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.      

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]