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.      

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A tale of two parties

A couple of weeks ago, I had a post about perceptions of economic conditions.  Contrary to what is often said, they are not all that negative now.  I noted that even in October 2008, they were not nearly as unfavorable as they'd been at several times in the past.  They did briefly fall to very low levels--for example, in a poll taken September 27-30 only 2% said the economy was getting better and 76% said it was getting worse, but they bounced back quickly.  By October 17-19, it was 5% better and 54% worse:  that is much more favorable than during the mild recession of 1990, and about the same as October-November 1987, which was not a recession at all.  In that post, I promised an explanation for this (relative) optimism, so here it is.

Perceptions are related to party identification--if you're a supporter of the President's party, your assessment is more favorable.  Moreover, the relationship seems to be considerably stronger than it was in the past.  For example, compare July 1996 and August 2012.  In 1996, 12% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats thought conditions were getting better; in 2013, 6% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats thought things were getting better.  The overall scores (favorable minus unfavorable) were similar, -11 in 1996 and -5 in 2013.  But that hides offsetting shifts in opposite directions:  supporters of the President's party (Democrats) were a lot more favorable in 2013 and supporters of the opposition (Republicans) were a lot more negative.  I think that explains why assessments of the economy were not that negative during the "great recession"--partisan loyalty kept the rating from falling too low.  In principle, it seems likely that this would be symmetrical--that ratings will never get all that favorable, because supporters of the other party would be slow to acknowledge that the economy was doing well.  However, in order to test that, we'd need to have a real economic boom, which hasn't happened in this century and is unlikely to happen in the near future.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, March 3, 2017

More about immigration

In November, I had a post about change in opinions on whether immigration should be reduced, stay the same, or increased.  A few weeks ago, I had another post observing that views about the right level of legal immigration could be distinguished from views about what should be done with immigrants who are here in violation of the law.  This post will look at whether opinions on the second point have changed.  Unfortunately, there is no question that has been asked regularly over a long period of time, but there are three relevant ones that have been asked a number of times in this century.  One is "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, or 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship, or 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S."  Here is the average counting the first option as +1, the second as zero, and the third as -1.

That looks like a positive trend--the correlation between the average and time is .57, with a p-value of .03.  

A second question was asked twice in 2006, once in November 2015, and once in June 2016:  "do you favor or oppose...deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home countries?"  The percent in favor was 50, 47, 52, and 32.  It's hard to interpret that, since the figures for the last two surveys are so different, even though they are just six months apart.  Still, it suggests a move away from support for deportation.

Finally, one asked if you "favor deporting as many as possible or do you favor setting up a system for them to become legal residents?"  That was asked in 2007, 2009, 2010, and several times since 2015.  

That looks like a definite decline in support for deportation.  However, in 2007-2010 the question started with "If it were possible to locate most illegal immigrants currently in the United States, would you"; in 2015-6 it started with "What do you think should happen to the illegal immigrants who are currently working in the United States."  That change might account for some or all of the difference between the early and later years--people may be more favorable about immigrants who are "currently working" than immigrants in general.  But there does seem to be a sharp drop in support for deportation between 2015 and 2016, as with the second question.  

None of these questions gives definitive evidence, but taken together they suggest that opinions on policy towards illegal immigrants have moved in a liberal direction in recent years, which raises an obvious question:  how do you square that with the success of Donald Trump?  I will take up that question in a later post.

