Wednesday, April 18, 2018

All the lonely people

A couple of days ago, David Brooks had a column in which he wrote "In the 1980s, 20 percent of Americans said they were often lonely. Now it’s 40 percent."    I've seen research on changes in the number and type of ties among people, but I didn't know of anything on feelings of loneliness, so I tried to investigate further.  Brooks didn't provide a link to his source, but a Google search showed other articles making the same claim.  The source of the 40% figure seems to be a survey of people aged 45 and over sponsored by the AARP in 2010.  However, the report of that survey didn't say anything about changes in loneliness.

There is a question that has been asked in a number of surveys asking people if they had felt "very lonely or remote from other people" in the past few weeks.  The percent saying they had:

Nov 1963    28%
June 1965   26%
Jan 1981     17%
May 1990   19%
Sept 2001   26%
Dec 2001    24%

That doesn't look like any kind of trend.  The numbers in the 1981 and 1990 are lower, but they were in surveys taken by Gallup, and the others were by NORC, so that may be a factor.  Unfortunately, the question hasn't been asked since 2001.

I searched Google scholar for papers about trends in loneliness, and found one from 2014 entitled "Declining Loneliness Over Time:  Evidence From American Colleges and High Schools" .  It was based on surveys at various colleges and universities and on the Monitoring the Future Survey, a representative survey of high school students that has been conducted since the 1970.  It mentioned that other literature claimed that loneliness had increased, but I checked the sources they cited and they didn't provide any evidence--they just said it had, or cited research that wasn't really relevant.

It's possible that I missed something, but I doubt that there is any actual evidence that feelings of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.  My guess is that the claim is based on a widely cited paper published in 2006, "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades," which found that the percentage of people saying that in the last six months they had not "discussed matters important to you" with anyone went from 10% in 1985 to 25% in 2004.  They called this "social isolation," which sounds more or less equivalent to "loneliness," so you can see how one would turn into the other.  The change in discussion networks for "important matters" is interesting, if it happened (as the authors acknowledge, it might be at least partly an artifact of survey procedures), but it's not necessarily the same as a change in feelings of loneliness.

Two observations:
1.  It's remarkable that online editions of newspapers and magazines haven't developed reasonable conventions about when to include links to a source.  I checked five or six articles, all in well-regarded publications, which included the claim that levels of loneliness had doubled.  Only one provided a link:  that was to the AARP survey report, which didn't support the claim.
2.  There are cases when you can't say much about trends because there are recent survey questions, but no older ones.  This isn't one of them:  in addition to the "very lonely or remote," there was a 1964 survey asking people to agree or disagree with the statement "I often feel quite lonely" (27% did), and a 1990 Gallup Poll asking "How often do you ever feel lonely?" (10% frequently, 26% sometimes, 40% seldom, and 23% never) and a number of related questions.  There is also a Gallup question from 1950:  "When you have personal problems, do you like to discuss them with anyone to help clear them up, or not?" and a follow-up about who you discuss them with.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Is 80% a lot?

I was going to post on another subject, but things turned out to be more complicated than I thought, so here is a stopgap.  The Washington Post has a story about how Republican senate candidates are emphasizing their closeness to Donald Trump.  Although it offers some qualifications, it says that a major reason is that "Trump enjoys enormous popularity among Republican primary voters."  According to the most recent Gallup Polls, 85% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing.  How impressive is that?  Between June 1, 2017 and today, Trump's approval rating among Republicans has ranged from 79% to 87%.  Between June 1, 2009 and April 2010, Obama's approval ratings among Democrats ranged from 81% to 92%; between June 1, 2005 and April 2006, George Bush's approval rating among Republicans ranged from 75% to 89%.  That is, it's normal for a President to have "enormous" approval among people who identify with his own party. 

Only 7% of Democrats say that they approve of the job Trump is doing as President, but that's also normal.  Things get more interesting among Independents:  Trump has ranged from 30% to 33% approval (currently at 33%).  Obama ranged from 43% to 60% (in early April 2010 he was at 43%), and Bush from 23% to 45% (26% in early April 2006)

Overall, 41% approve of Trump's performance in the latest Gallup Polls, 47% approved of Obama at the equivalent time in his first term, and 37% approved of Bush at the equivalent in his second term.  The difference in overall popularity was concentrated among Independents.  Probably some of that is people switching from saying that they support a party to saying that they are independent.  It could be my memory, but I don't recall that Democrats were making efforts to tie themselves to Obama in spring 2010 or Republicans making efforts to tie themselves to Bush in 2006--in fact, they seemed to be going the other way and emphasizing their independence and commitment to do what's best for their state, which is a sensible strategy when your president is not especially popular. 

