Saturday, August 12, 2017

The way it is

In the New York Times last week, Nate Cohn writes "The polls don’t tell a clear story [about public opinion on affirmative action]. Some polls show that affirmative action is very popular. Others show that it’s not popular at all." I think that they tell a pretty clear story--a large majority of people don't think that race should be considered in college admission. The difference among polls occurs because "affirmative action" covers a lot of things, and some of them are popular--for example, special efforts at outreach to minorities. There's a related issue that hasn't received much attention--how do people think that things actually work? In 2003, 2005, and twice in 2007 the Gallup Poll asked "If two equally qualified students, one white and one black, applied to a major U.S. (United States) college or university, who do you think would have the better chance of being accepted to the college--the white student, the black student--or would they have the same chance?" The distribution of answers was similar on all occasions, so I'll just give the average:

 White     Black     Same      DK
  30%         23%      42%       5%

 Unfortunately the individual-level data aren't available for any of the polls, but even if you make the extreme assumption that every black respondent said that the white student would have the better chance, less than 30% of whites said that the black student would have a better chance.

 [Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, August 4, 2017

Households or people

In last Sunday's New York Times, Paul Campos (a professor at the University of Colorado law school) says that "the gap between black and white Americans at every income level, remains every bit as extreme as it was five decades ago."  He shows figures of the income ratio of households at the 20th, 40th, 60th, 80th, and 95th percentiles of the black and white income distribution, and they are indeed all virtually unchanged.

Here is a figure he didn't show:  the ratio of per-capita income for blacks relative to per-capita income for whites.

There is a clear and pretty steady increase in the ratio of average black to white income--that is, the gap has declined.  Why the difference?  Campos was comparing households, which may (and usually do) include more than one person.  Average household size has been declining in the United States over the last fifty years--the biggest reasons are later marriage and longer lifespans.  The most plausible way to reconcile the two trends is that average household size has declined more for blacks than for whites.

What is the best way to measure the "gap between black and white Americans?"  You could argue that per-capita income is not the ideal measure--maybe it should be adjusted for age--but it certainly would involve people rather than households.

Campos's general point is that the slow growth of incomes for working-class and middle-class whites in the last couple of decades isn't because blacks have been doing well.  This is true--the only group that has had rapid income growth recently is people with high incomes.  But the gap in black and white incomes has declined, although the decline has been slow.


PS:  The Census data black and white income is at
https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-income-households.html
and
https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/income-poverty/historical-income-people.html

Friday, July 28, 2017

Livin' in the USA

This came to mind when I was composing a post in which I said that "American society has become a lot more egalitarian over the last 60 years or so."  It didn't quite fit there, but I thought it still deserved a spot.

When Chuck Berry died in March 2017, the New York Times gave him and his contributions to American popular music a lot of attention.  That led me to wonder how much coverage they gave him when he was making hit records.  In the 1950s, he got only one mention, in a brief (four-sentence) wire service story on August 29, 1959 entitled "Negro Singer Jailed| Accused of trying to date Mississippi white girl."  After playing a dance, Berry allegedly asked a young woman (aged 20) for a date.  He  said it was a misunderstanding, but was held without bond "while authorities conducted an investigation."  The story explained that Berry "was popular among the high school set for recordings such as 'Maybellene' and 'Memphis, Tennessee.'"

The next mention came in September 1963, when he was included in a list of rhythm and blues musicians.  There were a few more incidental mentions in 1965.  Overall, it's clear that in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the New York Times didn't think that Chuck Berry was someone that its readers would or should know about.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The neoliberal period, part 2

As discussed in my last post, spending directed at helping the poor has increased, not declined, in the "neoliberal period" (since 1980).  What about regulation of business?  I found a study that gives estimates of federal spending on regulation since 1960.  It distinguishes between "social regulation," which "includes regulatory agencies that address issues related to "health, safety, and the environment" and "economic regulation," which "is more likely to be industry-specific."  Here are the figures for spending on economic and social regulation (excluding homeland security) in constant (2009) dollars.

Both types grew rapidly in the 1960s.  Spending on economic regulation has grown less rapidly since 1970, and spending on social regulation since 1980, but both have grown.  Of course, the economy has grown too--social regulation has stayed about the same relative to the economy as a whole, while economic regulation has grown somewhat.  This just measures the amount of spending, not the effect of regulation (and it doesn't count state and local spending), so the figures are just a rough estimate.  However, they aren't consistent with the claim that there's been a general move to the right.

So can we discard the whole idea of "neoliberalism"?  I wish the answer were yes, because I dislike the term (partly because there are too many "neo" and "post" terms already, and partly because it is bound to be confusing to most Americans, since the "liberalism" involved is pretty much the opposite of what we now mean by liberalism).  However, there is a germ of truth in it.  The report distinguished between "financial," "general business," and "industry-specific" regulation.  Spending on the first two increased pretty steadily, but spending on "industry-specific" regulation fell between 1970 and 1980, and didn't reach its 1970 level until 2000.  As a share of the economy, it's now less than it was in 1960.  At one time, there was a lot of regulation of prices and operations in industries like airlines, interstate trucking, and communications.  This was cut back in the late 1970s, and much of it hasn't been restored.  As I recall, the deregulation movement was supported by both conservatives and a significant number of liberals (who argued that regulatory agencies tended to be "captured" by the industries they were supposed to regulate).  You could say that the newer form of liberalism is more inclined to accept that markets are an effective way of producing goods and services, but not more inclined to accept the market distribution of income.  This is an important change, but it's not a simple move to the right.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The neoliberal period, part 1

In an interview published in the New York Times last week, Noam Chomsky spoke of "the shift of both parties to the right during the neoliberal period."  There's nothing remarkable about that--I've read many similar statements--but for some reason I started wondering what you would find if you looked for evidence of a move to the right.