[Data from the Rope Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

No need to explain

In the last few months, there have been many attempts to explain why the public is so discontented.  Nicholas Eberstadt says the discontent is a response to real economic problems, while Roger Cohen finds it more mysterious, an example of "the madness of crowds."  But before trying to explain why people are discontented, we should check and see whether they really are.  Eberstadt says "growing majorities hold that America is 'heading in the wrong direction."  A few weeks ago, I had a post about the right direction/wrong track question, and there's no sign of growth--opinions have gone up and down since the 1970s, and at the moment they are pretty much in the middle.  Eberstadt also says "overwhelming majorities of respondents . . . continue to tell pollsters, year after year, that . . . America is still stuck in the middle of a recession."  There have been some questions like that--the latest one in the iPOLL database has 20 percent saying that we are in a recession and 60 percent saying we are not--but they don't go back that far so I looked at a question that was first asked in the 1970s:  "Do you think the economy is getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same?"  That has been asked so frequently that I just included the ones from the 1970s plus one from every year starting in 1980.  I tried to get one from October, otherwise September, August..... (I avoided November or December in case responses are affected by the outcome of elections).  The results, summarized as percent saying better minus percent saying worse:

By historical standards, people are not especially negative today--in fact, they are a bit on the positive side.  The median value is -14, and in October 2016, it was -4.  Even in October 2008, assessments were not nearly as negative as in the late 1970s or the mild recession of 1990.  I think I have an explanation for that, which I will offer in a later post.  But for now, I'll just say that people are not especially discontented about the economy or "things in this country"--the see them as pretty much normal, not especially good and not especially bad.  What they are discontented with is politics, specifically politics in Washington.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 24, 2017

Looking backward

Sunday was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which provided the basis for sending people of Japanese ancestry (and some of German or Italian ancestry) to internment camps.  As far as I can tell, no contemporary survey asked people whether they agreed with the policy.  In December 1942, a Gallup poll asked "Do you think the Japanese who were moved inland from the Pacific coast should be allowed to return to the Pacific coast when the war is over?"  35% said yes, 48% no, and 15% weren't sure.  There was also a follow-up "Should American born Japanese be allowed to return to their homes on the coast after the war?" and about 23% gave a combination of no or not sure on the first and yes on the second.*

In 1946, a NORC survey asked "do you think the average Japanese person who lives in this country is loyal or disloyal to the American government?"  50% said loyal, 25% disloyal, and 25% didn't know.  People who said "loyal" or "don't know" were asked "do you think the average Japanese person now living in this country who is not a citizen should or should not be allowed to become a citizen?"  Combining the two, 42% said should be allowed to apply for citizenship, 21% sail loyal but should not, and 25% said disloyal (and presumably should not), and the rest not sure about loyalty and whether they should be allowed to apply.

In 1991, a Gallup poll asked " Here in this country, the U.S. (United States) government required many U.S. citizens of Japanese descent to leave their homes and move to relocation camps during World War II. Looking back, would you say you approve or disapprove of this action?"  33% said they approved and 62% disapproved.

The 1942 survey didn't ask about education, but the 1946 and 1991 surveys did.  In both cases, it was associated with more sympathetic attitudes towards Japanese-Americans.  In 1991, 36% of people without a high school diploma said they approved and 50% disapproved; among college graduates it was 22% approve and 75% disapprove.

One way to look at this comparison is that it shows that there was probably a change in public opinion.  The fact that the Gallup poll didn't even ask about general approval of the order suggests that they didn't think it was controversial.  Also, at that time they frequently classified and recorded answers that didn't fit into the standard categories:  they counted 1% as giving what they called "yes, if" answers, but didn't record anyone as saying something along the lines of "they never should have been moved in the first place."   in 1991, a clear majority disapproved.  Another way to look at it is that something that was universally condemned among political and legal elites by 1991 still had significant support in the general public.

*Some of the "don't knows" weren't asked the follow-up:  if they had, it would probably have been up to 25% or 26%.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Immigration issue or immigration issues?

Thomas Edsall has a piece called "The Democrats' Immigration Problem."  In the first sentence, he asks "why is immigration such a problem for the Democratic party?"  I was struck by the assumption that "immigration" is a single issue.  There is a question of whether laws should be changed to make it easier or harder for people to immigrate to the United States, and a question of what should be done with unauthorized immigrants who are already here.  You can imagine someone who says that the law should be changed to allow more immigration in the future, but until that's done we should enforce the law that we have; or on the other side, someone who says we should allow people who've been living here to become citizens but then we should close the door.