Why are candidates trying to move closer to an unpopular president?  I think that they are buying into the story that Trump has a particularly strong connection to "the base."  In my view, what actually happened was that once Trump got the nomination he benefited from party loyalty (and even more important, from dislike of the Democrats).    I've had several posts (especially this one) noting that there is no evidence that Trump voters were unusually enthusiastic. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


In my last post, I wrote about a piece by Thomas Edsall reviewing research that shows a large and increasing connection between "authoritarianism" and Republican voting.  Authoritarianism is measured by "a long-established authoritarian scale — based on four survey questions about which childhood traits parents would like to see in their offspring ..... Those respondents who choose respect for elders, good manners, obedience and being well-behaved are rated more authoritarian."  This scale measures something meaningful, but why call it "authoritarianism" rather than "traditionalism" or maybe even "conservativism"?  The basic idea of the "authoritarian personality," as proposed by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford, was that it was different from ordinary conservatism, and that an authoritarian conservative could appeal to people who didn't normally support conservatives (and repel some people who normally did)*.  Their idea of authoritarianism was complicated, but I would say that the essence is a tendency to say that every problem is the result of evil or contemptible behavior that ought to be punished (and sometimes to imagine problems so that you have an opportunity to blame someone).  This idea seems very relevant to Donald Trump--as Andrew Gelman said "Political scientists used to worry about authoritarianism within the electorate. Mainstream politicians, ranging from Republicans on the far right to lefties such as Sanders, tend not to go there. Trump did." 

The Authoritarian Personality team came up with questions that they thought measured the concept, some of which were used in surveys in the 1950s and 1960s.  One by the National Opinion Research Center included the following agree/disagree items:
"The most important thing to teach children is absolute obedience to their parents"
"Any good leader should be strict with people under him in order to gain their respect"
"Prison is too good for sex criminals.  They should be publicly whipped or worse"
"There are two kinds of people in the world:  the weak and the strong"
"No decent man can respect a woman who has had sex relations before marriage"

The survey also had a question asking if various kinds of people "are taking advantage of present conditions to make money."  The Korean War had started that summer, so I guess that was the "present conditions" they were talking about.  For ten of the twelve groups they asked about, people who said a good leader should be strict were more likely to say that they were taking advantage of conditions; for seven of those ten, the difference was statistically significant.  Those seven were Negroes, grocery store keepers, doctors, Puerto Ricans in the United States, Jews, bankers, and Catholics.  The three on which there was a non-significant difference in that direction were Labor union members, Protestants, and car dealers.  The two for which the difference was in the other direction (in both cases very small and nowhere near statistical significance) were farmers and steel companies.  The "authoritarian" answer was more common among less educated people, but controlling for education didn't change this the basic pattern--in most cases, it increased the t-ratios. 

So it does seem that an "authoritarian" answer on this question went along with a tendency to blame.  Of course, in some cases, it was plausible to say that a group was trying to make money--maybe grocery stores had raised prices.  But it's hard to imagine a reasonable argument that groups like Catholics or blacks were  doing that. 

The other questions had approximately the same pattern of correlations, but it was weaker and generally not statistically significant.  Some of those questions are dated or just don't seem very good in principle.  But maybe the "leader should be strict" question deserves to be revived.  It's not enough by itself, but it seems to be getting at something. 

*There has been some controversy about whether left-wing authoritarians exist; my view is that they do.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, April 6, 2018

Social science repeats itself

Thomas Edsall has a piece in which he cites a variety of work saying that Democratic and Republican voters are increasingly divided by values.  He's particularly concerned with "authoritarianism," which is an interesting issue, but one I'll save for another post.  What I want to talk about here is the idea that the recent rise in political polarization is the result of a rise of "cultural and lifestyle politics" at the expense of economic issues.  The reasoning is that it's easier to compromise on economics, on which you can split the difference, than on cultural issues, which involve principles of right and wrong.  The idea that culture has been displacing economics as the main axis of political conflict been around for about fifty years--it was first proposed in response to the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I think it has value (although with some qualifications which I discuss in this paper), but I don't see how it can explain the rising polarization of the last decade or so.  In that time, the single most divisive issue in American politics has probably been the Affordable Care Act.  This is basically an economic policy, and a very complicated one involving a lot of technical issues--that is, exactly the kind of issue where it seems you could make deals, offering a concession here in return for getting something  there.  The second most divisive issue has probably been the combination of bailouts, tax changes, and stimulus spending that gave birth to the Tea Party:  another complicated set of economic policies that seemed to offer lots of room for compromise.  Meanwhile, some leading cultural issues have faded.  For example, same-sex marriage is widely accepted--even people who aren't enthusiastic about it have mostly given up the fight.  Another example involves drugs:  a consensus seems to be developing in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, and the rise in opioid abuse has been treated as a public health problem rather than producing a "moral panic." 