A reasonable basic definition of left and right (on economic issues) is that the left is in favor of direct government assistance to the poor.  One major program of assistance to the poor is food stamps (SNAP).  The figure shows real per-capita spending on food stamps (2010 dollars) between 1969 and 2016.  It was about 70% higher in 2016 than in 1981, the year Ronald Reagan became president.


As everyone knows, Bill Clinton promised to "end welfare as we know it," and in 1996 signed a bill placing restrictions on welfare.  This figure shows federal spending on AFDC/TANF from 1975 to 2011.  There has been a slight upward trend since 1981, but the population has grown too, so basically there has been little change.  It is interesting that the 1996 reform didn't have any obvious impact on spending.


Two other programs that aid poor people are the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Spending on both has increased greatly during the "neoliberal period" (the CTC didn't exist until 1997).  Also notice the numbers on the vertical axis--total spending on the EITC and CTC is now about four times as large as TANF.

    For disability, see this report.  Both the percent of working-age people getting disability and the average payments per recipient have increased pretty steadily since 1970.
 
   Spending to help the poor has increased substantially the "neoliberal period."  You could argue about whether this change should be called a move to the left in policy--declining work opportunities for less skilled people means more government assistance is needed to produce the same standard of living for the poor.  But it's not a move to the right.

  What about regulation of business?  I'll look at that in my next post.

Sources:  SNAP 
   EITC, CTC, and AFDC/TANF.



Monday, July 3, 2017

It is what it is

In his speech announcing that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump said something to the effect that other countries were taking advantage of the United States.  That led me to wonder if there were any survey questions on that issue.  I found one, in a 1999 Pew survey.  People were offered two statements, "Other countries generally treat the United States about as fairly as we treat them"
OR...
"Other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States" and asked which they agreed with more.
After they made a choice, they were asked if they felt strongly.

Among people who had graduated from high school but not gone to college, about 20% agreed with the first statement and 75% with the second; among people with graduate education, 44% agreed with the first, and 50% with the second.  The item was part of a series of about 12 with the same format, covering a variety of issues.  The correlation between education and opinions on fair treatment vs. take advantage was the strongest of all items, with one exception:  whether immigrants strengthen the country or are a burden on the country.

Most analyses of Trump's appeal to less educated voters hold that it was about race, or gender, or a long period of slow wage growth.  The alternative, that it was about what he talked about--taking a hard line on immigration and following an "America first" policy--hasn't gotten much attention.  But as these questions show, there's a lot of support for those general sentiments, especially among less educated people.  Opinions on immigration have become more favorable, as I have noted, but are still mostly negative. Unfortunately the fair treatment/take advantage question has not been repeated, but  I was surprised to see how lopsided the distribution of opinions was--even among people with graduate degrees, people who thought that other countries took unfair advantage were more numerous and more likely to feel strongly about it.  Trump seems to have found a strong current of opinion that no one else had tried to appeal to.  Although comparable questions are not available for a long period of time, there is some evidence that it has been around for quite a while.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Now for some speculation

According to exit polls, Donald Trump got 67% of the vote among whites without a college degree in 2016, which may be the best-ever performance by a Republican (Reagan got 66% of that group in 1984).  What explains Trump's support among less educated voters?  One popular idea is that he cared about them, or at least gave them the impression that he cared.  The popularity of this account has puzzled me, because it's not even superficially plausible.  Every other presidential candidate I can remember tried to show empathy by talking about people they had met on the campaign trail, or tough times they had encountered in their past, or how their parents taught them to treat everyone equally.  Trump didn't do any of that--he boasted about how smart and how rich he was.

A variant is that Democrats drove "working class" voters away by showing contempt for them.  This is more plausible, but raises the question of whether Democrats showed that much more contempt in 2016 than in 2012, 2008, 2004, etc.  That seems like a hard case to make--at any rate, I haven't heard anyone try to make it.  

So why are these explanations so popular?  My hypothesis is that it's because American society has become a lot more socially egalitarian over the last 60 years or so. Educated people don't want to be thought of as snobs or elitists, and less educated people are less likely to think they should "improve themselves" by emulating the middle class.  At one time, you could say that Democrats thought of themselves as the party of the common people, and Republicans thought of themselves as the party of successful people.  Now both parties think of themselves as the party of the common people, plus the fraction of the elites who care about or understand the common people.  The result is that people are attracted to an explanation that is more flattering to the "working class."  When thinking about this, it occurred to me that I've seen many books and articles on how the Republicans can win over working-class voters, but nothing on how they can win back the kind of educated people who used to vote Republican. That is, gaining working-class voters is thought of as a more worthy goal than gaining middle class voters.   

There are two possible objections to my account.  First, it's easy to point to examples of condescension and contempt today.  My reply is that there was probably always a lot of this in everyday political discussion, and that social media has just made it more visible for those who are paying attention.  A second is the recollections of people like Charles Murray (Coming Apart) and Robert Putnam (Our Kids) about how there used to be less social distance between classes.  I think that may be because they both grew up in small towns in the Midwest.  If you read something like E. Digby Baltzell's The Protestant Establishment, you get a very different picture of status differences in America.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

There must have been a reason

My last post was one of several arguing that people in general, and less educated people in particular, didn't see Donald Trump as all that interested in their problems.  What was his appeal, then?  The survey I used in my last post asked people who said that they would probably vote in a Republican primary "How confident are you in X's ability to make the right decisions about the economy--are you very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident?", and about confidence in ability to "handle an international crisis" and "make the right decisions about illegal immigration."  The questions were asked about Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. That may seem like a strange choice of candidates, but Ben Carson was the strongest rival to Trump at the time--in this survey, 27% wanted Trump to get the nomination and 21% wanted Carson.  There was no clear third--Ted Cruz had 9%, Marco Rubio 8%, Fiorina and Jeb Bush had 6% ("don't know" had 11%).  The survey also asked people about their second choice, and Carson was the leader in combined first and second choices (41%), followed by Trump (38%), with Rubio (26%) and Fiorina (20%) farther behind.  

