Monday, August 24, 2015

Resentment, complacency, and question wording

A couple of years ago, I gave figures for a question on whether blacks "are receiving too many special advantages, receiving fair treatment, or are being discriminated against?"  The proportions choosing the three answers stayed about the same between 1990 and 2000, but between 2000 and 2008 there was a decline in "discriminated against" and a rise in "fair treatment."  My conclusion then was "'racial resentment'  seems to be a minority view.  'Racial complacency' is more common and may be on the rise."  Unfortunately, that question hasn't been asked since then, but as I looked for more data on the general topic, it occurred to me that the question about "blacks" up through 2000 and "African-Americans" in 2008, and that people might react differently to those terms.  "African-Americans" may make people think of "hyphenated" white ethnic groups like Irish-Americans,which could account for the lower numbers saying "discriminated against."

It seemed like it would be pretty easy to check this--surely some survey would have asked a question about discrimination and randomly switched between the terms.  But despite a good deal of searching, I couldn't find anything.  Then I turned to questions that were identical or almost identical except for the terms.  There have been a number of the basic form "Would you say there is a great deal of discrimination, some discrimination, only a little discrimination, or none at all against...blacks/African Americans?"  The results, with the responses scored as 4, 3, 2, 1, so higher numbers indicate more perceived discrimination.

The black dots represent questions that asked about "blacks," red "African Americans," and green "blacks or African Americans."  Questions that included both terms got the highest perceived discrimination; questions that asked about "blacks" may have gotten higher perceived discrimination than those that asked about "African Americans," but it's not clear.  Overall, it seems like asking about "blacks" rather than "African Americans" may make some difference, but not much.

It seems like there's a pattern over time:  a rise in perceived discbetween the 1970s and about 2000, and a decline since about 2000.  But to complicate things, there were also some differences in the response categories, as shown in this figure:

The numbers are the same, but now the different colors and letters a,b,c,d indicate different responses that were offered:  a is "a great deal, a fair amount of discrimination, some discrimination but not much, or practically none," b is " a great deal, some, only a little, or none at all," c is "a lot, some, only a little, or none at all," and d is "a lot, some, a little, or none."  There's not enough overlap between the times they were asked to come to any definite conclusions, but form c was asked often enough to be pretty sure that there was a decline in perceived discrimination between 2000 and the present.  The 1978 and 1985 description of the lowest category as "practically none" definitely seems weaker than "none" or "none at all," so some of the rise in perceived discrimination between the 1970s  may be spurious (people who would accept "practically none" but not "none at all" as the best description).  However, given the big change between 1978 and 1985 it seems safe to say that there was a change from the 1970s.

Considering these data, and my previous posts on the general topic (see here for a list), I think there are two distinct trends.  First, "racial resentment"--that is, the belief that blacks are actually advantaged--is declining and continues to decline.  Second, that the belief that blacks are discriminated against rose from the 1970s until around 2000, but has declined since then.  My original suggestion that "racial complacency" is rising seems pretty accurate.

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