Do people make these kinds of distinctions, or are they simply more or less favorable to immigrants?  I found a CBS News/NY Times survey from 2011 which asked "Should legal immigration into the United States be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?" and "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, or 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship, or 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S."

There is an association between opinions on the two issues--for example, 50% of those who say that immigration levels should be increased and only 26% of those who say that they should be reduced choose  "should be allowed to stay in their jobs and apply for citizenship."  But the association is weaker than the association between opinions about same-sex marriage (allowed/civil unions/no recognition) and abortion (allowed/with restrictions/not allowed), which are certainly two different issues.  In fact, the correlation between views on same-sex marriage and treatment of illegal immigrants is as strong (.22) as the correlation between treatment of illegal immigrants and desired immigration levels (.21).  So people do seem to treat the two issues as distinct, although related.

More educated people, people in the Northeast and West, Jews, and people in urban areas take more liberal positions ("increased" and "allowed to stay") on both issues, and evangelical Christians take more conservative positions.  The samples of blacks and Hispanics were unusually small for this survey, so it's not possible to say anything definite about ethnic difference.  The effects of age and gender, however, can't be described as simply liberal or conservative.  Young people are considerably more likely to favor increased levels of immigration, but no different in views of policy towards illegal immigrants.  Women are more likely to say that people who are here should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, but also more likely to say that immigration levels should be decreased.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Forgotten but not gone: the sequel

A few weeks ago, I showed the estimated effect of college education on Democratic vs. Republican voting in presidential elections from 1936-2012, using a combination of Gallup (1936-68) and GSS (1968-2012) data.  It occurred to me that the GSS also had a measure of income (in constant dollars).  Larry Bartels (Unequal Democracy) gives evidence from the 1952-2004 American National Election Studies suggesting that the association between higher income and support for the Republicans had become stronger over that period, although the association between higher education and support for the Republicans had become weaker.  I later found the same thing in an analysis that also controlled for occupation (the association between occupation and voting change in a more complex way, although in a sense it became weaker--read the paper for more detail than you probably want).

There's a good deal of sampling error in the ANES estimates, so the GSS is useful as a check.  The estimated effects (controlling for race, gender, education, and marital status) are shown in this figure (the scales are not the same but happened to be pretty similar):

There are some differences between ANES and GSS estimates for individual elections (especially 1980), but the general pattern is similar:  high in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then declining.  The decline is more evident with the GSS, since 2008 and 2012 remained low.  So it seems that Bartels' statement that "over the past half-century economic status [income] has become more important, not less important, in structuring the presidential behavior of white Americans" needs to be modified:  it  became more important from the 1950s through the 1980s, and then less important.  The general issue here is that the impact of education, income, and occupation don't follow the same path over time.  It might seem like they are all "indicators" of the same thing, your general position in society. so that when the impact of one moves in a particular direction, the impact of the others should as well.  But in fact, there are three different different things that need to be explained.

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Everyone agrees that Donald Trump is a populist, but there's no consensus on what that means.  In a recent column, Thomas Edsall treats populism as equivalent to taking conservative positions in the "culture wars," but by that standard Trump is probably the least populist Republican candidate for president since Gerald Ford.  He rarely mentioned issues like same sex marriage and abortion, and even said positive things about Planned Parenthood.