The mean ratings by education (lower numbers mean more confidence):

                    College Grad    Not Grad 
Economy
      Trump          1.82            1.70
      Carson         1.89            1.98
      Fiorina        1.95            2.27

Intl Crisis 
      Trump          2.56            2.23
      Carson         2.14            2.09
      Fiorina        2.23            2.46

Immigration
      Trump          2.13            1.87
      Carson         1.84            1.97
      Fiorina        2.06            2.46

Both college graduates and less educated voters had high confidence in Trump's ability to make the right decisions about the economy.  On the other two issues, there was a bigger split by education, with the less educated seeing Trump more favorably.  International crisis was an area of relative weakness for Trump, while immigration was one of strength.  Less educated voters had substantially less confidence in Fiorina on all three areas.

My interpretation is that Trump's appeal to less educated voters was a matter of style--they saw him as tougher and less likely to compromise than "mainstream" candidates like Fiorina.    This is almost opposite to the "Trump cared" analysis--you could say that people recognized that Trump was an s.o.b., but thought that was what the country needed.  Although these data just apply to people who said they'd vote in a Republican primary, the general point is also relevant to the general election.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, June 9, 2017

Who Cared?

A few months ago, I wrote about the idea that Donald Trump appealed to less educated voters because he seemed to care about them.  I pointed out that he didn't do particularly well in surveys that asked if he "cared about people like you"--in fact, he ranked lower than almost all other recent nominees.  But the individual-level data weren't available at that time, leaving open the possibility that people with less education rated him highly.  Now the individual data for a relevant survey has been released:  a CBS News poll from early October 2015.  That survey asked "How much do you think that ___________ cares about the needs and problems of people like you--a lot, some, not much, or not at all?" for Republicans Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden.  Here are the average scores (4 points for a lot, 3 for some, 2 for not much, 1 not at all) for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic whites without college degrees:

                W          NCW   
Trump          2.38      2.51
Carson         3.17      3.20
Fiorina        2.70      2.69
Clinton        2.21      2.12
Sanders        2.81      2.67
Biden          2.72      2.61


Ben Carson stands out here.  I'm not sure why--maybe it was having grown up in poverty, maybe it was his calm demeanor, maybe people associate doctors with caring.  But for my purposes, the important thing is that Trump ranks fifth, ahead of only Hillary Clinton.  He did somewhat better among people without college degrees, but still ranked only fifth.

The survey also asked people if they expected to vote in a Democratic primary, a Republican primary, or didn't expect to vote in a primary.  Trump won over some non-college-educated Democrats and independents in the general election, so their perceptions are of particular interest.

                 R            D            N
Trump           2.96       1.92         2.32
Carson          3.42       2.97         2.98
Fiorina         2.87       2.41         2.36
Clinton         1.65       2.92         2.17
Sanders         2.31       3.27         2.64
Biden           2.28       3.24         2.56

Once again, Trump didn't do well--he got substantially lower scores than Carson or Fiorina among both Democrats and people who didn't support a party, although he did a little better than Fiorina among non-college-educated whites who intended to vote in a Republican primary.

What was Trump's appeal?  The survey also asked if candidates had "strong qualities of leadership," and Trump did well there.  Non-college-educated whites who didn't intend to vote in a primary rated him higher that all three Democrats and Fiorina.  Carson was equal to Trump among people who had an opinion, but had more don't knows.

It's true that voters didn't think that Hillary Clinton cared about them that much, but they didn't think that Trump cared about them that much either.  This raises the question of why many commentators think that they did.  I have no evidence on this, but I'll offer some speculations in a later post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cost disease or employment disease?

In his speech announcing that he's pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump once again displayed his preoccupation with coal mining.  That reminded me that I had once looked up figures on coal mining since 1900.  It took several different sources, which had to be spliced together, so it's useful (at least to me) to have it in one place:


The number of coal miners (the red line) has been declining pretty steadily since 1920.  But the number of tons mined has increased.   That means that the average miner is getting more coal--that is, productivity is increasing.


There are two distinct periods of productivity growth--averaging about 1.7% a year until 1950 and 3.9% since then.  So even though coal demand has grown by an average of 1.3% a year since 1950, employment has fallen to less than 1/6 of what it was in 1950.

The economist William Baumol, who died a few weeks ago, wrote about the consequences of different rates of productivity growth for different products.  There are some services for which productivity can't grow by much--for example, anything that requires one-on-one interaction, like getting a haircut or talking to a therapist.  Those services will get relatively more expensive--not less affordable in an absolute sense, but more expensive in terms of how many tons of coal (for example) you need to pass up in order to obtain them. This is usually discussed in terms of cost--people sometimes call it the "cost disease" of the low-productivity-growth sector.  But you could also call it the "employment disease" for the fast-growth sectors--the number of workers will decline unless you manage to keep selling more and more.  This point of view is more relevant to politics--coal miners vote (sometimes), but tons of coal don't.  

I've discussed the idea that politics might shift from a rich/poor to an open/closed alignment.   I think that the "employment disease" provides another reasons that this isn't likely to happen.  To protect jobs in the fast-growth sector, you have to restrict the rate of productivity growth, and reducing economic growth will reduce the chance of re-election.  An additional point is that it will produce a split between employers and workers in that sector, as employers push for productivity growth.  But what if the poles were reversed, so that the issue was protecting employment in the slow-growth sector?  David Brooks proposed something like this (he said he was drawing on Tyler Cowan):

"On the one hand, there is the globalized tradable sector — companies that have to compete with everybody everywhere. These companies, with the sword of foreign competition hanging over them, have become relentlessly dynamic and very (sometimes brutally) efficient.
      On the other hand, there is a large sector of the economy that does not face this global competition — health care, education and government. Leaders in this economy try to improve productivity and use new technologies, but they are not compelled by do-or-die pressure, and their pace of change is slower.
    ...
In politics, we are beginning to see conflicts between those who live in Economy I and those who live in Economy II. Republicans often live in and love the efficient globalized sector and believe it should be a model for the entire society. ....  Democrats are more likely to live in and respect the values of the second sector."

