Wednesday, December 20, 2017


My post on confidence in institutions used data from the Gallup Polls.  The General Social Survey also has some questions about confidence in institutions, which are introduced by:  "I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them?"  One of the institutions is the military.  I compared changes the GSS and Gallup questions; since the response scales are different, I standardized both:
 They track each other closely--the correlation is about 0.9.  There seems to be some discrepancy in the 1970s and early 1980s--confidence according the Gallup question (which just asks about the institution) is low relative to confidence according to the GSS question.  Or you could say that confidence in the military has increased somewhat more than confidence in "the people running" the military.  However, this is a secondary issue--basically, they are good substitutes for each other.  (Better than I expected--I thought people might make more distinction between the military and the people running the military).

What makes the comparison particularly interesting is the first two points labelled "GSS"--they aren't actually from the GSS, but from the Harris Poll, which introduced the question in 1966 and asked it again in 1971, before Gallup started their question.  There was a large drop in confidence in that five year period--after forty years of increase, we are not yet back to the 1966 level.  Vietnam is the obvious explanation for the drop, but Harris asked about a number of other institutions, and most of them also saw large declines in confidence.  Unfortunately the data from 1966 and 1971 do not seem to have survived, but I was able to find data from Harris Polls in 1967 and 1972 which included the confidence questions, and I will write about them in a future post.  Since the semester is finally over, the "future" might even be the near future.
Note:  the figures for the Harris data were obtained from Lipset and Schneider, The Confidence Gap, and an article by Everett Ladd in the 1976-7 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly.

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