I think that the best starting point is one suggested by Ross Douthat:  populism is a "set of ideas [that] commands public support but lacks purchase in elite policy debate."  It might seem that the exact nature of those ideas would be idiosyncratic--they would just be things on which there happened to be a gap between elite and pubic opinion at a particular place and time.  However, there is a reasonably coherent set of ideas that meet this definition in most western nations since the end of the Second World War.  One component is nationalism:  the belief that nations have an obligation to think about their own people first and take care of problems "here at home" before worrying about the rest of the world.  Reluctance to accept immigrants and suspicion of free trade follow from this.  On foreign policy, the populist position is sometimes characterized as "isolationist," but it would be more accurate to say that it's impatient with diplomacy, international agreements, and long-term obligations:  we should intervene when the nation's interests are at stake and then get out.  On domestic policy, populism favors generous benefits to “deserving” people, like veterans, old people, and low-paid workers, but not general aid to the poor.  It favors requiring companies (especially big companies) to offer good wages and benefits, and shifting the tax burden from individuals to corporations.  It accepts ad-hoc intervention in the economy such as taking action against companies that make "excessive" profits.  Finally, it's in favor of "law and order":  it's impatient with protections for the rights of people accused of crimes, and doesn't have much interest in free speech for people with unpopular points of view.  Why do I say that these are "populist" positions?  Because they are all positions that are pretty popular among the public but are usually ignored or brushed aside in policy debates.  On some of them it's a matter of degree:  for example, elites are not against generous benefits to retired people, but they are more likely to say that demographic realities mean it will be necessary to raise the retirement age and cut benefits.

Advocating positions that are popular among the public might seem like a recipe for lasting political success, but Douthat says that populism has several forces that undermine it.  One is "it often embraces bigotries and extremisms that in turn color the reception of its policies."  That would limit its appeal, but it had already appeared in the campaign and didn't prevent Trump from staying close enough to win the presidential election, or Republicans from winning clear majorities in both houses of Congress.  Another is incompetence and disregard for organization--that's definitely been on display over the last two weeks.  A third is that elites unite against it.  That would be the case in a healthy political culture, but the contemporary United States is not a healthy political culture:  Trump has encountered only mild criticism from Republicans in Congress (“We all get disappointed from time to time,” Mr. McConnell said. “I think it is best to avoid criticizing them [judges] individually.”)  Is there anything else that might hold a populist program back?  Some populist policies might not remain popular if there were a serious attempt to implement them.  For example, polls show a lot of support for an effort to deport all illegal immigrants, but if that actually happened there would be a lot of sympathetic cases, and support would probably decline.  Populist economic policies would be likely to lead to recession and possibly to inflation or shortages.  But it's unlikely that we will get to the point of implementing a populist economic program--Trump's administration seems to be divided, and almost all other Republicans are committed to cutting taxes and regulations on business--basically, an anti-populist program.  So on economics, I think the Trump administration is likely to get the worst of both worlds--bad economic performance because of protectionism and ad-hoc intervention and bad publicity because of measures that appear to (and do) benefit business at the expense of the public.

[Thanks to Robert Biggert for discussion of these issues.]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning from Trump

It's often said that Donald Trump did well among less educated voters because he seemed to care about them.  As Arthur Brooks put it, "like him or hate him, learn from him. Learn from him that there should be nobody who’s left behind. And that everybody should be treated with a sense of their own dignity."  Of course, Trump didn't treat "everybody" with dignity.  But if you take Brooks seriously but not literally, maybe Trump gave a large number of voters the sense that he was concerned about them.

A number of surveys have asked if various political figures "care about people like you."  Here are the figures for presidential candidates.  When possible, they are taken from surveys shortly before the election:

                   Cares        Doesn't
Trump               46%          54%    Nov 2016 (post-election)
H. Clinton          47%          51%    Aug 2016
Trump               37%          60%    Aug 2016
H. Clinton          46%          51%    May 2016
Trump               42%          55%    May 2016
H. Clinton          47%          52%    May 2015
Obama               61%          35%    Jan 2012
Obama               57%          41%    Oct 2011
Obama               66%          33%    Oct-Nov 2008
McCain              54%          44%    Oct-Nov 2008
GW Bush             50%          46%    Oct 2004
Kerry               54%          40%    Oct 2004
Dick Cheney         40%          50%    July 2004
GW Bush             51%          41%    Oct-Nov 2000
Gore                58%          34%    Oct-Nov 2000
GHW Bush            51%          39%    May 1991
Dukakis             55%          33%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            42%          48%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            52%          37%    Sept 1988
Reagan              56%          37%    Oct 1984
Mondale             70%          22%    Oct 1984
Carter              55%          32%    Nov 1979
Ford                47%          35%    July 1976
Carter              48%          22%    July 1976

Trump did not do well in terms of being seen as caring about "people like you"--in fact, he did worse that anyone else on the list, despite tough competition from Dick Cheney (it's not comprehensive, so I can't say it was the worst ever).   So what we can learn from Trump is that it's possible to win even if most voters think you don't care about people like them.