I think that the problem with this analysis is that Brooks assumes that differences in productivity growth between industries all come down to competition.  But as Baumol recognized, most of the difference is from the nature of what they do.  So there's not much need to protect employment in the "second sector," and you can't make that the basis of a strong political appeal.

People sometimes say that change is coming--maybe artificial intelligence will put me out of work in a few years unless the opponents of "creative destruction" succeed in stopping it.  One answer to that is historical:  education faced an enormous technological disruption before most other parts of the economy did, and it didn't lead to a decline in employment.  As Edward Gibbon said in the late 18th century:  "It has indeed been observed, nor is the observation absurd, that except in experimental sciences . . . the many valuable treatises that have been published on every subject of learning may now supersede the ancient mode of oral instruction. . . . But there still remains a material difference between a book and a professor:  the hour of the lecture enforces attendance; attention is fixed by the presence, the voice, and the occasional questions of the professor; and the more diligent will compare the instructions which they have heard in the school, with the volumes which they peruse in their chamber."  The more general implication is that if productivity growth takes place in these services, it will be mostly in the form of letting the worker give better service, rather than serving more people.  For example, there's been substantial growth in the ability of health care professionals to do things they couldn't do before, but not in the ability to do things faster.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The ideal president

The usual explanation of why Donald Trump did well among less educated ("working class") white voters was that they are profoundly discontented and thought that he might help them with their problems.  I don't think that this fits the facts very well.  First, people are not all that discontented with the state of society, as distinct from politics.  Second, people did not see Trump as particularly concerned with "people like you" (he trailed Clinton in that respect).*  I suspect that the explanation is that a style of tough talk and not caring if you offend people is, and probably always has been, more popular among less educated people (and also among men)--they are more likely to see it as refreshing and honest rather than as evidence of unfitness.

I looked for questions about the qualities or behavior that people wanted or expected in a president, and to my surprise found only one relevant survey.  None of the questions directly involved the issue I was concerned with, but I thought they were interesting in their own right.   The introduction was:

HERE IS A SERIES ON YOUR MENTAL IMAGE OF THE IDEAL
PRESIDENT:

I’D LIKE YOU TO PICTURE IN YOUR MIND THE IDEAL PRESIDENT
OF THE UNITED STATES:

The questions were:

WHAT WOULD BE THE IDEAL AGE FOR HIM TO BE ELECTED PRESIDENT?

The median was 50.  The most popular were 50 (32%), 45 (20%), and 55 (12%).  Only about 10% said 56 or older.

  WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE BE A FAMILY MAN, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?  

74% very Important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE HAS A COLLEGE
EDUCATION, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

85% very important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE ATTEND RELIGIOUS
SERVICE REGULARLY, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

83% very important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE BE A SCHOLARLY MAN,
OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

66% very important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE BE EXPERIENCED IN
POLITICS, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

80% very important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE BE DIGNIFIED IN
APPEARANCE, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

73% very important

WOULD IT BE VERY IMPORTANT THAT HE STICK TO THE POLICIES
OF HIS PARTY, OR NOT SO IMPORTANT?

44% very important

Having a college education was the one that was most widely seen as important, even ahead of attending religious services.**  People who had less education were somewhat more likely to see it as very important.


It would be interesting to repeat this survey now (of course, it would need a change to gender-neutral language).



*I haven't broken these data down by education; I hope to do that in the future.

**Harry Truman did not have a college degree, and in fact never attended an academic college (he attended a "business college" for a year after high school).  He was the last president without a college degree.  In thinking about this post, it occurred to me that his seven predecessors also had college degrees, six of them from elite institutions (Harvard for both Roosevelts, Yale for Taft, Princeton for Wilson, Stanford for Hoover, and Amherst for Coolidge).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The owl of Minerva, part 2

One of the striking things about the 2016 election was that the gap between more and less educated voters became much bigger.  Compared to the 2012 election, less educated voters shifted towards the Republican, more educated voters towards the Democrats.  The American National Election Study asked about vote in 2012, and I used that and 2016 vote to create a six-way classification:  non-vote to Trump, Non-vote to Clinton, Obama to Trump, Obama to Clinton, Romney to Trump, Romney to Clinton.  There was a bias towards recalling a vote for Obama in 2012 (see my previous post), but my concern here is with opinion differences among the groups, and for that purpose the bias is probably not harmful.

I focused on the OC, RT, and OT groups.  Common sense suggests that the Obama-Trump group--people who voted for a Democrat once and a Republican once--will be in between the people who voted for a Democrat both times and a Republican both times.  I looked at average opinions on a lot of issues and that is generally the case.  However, there are some exceptions.  There was one on which the OT group was more "Democratic" than the Democrats:  spending on Social Security.  With 1 meaning that spending should be increased, 1.5 that it should be kept the same, and 2 that it should be reduced, the average for OC voters was 1.19, RT was 1.28, and OT was 1.15.  

There were a number for which the OT group was more "Republican" than the Republicans.  Two involved spending:  crime prevention (OT most favorable to more spending) and science and technology (OT least favorable to more spending).  Four involved "feeling thermometers" about different groups:  Jews, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and Blacks.  On all of these, OC was most favorable, and OT least favorable.  Finally, on rating blacks has hard-working versus lazy, OT voters were more negative than RT.  

