalitarian attitudes towards gender.

In thinking about this, it occurred to me that older people are more likely to have had children and that experience could affect preferences.  A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center asked about the sex of one's children and hypothetical preference.  There's a strong relationship:  people with no children prefer a boy by 42%-24%; among people whose children are all sons it rises to 53%-9%, but people whose children are all daughters prefer a girl by 54%-13%.  People with both sons and daughters have some preference for a boy, but it's pretty small (27%-22%).

To some extent, people who have children may think about the actual boys and/or girls they have, who in most cases they are pretty happy with.  Since about half of all children are girls, they have more balanced preferences (and more say that it doesn't matter) than childless people, for whom the question is completely hypothetical.  Still, there's some preference for boys, even among people who've had both boys and girls.  My next post will look further at this.