There are a couple of interesting patterns,  First, Democrats consistently are more likely to be seen as caring about "people like you."  Someone (I think Butler and Stokes, Political Change in Britain) observed that in Britain, Labour was seen as more concerned about ordinary people and the Conservatives as more effective.  Second, Hillary Clinton did poorly for a Democrat.  This seems to be specific to her rather than a downward trend for Democratic candidates.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Forgotten but not gone, part 2

Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting Democratic vs. Republican in presidential elections, 1936-2012.

The black line is from the data described in my last post; the red line is from the cumulative GSS.  The two sets of estimates for 1972-1992 should be exactly the same, since they both use GSS data (1968 was a combination of GSS and Gallup data).  They are not quite identical, so there must have been small differences in how I coded education or what I counted as missing data, but the differences are very small.  Over the whole period, there is a definite tendency for college education to shift in a pro-Democratic direction, but also a good deal of variation from one election the the next.
Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting.

The discrepancies are larger, but the trend is clear:  college education makes more difference as time goes on, and there isn't much variation from one election to the next.  Since voter turnout among people with college degrees is high, in practice this means declining turnout among people who didn't attend college.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Forgotten but not gone

In 1996, I compiled information on education, occupation, and vote in American presidential elections from 1936 to 1992.  The 1936-68 data was from Gallup polls.  In the early 1970s, Gallup stopped asking about occupation, but the General Social Survey appeared, so it was possible to continue the series.  I never published anything from this, and had forgotten about it until during this election campaign.  Remarkably, I not only still had the data, but had it in a form that could be read.  So here, at long last, is the estimated effect of higher education (college graduate=2, some college=1, high school or less=0) on Democratic vs. Republican voting, 1936-92:

The black line includes a control for race (and its interaction with election), but not occupation; the red includes a control for occupation (and its interaction with election).  The estimates with and without controls for occupation are not very different:  in both cases, the effect of education moves in a generally pro-Democratic direction over time.  At the beginning of the period, people with more education were more likely to Republican; by the end, there was little difference.  The 1972 election (Nixon vs. McGovern) stands out as the only one in which more educated people were substantially more likely to vote Democratic than less educated people.  We can take the history on from 1992 using exit polls (see this post).  In 1996-2012 the effect of education didn't change much, but in 2016 in moved in a pro-Democratic direction again.  The scales aren't really comparable, but the 2016 gap was much bigger than 1972.  In 1972, about 40 percent of whites with college degrees supported McGovern, against 33% of whites without college degrees, for a percentage difference of 7; in 2016, the percentage difference was about 18.
         The data I compiled also included non-voters.  Here is the estimated effect of college education on non-voting (vs. voting for any candidate):  again, black is without controls for occupation and red is with controls.

In 1936, college graduates were only slightly more likely to vote than people with no college, but the difference grew steadily.  Of course, you can't learn about non-voting from exit polls, but I believe that the difference has grown since then.  I may update the data using the GSS and see.

PS:  I just show the effect of higher education--the effect of differences in education up through high school graduate hardly changed at all over the period.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research; I should also acknowledge the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where I was a fellow when I compiled the data.]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

American carnage

According to Donald Trump's inaugural address yesterday, "the crime and gangs and drugs" are running rampant in America.  Does the public see it this way?  A couple of years ago, I had a post about perceived changes in the crime rate in "your area."  But perceived changes in the national crime rate are probably more relevant here.  Since 1989, the Gallup poll has frequently asked about whether crime in the United States is higher or lower than it was a year ago.  The figure shows a summary of responses (logarithm of the ratio of "higher" to "lower") to questions about the United States and "your area."
 Over the whole period, more people see crime as up in the nation than in their own area.  That's a common pattern--people generally see things close to them as being better than things far away.  But there has been very little change in perceptions at either level over the last ten years or so.  There are several things that seem like they might have led to a perception of increased crime in the nation--well-publicized terrorist incidents, protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, a real increase in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016--but there's no sign that they made much difference.