The differences on spending for Social Security and crime are consistent with what Trump said in his campaign.  He didn't say much about science and technology, but he certainly didn't give the impression that he was interested in spending more in that area.  

The differences in the feeling thermometers are more puzzling.  Trump talked a lot about illegal immigration, with an emphasis on Mexico, so lower ratings for Hispanics aren't surprising.  However, he didn't say much about blacks, and what he said implied that conditions were the result of faulty government policy rather than the fault of blacks themselves.  Some people said that he appealed to anti-Semitism, but I didn't find their examples convincing.*  I don't recall that he said anything about Asian-Americans.  A lot of people said that Trump appealed to ethnic prejudice of all kinds, and this might seem to support them.  However, the pattern didn't show up on most issues related to race and ethnicity.  For example, there was a feeling thermometer towards the Black Lives Matter movement.  OC voters were 66, RT were 22, and OT voters were in between with 37.  That is, it was only on the general ratings of groups that OT voters were more extreme.

My thought is that it has to do with what people now call "political correctness," or what used to be called "respectability":  the things people know that they are supposed to think and say.  The "respectable" position is that you should show positive feelings towards every ethnic and religious group that's part of the "American community."  But there are some people who are are prejudiced or at least feel "I'll tolerate them, but don't tell me I have to like them."  Trump was the first major party candidate in a long time who didn't care about being respectable, which would be appealing to people like that, apart from any specific statements or proposals.





*From Ian Buruma in the NY Times Magazine:  "Incendiary references to a 'global power structure' that was robbing honest working people of their wealth were illustrated by pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein. Perhaps not every Trump supporter realized that all three are Jewish. But those who did cannot have missed the implications." 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

That was some uptick

I wasn't going to post again this soon, but this morning I read an interview with Heather Ann Thompson, a professor at the University of Michigan and author of a well-received new book on the 1971 uprising in Attica prison.  It reads
[interviewer] You point out not only that the war on crime was a bipartisan effort — it started with L.B.J. but grew under Nixon — but also that it wasn’t really in response to a crime uptick, as many Americans thought at the time. [Thompson] It was pure rhetoric. It was a policy choice, not a crime imperative. . . . The civil rights movement comes North, and all of a sudden, Johnson starts to sound like Bull Connor, right?

Here is a graph of the murder rate from 1960-75:


Here is motor vehicle theft, which is measured pretty accurately because there are car registration records.



For other crimes, there's more possibility of changes in reporting rates, but here are a couple of others.






Finally, here is the number of prisoners in state and federal institutions:


Putting these together, there was a large and sustained increase in crime beginning in about 1960, while the number of people in prison declined between 1960 and 1972.  Of course, Thompson is right to say that  the "War on Crime" was a policy choice; maybe there were better choices that could have been made.  But to say it "wasn't really in response to a crime uptick" is like saying the New Deal "wasn't really in response to an unemployment uptick."

Sources:  FBI Uniform Crime Reports 
Historical Statistics on Prisoners in State and Federal Institutions,Yearend 1925-86

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The owl of Minerva

The American National Election Studies 2016 data has been released.  There is a lot which can and will be done with these data, but I'll start with some basic things.
     1.  The ANES asked people how they voted in 2012, and I originally intended to write about the relationship between 2012 and 2016 vote.  However, about half the the non-black, non-Hispanic people* who said that they voted in 2012 reported voting for Obama.  That's too high--the actual figure would be a little over 40%--suggesting that a significant fraction of the people who recalled voting for Obama actually voted for Romney.  So I'll leave that aside.
   2.  A lot has already been said about the relationship between education and vote, but here is the table:

          Didn't Vote  Clinton  Trump   Johnson  Stein Other
HS or less     37%        21%      38%     1.6%  1.3%  1.3%
Some college   22%        24%      47%     3.8%  1.0%  1.1%
College grad   11%        46%      36%     4.3%  0.7%  2.0%

Although most accounts focused on Trump's support among people with a high school diploma or less (which journalists like to call the "working class"), he did even better among people with middle levels of education.  The major contrast is between college graduates and everyone else.  Most people with no post-secondary education don't vote at all (the figures for non-voting in the ANES are too low, partly because some people say that they voted when they actually didn't, and partly because the sort of people who don't participate in surveys are less likely to vote).
  3.  Income is more complicated.  On the average, Trump voters had lower incomes than Clinton voters.  After controlling for education, there was no clear difference, but after adding a control for being married, it was back again.  (Married people were substantially more likely to vote for Trump and have higher family incomes).  However, the effect of income seems to differ by education.  Here is a figure showing estimated support for Clinton by education, income, and marital status.  (Income is measured by 28 categories, going from under $5,000 to over $250,000--9 is about $25,000; 15 is about $50,000, and 23 is about $100,000).

I was surprised by how much difference marital status made--I knew it had become a fairly important factor but didn't think it would be that big.  Income has more effect among college graduates.  Another way to put it is that education makes only a little difference among people with low incomes, but a lot of difference among people with high incomes.
4.  The ANES also includes a variable for occupation, but this is a preliminary release, and doesn't include the occupation variable yet.  The occupation variable might help to illuminate the educational differences among people with high incomes.

*all of the analyses are limited to people who are neither black nor Hispanic

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The popular kind of populism

In March, the Gallup Poll asked a series of questions starting with "Now, I am going to read several actions either taken or proposed by President (Donald) Trump. For each one, tell me if you agree or disagree with it, or if you don't know enough to have an opinion."  They are, going from most to least approval:
                                                                                                                                              A   D   DK
require companies to provide family leave for parents 
                             after the birth of a child?  81% 10%    9%
enact a $1 trillion program to improve US 
    infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels?  76   12    12
significantly cut federal income taxes for the middle 
                 class?                                   61   26     13
provide federal funding for school-choice programs that 
allow students to attend any private or public school?    59   26     14

increase military spending by $54 billion?                47   42     11
replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as 
     Obama-care, with a new healthcare plan?              44   44     12
stop all refugee resettlement in the US for 120 days?     40   46     14
impose a 90-day ban on issuing new US travel visas for 
     citizens of six Muslim-majority nations?             40   47     13

reduce the corporate income tax rate                      38   43     19
authorize construction of the Keystone XL and 
                      Dakota Access pipelines?            36   39     25
begin the construction of a wall between the 
             US and Mexico?                               36   56     7
eliminate US funding for international organizations 
     that promote or provide abortions?                   35   53     12
put a hiring freeze on most civilian jobs in the 
                 federal government?                      33   46     20
end US participation in the Trans-Pacific trade 
              Partnership or TPP?                         27   30     43
require that for every new federal government regulation 
     put in place, two existing regulations 
     must be eliminated?                                  27   46     27

The striking thing is that he has not taken any action, or even seriously talked about taking action, an the two proposals that are most popular.  In contrast, he has done something on many of the less popular measures.  

I should offer a couple of qualifications.  First, the extremely high popularity of the first two items is probably partly because of the lack of attention they have received. If they were really on the table, opponents would mobilize to make their case and some of the support would fade.  Second, the survey didn't ask about some things that probably are popular, like stepping up deportations.  Still, it is striking that Trump has pushed the parts of his program that people are no more than lukewarm about, and not the parts that people seem to like.  

This relates to the issue of whether we could get a realignment along the lines proposed by R. R. Reno or David Brooks, which you could call "open" versus "closed."  The "open" side would be in favor of immigration, internationalism, and multiculturalism and be liberal on most social issues.  The "closed" side would be nationalist and traditionalist.  On economics, the open side would support redistribution to the poor; the closed side would favor aid to "worthy" people--people with jobs (especially in manufacturing and construction), farmers, small business, veterans.  The open side would be more sympathetic to market mechanisms; the closed side would favor direct government intervention.  The social bases of the parties would shift:  Brooks says "imagine a Republican Party after Donald Trump, led by a younger candidate without his bigotry and culture war tropes. That party will begin to attract disaffected Sanders people who detest the Trans-Pacific Partnership and possibly some minority voters highly suspicious of the political elite."

Could this happen?  In principle, I think that you could have politics oriented around a open-closed axis.  However, I'm not sure that you could get there from here.  Politics has a conservative bias, not in a liberal/conservative sense, but in the sense that keeping your "base" happy is a priority.  If Trump pushed a large public works program or strong measures for family leave, there would be a revolt in the Republican party.  What about a realignment from the other side?  Suppose someone who was America-first, nativist, and socially conservative won as a Democrat.  They would presumably make public works and family leave priorities.  But after that, why move on to things that would not be as popular and would cause a split in the party?  They might make some changes at the margin, but wouldn't go too far.  So even if an open-closed alignment makes sense in principle, I don't think it will become dominant--the left-right alignment will remain dominant, although open/closed will continue as a secondary one.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]



Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reasons and results

In my last post, I showed trends in answers to four questions in the General Social Survey proposing possible explanations for why blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than whites.  The proposed explanations were discrimination, less inborn ability, less chance at education, and lack of motivation.  I briefly mentioned the relationships of answers to these questions to opinions about what should be done, but thought it deserved more attention.

Here are results from regressions of  opinions on "Some people think that (Blacks/Negroes/African-Americans) have been discriminated against for so long that the government has a special obligation to help improve their living standards. Others believe that the government should not be giving special treatment to (Blacks/Negroes/African-Americans" (HELPBLK) and "Here is a card with a scale from 1 to 7. Think of a score of 1 as meaning that the government ought to reduce the
income differences between rich and poor, and a score of 7 meaning that the government should not concern itself with reducing income differences. What score between 1 and 7 comes closest to the way you feel?" (EQWLTH) on answers to the four questions about reasons.  A positive coefficient means that "yes" is associated with more liberal opinions (government should help blacks or reduce the difference between rich and poor).  Standard errors are in parentheses.

                   HELPBLK                     EQWLTH

Discrimination     .776                       .419
                  (.022)                      (.023)

Ability           -.055                       .051
                  (.030)                     (.022)

Education          .427                       .190
                  (.022)                     (.023)

Motivation        -.325                      -.174
                  (.022)                     (.023)

As you might expect, people who say that differences are due to discrimination or less chance for education are more liberal on both questions; people who say that differences are due to lack of motivation are more conservative.  But beliefs about whether differences are because blacks have "less in-born ability to learn" make little or no difference.  This is more surprising.

Some philosophical defenses of egalitarianism hold that whether or not there are innate differences is irrelevant.  For example, in 1929 R. H,  Tawney said the idea "that men are, on the whole, very similar in their natural endowments of character and intelligence . . . is a piece of mythology against which irresistible evidence has been accumulated by biologists and psychologists."  But he went on to say that didn't matter--the equality he valued was "not equality of capacity or attainment, but of circumstances, and institutions, and manner of life."  (Equality, pp. 34, 37).  That is, people of different natural abilities should have different jobs, but not radically different standards of living.
However, you don't hear this sort of thing much today.  For example, Charles Murray (Coming Apart, p. 298) says that the belief that people "are equal, or nearly so, in their latent abilities and characteristics" is a foundation of the welfare state.  Many of his critics seem to go even farther, saying that talk about innate differences means denying people's "right to exist."   But for the average person, it doesn't seem to matter much.