This is more evidence for something I said in a recent post:  Americans are not particularly angry or fearful now.  In my view, Trump won because of a combination of partisanship, popular positions on some issues [economic nationalism], and plain luck, not because he was particularly in tune with the "spirit of the age."

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What difference would it make?

In 1995, a survey sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Kaiser Foundation, and the Washington Post asked a series of questions about changes in "the quality of the air we breathe," "the share of Americans over 65 who live in poverty," "the difference in income between wealthy and middle-class Americans," the number of children who "grow up in singe-parent families," and "the rate of violent crime" over the last 20 years.  It then asked a randomly selected half of the sample about whether "federal programs helped to make things better, made things worse, or have they not had much effect either way"; the other half was asked about the effect "more effort and spending by the federal government would have" on each of the conditions.  The results are summarized below:

                 Change    Effect of gov't   Effect of more gov't
Air Quality
    Better        20%         47%             49%
    Worse         53%         13%              7%
    Same          25%         37%             42%

    Summary                  +34%            +42%

Poverty over 65
    Better       15%          23%             53%
    Worse        57%          32%             11%
    Same         24%          41%             33%

    Summary                   -9%            +42%

Income Differences
    Better       10%          10%             25%
    Worse        66%          50%             18%
    Same         22%          36%             53%

    Summary                  -40%             +7%

Single parent families
    Better        3%           10%            21%
    Worse        89%           39%            15%
    Same          7%           48%            59%

    Summary                   -29%            +6%

Violent Crime
    Better        2%            8%            43%
    Worse        91%           33%             9%
    Same          7%           56%            44%

    Summary                    -25%          +34% 

For each condition, the number who thought things had become worse was substantially larger than the number who thought things had improved.  It would be interesting to explore that further--is it something about people in general, or about Americans in particular--but I'll focus on the questions about government action.  For air quality, poverty among people over 65, and violent crime, the number who say that more government action would improve things is substantially larger than the number who say it would make things worse.  For the other two, difference between the rich and the poor and single-parent families, opinion is almost equally divided.  Air quality is the one issue on which more people see the government as having done good rather than harm.  The gap between rich and middle class is the one one which the balance of opinion is most negative.

   This relates to the evergreen question of why many low and moderate income people vote against their apparent interest in redistribution.  The most popular explanations among social scientists seem to be first, that people exaggerate the chances that they or their children will be rich someday, and second, that people are diverted by something else like "social issues" or ethnic loyalties.  I don't think that there's much truth in the first--most people seem to be pretty realistic about their chances of upward mobility (see this paper).  The second is a factor, and often an important factor.  But there's also another potential explanation, which hasn't gotten the attention it deserves--lack of confidence in what the government could or would do.  The puzzling thing is the big difference between reducing poverty among people over 65 and reducing differences between the rich and the poor--both of them involve redistributing income, but public opinion about the effect of trying to do that are very different.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How are things?

During and after the  2016 election campaign, many observers said that  there was widespread discontent with the way things were going.  For example, a Reuters story in late September said "Polls show an electorate hungry for change, with a majority believing the country is on the wrong track."  Donald Trump himself mentioned those polls:  "Seventy-five percent of the American people, based on all polls, think our country is headed on the wrong track."   He was exaggerating a bit, but it was a definite majority--about 60-65%.  