PS:  there was no evidence to support my suggestion in the previous post that people who answered "no" to all were more conservative.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The decline of reasons

The General Social Survey has a series of four questions introduced by the statement, "On the average [Negroes/Blacks/African-Americans] have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people.  Do you think these differences are."  The possibilities offered are "mainly due to discrimination," "because most [N/B/A-A] have less in-born ability to learn," "because most [N/B/A-A] don't have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty," and "because most [N/B/A-A] just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty."  These were separate questions, not options--respondents answered yes or no to each one.

Yes answers to the discrimination or education questions was correlated with more liberal opinions on policy (e. g., that the government should spend more on improving the conditions of blacks); a yes answer to the willpower question was correlated with more conservative opinions.  A yes answer to the in-born ability question was in the middle--it had some association with conservative opinions, but not as strong as the willpower question.  This may seem strange, but you can argue that people should not be held responsible for conditions that are not their fault.

Here are the figures for the proportion of blacks and whites saying yes to each question; I omit people of other races because the numbers were small.  (Blacks were not asked these questions in 1977).






The proportion saying that discrimination was the main reason declined for both whites and blacks, but more for blacks.  There was, however, a substantial rise between 2014 and 2016 for both races.  I wonder if that resulted from the news stories and videos about police treatment of blacks in the last couple of years?

The proportion of whites who said that the differences were because blacks had less in-born ability declined substantially; the proportion of blacks increased, and has been consistently higher than the white proportion since 2000. 

The proportion of whites who said that the differences were due to less chance for education declined slightly; the proportion of blacks who said this declined more substantially.

Finally, the proportion of whites who said that the differences were because blacks had less motivation declined, while the proportion of blacks rose.  Opinions on this question among blacks and whites are now about the same.  

To summarize, whites have become substantially less likely to say yes to the two "conservative" choices, and somewhat less likely to say yes to the two "liberal" choices.  As a result, the number who said no to all rose substantially, from about 5% to over 15%.  People who said "no" to all had somewhat more conservative opinions than people who answered yes to at least one, suggesting that they have sort of a fatalistic outlook--"that's just the way things are, and there's not much you can do about it."

Blacks have become more likely to say yes to the two "conservative" options, and less likely to say yes to the two liberal ones.   As a result, there's been a convergence on three of them--the exception is inborn ability, which blacks are now more likely than whites to see as a reason.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Where the working class are

For several years, I have been saying that journalists write as if the "white working class" is found somewhere out in the Midwest.  It occurred to me that there was a way to check on my impression--search for news stories that included "white working class" and the name of a particular state.  I did that for stories in the New York Times for the last 12 months.  Many of the mentions of states are incidental--for example, this story is mostly about the views of some Democratic politicians in Ohio about how to win back the white working class, but it says "it's not enough for new national Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez to tell voters, as he did recently in New Jersey, that Trump and Republicans don't care about them," so I count it for both Ohio and New Jersey.

Some states in the Northeast:

New Jersey        24
Connecticut         9
Massachusetts    17
Maine                   9
New Hampshire  38

Pennsylvania, which could be regarded as split between the Northeast and the Midwest, has 93.  My impression is that almost all of them are about the part of the state from Allentown and Scranton on west, but I didn't check that.  Moving on to the Midwest:

Ohio                  91
West Virginia    20
Michigan           55
Wisconsin         66
Illinois               12
Minnesota         20

The Midwestern states got substantially more mentions in conjunction with "white working class" than the Northeastern ones did.  In some cases, that might be because they were "battleground" states or unexpected wins for Trump, but Ohio was a pretty safe Republican state in this election, and West Virginia, which was a lock for Trump, got twice as many mentions as Maine, which was competitive.

I also tried three large states from various parts of the country:

California        45
Texas               36
Florida             64

Those were higher than I expected, but the Midwest is still over-represented relative to its population--the combined total for California, Texas, and Florida is below the total for Ohio and Michigan or Ohio and Wisconsin.  So my impression seems to have been correct.

Note:  I left out New York because many of the mentions were for the New York Times, and Indiana and Vermont because stories might mention Mike Pence or Bernie Sanders and include their state in describing them.

[Thanks to Robert Biggert for inspiring this post]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The best of times, the worst of times

In January 1983, the Roper Organization asked "In America, each generation has tried to have a better life than their parents, with a better living standard, better homes, a better education, etc. How likely do you think it is that today's youth will have a better life than their parents--very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?"  The question wasn't asked again until 1995, but since then it has been picked up by other survey organizations and asked fairly often.  The averages, counting very likely as +2, somewhat likely as +1, somewhat unlikely as -1, and very unlikely as -2:


There seems to be some correlation with economic conditions.  The drop between 1983 (when employment was over 10%) and the mid 1990s is puzzling, but as I've noted in other posts, Americans seemed to be disgruntled in the mid-1990s.  The other puzzle is that it hasn't recovered much since the recession of 2008.  

The original data was available for some of the surveys, so I broke it down by party identification for those.  In the 1980s and 1990s, the supporters of the different parties all had about the same expectations.  In the two surveys taken while George W. Bush was president, Republicans were more optimistic; in the surveys taken while Barack Obama was president (counting December 2008 as part of his presidency), Democrats were optimistic.  That is, expectations have become polarized by party identification.  That could be because of change in communications technology, with supporters of each party increasingly living in "bubbles."  However, I think that what has happened since 2008 suggests that something else is also at work.  Between January and December 2008, expectations dropped among Republicans and Democrats, which is to be expected given the decline in economic conditions (unemployment rose from 5% to 7.3%).  They dropped by more among Republicans, which is reasonable because their candidate had lost in the presidential election.  Between December 2008 and October 2010 they dropped sharply among Republicans and stayed about the same among Democrats.  By that point, unemployment was even higher (9.4%), although it was dropping, so either response could be seen as reasonable.  Between October 2010 and April 2011 expectations dropped sharply again among Republicans and stayed the same among Democrats.  Unemployment had fallen slightly (to 9.1%), so it's not clear why expectations should have declined.  Finally, the last survey for which a breakdown by party is available was in December 2012, when unemployment had fallen to 7.9%.  Democrats became a bit more optimistic, while Republicans remained as pessimistic as ever.  That is, during the Obama presidency, expectations kept becoming more negative among Republicans even while conditions were improving--Republicans were far more negative in December 2012 than they had been in December 2008, when there seemed to be a real possibility that we were facing another Great Depression.  That is, opinions among Democrats have pretty much followed economic conditions, while opinions among Republicans have diverged from them.


My thought is that this is connected to the rise of ideological conservatism that I discussed in my last post.  A lot of conservative intellectuals have become attracted to the idea that we are at a crossroads, with a choice between advancing towards utopia and falling into barbarism (or at least becoming like Western Europe).  That mood can trickle down to ordinary people who aren't paying that much attention to politics.  As a result, things like Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling, or whatever else was going on in Obama's first term, had as much effect on Republican views as the economic collapse of 2008.    

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A return to facts

This is a question that the Gallup poll asked three times:
"Do you think people who are successful get ahead largely because of their luck or largely because of their ability?"


                Luck         Ability        DK/NA
1939         16%            80%           4%
1970           8%            86%           6%
2016         13%            81%           6%

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The beginning of ideology

I have had several posts (this is the latest) trying to explain why American conservatism became ideological, but wasn't satisfied with any of them.  I identified several factors that might facilitate that developmetn, like a sense of being embattled as education and the media came to be dominated by liberals, but no primary impetus. Now I think I've found one, suggested by Irving Kristol in his Neoconservatism:  The Autobiography of An Idea (with an assist from Samuel Huntington, American Politics:  The Promise of Disharmony).  It is "the fact, noted by all historians and observers, that the United States is a 'creedal' nation" (Kristol, p. 376).  That creed has canonical texts (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence), which means that there's a possibility of "fundamentalist" movements that say we need to go back to those texts in order to find the answers to our problems.  Of course, liberals can do that too, especially with the Bill of Rights, but it's hard to deny that the founders saw only a small role for government, especially the federal government.  So after the appearance of social welfare programs and the rise of the "administrative state," appeals to the Constitution had a better fit with conservatism.  This was what led American conservatism to become ideological--it wasn't just an appeal to "tradition," which can mean many different things, but to to specific ideas expressed in specific documents.

Although I think Kristol had the right answer, he had the wrong question.  He thought that the exceptional feature of American conservatism was that it was populist.  There is a strong populist tradition in America, but populist conservatism is different from ideological conservatism.  Kristol held that the people had an instinct to do the right thing (as he saw it):   "today [1995] populist opinion--as every poll shows--is more concerned about cutting the federal deficit than about lowering taxes, which as come as a great surprise to many [traditional] conservatives, who learned in their 'political science' classes that 'the people' always want to be pandered to" (p. 384).  In reality, popular opinion reliably favors low taxes and "don't tread on me" rhetoric, but also programs like Social Security and "reasonable" regulation of business.

The division between the populist and ideological stands of conservatism explains the collapse of the "repeal and replace" effort.  The populist position would be to keep the parts that imposed burdens on large employers and insurance companies, but drop those that imposed burdens on ordinary people--taxes and the individual mandate.  The proposed act was a compromise between the populist position and the generic conservative inclination to scale things back and cut costs, so it was unacceptable to people who were serious about getting the government out of health care.  But a program that really got the government out of health care would be totally unacceptable to the public, so that meant that there was nothing that could get the votes to pass.

Of course, there is always a division between people who want to go farther and faster and people who are more cautious.  But the divisions are especially contentious in this case because the ideologues see the mainstream conservatives not just as timid, but as traitors to the cause.  On the other side, the behavior and public statements of the mainstream conservatives about the ideologues have been restrained, even deferential.  There are occasional expressions of irritation, but nothing like the constant attacks on "RINOs" that come from the right.  I think the reason is that the mainstream conservatives give the ideologues credit for standing on principle, maybe even see them as "the conscience of the party."  As a result, the ideologues have a disproportionate influence.

 





Friday, March 24, 2017

Don't let go

I did some further investigation into the relationship between interest in politics and happiness and found that the GSS included another question on interest in politics in 1987:  "How interested are you in politics and national affairs?"  If you take the four samples with interest and happiness variables (1987, 1990, 1996, and 2014) and control for income, education, age, gender, race, and marital status, more political interest is associated with more happiness:  the t-ratio is 3.3 and the estimated effect of increasing interest from the lowest to highest level is about the same as the estimated effect of increasing income by a factor of 4.*

However, the piece by Arthur Brooks that I discussed in my last post seemed to be talking about the effects of excessive interest in politics--"hitting your twitter feed fifty times a day."  So maybe it's a non-linear relationship, with moderately interested people happier than people at the extremes?  No--it's pretty much linear in the combined sample.

I proposed that the relationship differed in 2014 than in 1990 and 1996.  On looking closely, it seemed to be the position of people who said they were "very interested" that changed.  More precisely, here are estimates of where the "very interested" are relative to the linear trend (positive numbers mean happier than predicted):

             est     se
1987        .024   .038
1990        .097   .056
1996        .156   .051
2014       -.124   .048

Given the standard errors, it's not possible to be confident about whether there were any differences among 1987, 1990, and 1996, but 2014 is almost certainly different from at least 1990 and 1996.  It seems reasonable that people who are highly interested in politics will be affected by how things are going in politics, so I think this supports the interpretation in my previous post:  the relationship depends on the nature of politics at the time.  Or if you want it in the form of eternal wisdom, attaching yourself to external things can bring either happiness or misery, depending on the quality of those external things.  

*Brooks also controlled for self-rated political ideology.  I'm not sure that you should, so I left it out, but whether you include it or not doesn't make much difference.  

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.