The question, "do you feel that things in this country are generally going in the right direction today, or do you feel that things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?" was first asked in 1971, and repeated a number of times in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Sometime in the middle of the 1980s, a lot of survey organizations adopted it, and since then it's been asked very frequently, probably over a thousand times.  (There have been some variations in question wording, but they don't seem to make much difference.)  I don't have time to transcribe that much data, so starting in 1982, I just considered the last poll before each Presidential or midterm election, plus polls from early September and late October 2001 in order to see the effect of the 9/11 attacks (which was a substantial increase in "right direction" answers).   The figure shows the difference between percent choosing "right direction" and percent choosing "wrong track" (usually between 5-10% aren't sure).

By historical standards, opinions in 2016 were not unusual.  In the last survey taken before the election, 31% chose "right direction" and 62% chose "wrong track," for a score of -31.  That was nowhere near the low of October 2008 (14% to 79% for -65).  There were obvious reasons for alarm then, but in October 1990, 19% chose "right direction" and 79% chose "wrong track."  It would be interesting to try to figure out what causes change in answers to the "right direction/wrong track" question, but at this point I just want to observe that in 2016 the American public was not especially discontented about how things were going in the country.

Since Trump is so different from previous presidents, it's natural to think that his election must result from some profound discontent in the public.  But for a lot of voters, as I've said in a number of previous posts, I think it was just another election between a Republican and a Democrat (and a Democrat who was strongly identified with the party, making it hard for her to pick up Republican votes).  The basic circumstances were favorable to the Republicans--the economy was OK but not great, and the Democrats had been in office for two terms.  Trump got only 45.95% of the vote, less than what Mitt Romney got in 2012 and only 0.3% more than what John McCain got in 2008, suggesting that he cost the party a significant number of votes.

The fact that Trump got the Republican nomination may indicate that there was profound discontent among Republicans, at least those who vote in the primaries.  But Americans in general weren't especially discontented--it's normal for a majority to say that things are on the wrong track.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Stay in school?

In December 2013, a Gallup News Service Poll asked "How important is a college education today -- very important, fairly important, or not too important?" 69% said very important, 24% fairly important, and 7% said not important.  While idly looking at a few crosstabulations, I noticed that there were differences by party:  among Democrats, it was 78%-19%-2%; among Republicans, 62%, 28%, and 9%.  Looking at other political questions, a definite pattern appeared.  For example, there were questions about whether you had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Tea Party movement

                                                                     Percent with favorable opinion of
                                             Obama            Democrats       Republicans      Tea Party
Very important                        51                     44                     32                  28
Fairly important                      37                     30                     33                  37
not too important                    16                      13                     31                  55

People who thought education was less important were considerably less favorable towards Obama and the Democratic Party, and more favorable to the Tea Party movement, but not to the Republican Party.

There were also questions about whether people were satisfied with how things were going in the country and in their personal lives.  22% of the people who said very important, 20% of those who said fairly important, and 3% (yes, 3%) of those who said not too important were satisfied with how things were going in the country.  With personal life, they distinguished degrees of satisfaction, and the results were :

                           Very Satisfied    Somewhat satisfied    S. dissatisfied   V. dissatisfied
Very Important            54%                      28%                              6%                    11%
Fairly important          50%                      31%                              5%                    13%
Not too important        26%                      44%                            18%                    12%

So people who think that college is less important tend to be disgruntled conservatives--they don't like the Democrats, but aren't especially keen on the Republicans, and think that things in general are going badly.  The one thing that they like is the outside political movement--the Tea Party.

This is starting to sound like the standard image of Trump voters, and in fact demographically there are parallels with Trump supporters--less educated, mostly men, and more likely to be white.  (There was no clear difference by income).  So something interesting is going on.    If the question asked about how important education should be, I could offer an explanation for a connection:  people who resented the importance of educational credentials, and thought that willingness to work hard or practical experience should be more important would be dissatisfied and attracted to a populist movement like the Tea Party.  But it asks about how important education is, which seems more neutral.  Maybe some people are answering in terms of "ought" rather than "is," despite the wording.  But a few years ago, I noted that people who said that hard work or saving and spending decisions were the most important factors for getting ahead were more conservative than people who said education was most important.  That suggests that views of the way that things actually work makes a difference.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]