What I think these examples show is that both economic and cultural issues can be more or less "moralized."  There was a period in the middle of the 20th century when leading politicians of both left and right accepted the basic principles of the welfare state and government intervention to maintain high employment.  But that consensus had not been around before then, and it isn't around now.  Now issues that were once part of what Seymour Martin Lipset called "the politics of collective bargaining" are part of the "culture wars."

Saturday, March 31, 2018

You've got questions

A comment on my previous post asked about the percent of people rating the parties at 100.  Here is the figure:

There is no clear trend for either.  Although it may not be evident from the figure, there is a positive correlation (about 0.25) between the percent rating each party at 100.  If you add them together to get an index of positive feelings about the parties, you get:

This tracks general confidence in government reasonably well.  It rose in the 1980s, then declined until 1994, then rose into the early 21st century, and then declined.  It was relatively high in 2008, presumably because Obama's nomination increased good feelings about the Democrats.

If you calculate the difference between percent rating the parties at 100 and 0, you get:

So the kind of partisan polarization that has grown isn't a matter of enthusiastic support for one's own party, but dislike or fear of the other party.

1.  For this post and the previous post, I used the online data analysis system SDA, which lets anyone do basic analysis of the GSS and ANES.  I have a link to it in the data sources section.
2.  In 2012, Shanto Iyengar, Gaurav Sood, Yphtach Lelkes  published an article entitled "Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization," which argued that contemporary partisan polarization was based primarily on feelings of dislike rather than ideology.  I thought it was pretty convincing when I first read it and this analysis has made me more convinced.

Friday, March 30, 2018

We have met the enemy and they are you

Since 1978, the American National Election Studies has asked people to rate the Democratic and Republican parties on a scale of 0-100 ("When I read the name of a group, we'd like you to rate it with what we call a feeling thermometer.  Ratings between 50 degrees-100 degrees mean that you feel favorably and warm toward the group; ratings between 0 and 50 degrees mean that you don't feel favorably towards the group and that you don't care too much for that group.  If you don't feel particularly warm or cold toward a group you would rate them at 50 degrees").  Here is a figure showing the percentage who give each party the lowest possible rating:

It has risen for both parties.  For example, in 1979, 1.7% of people rated the Democrats at zero and 4.2% rated the Republicans at zero; in 2016 the corresponding figures were 11.2% and 11.4%.  I also calculated the individual-level correlation between ratings of the Democratic and Republican parties--that is, the extent to which people who felt favorably towards one party felt unfavorably towards the other. 

The correlations are negative, so the downward slope means that the relationship is getting stronger.

You can combine the three measures (with a principal components analysis) to get a general measure of partisan polarization.

There is an upward trend, and it seems to have become stronger in the 21st century.  An interesting thing is that it doesn't track trust in government (discussed in this post) all that closely.  However, confidence in many institutions has followed a general downward trend (this post).   Of course, a lot of things have followed a trend since the 1970s, but it seems plausible in principle that polarization could cause or reflect declining confidence in institutions. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What if he couldn't?

About a week ago, Richard Kahlenberg had a piece in the New York Times in which he held up Robert Kennedy as a model of "inclusive populism."  He concluded by saying "If Robert Kennedy, the civil rights champion, could attract Wallace voters at a time of national chaos, surely the right progressive candidate with the right message could bring a significant portion of the Obama-Trump voters back home."  I had a recent post where I talked about the idea that Kennedy had a special appeal to Wallace's supporters, but in looking back at it I realized I downplayed the basic point.  This table shows it:

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                36.2%      39.7%     39.1%
Democrat          39.0%      35.4%     35.0%
Wallace            16.2%       16.7%     16.0%
Undecided         8.5%         8.3%       9.9%

Wallace got 16.2% in a hypothetical three-way contest with Humphrey as the Democratic nominee, 16.7% with Kennedy, and 16.0% with McCarthy.  That is, support for Wallace was essentially the same with all of the hypothetical Democratic nominees (actually a little higher with Kennedy). 

What if we set the South aside?

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                41.1%      44.4%     42.8%
Democrat          39.9%      37.4%     37.9%
Wallace             10.5%       10.5%     10.3%
Undecided         8.3%         7.7%       9.0%

Once again, Wallace's support was just about equal in all of the hypothetical races.

So there's no evidence that Kennedy actually could attract Wallace supporters any more than Humphrey or even Eugene McCarthy could.  What did seem to matter was the Republican candidate.  In this survey, when they asked about hypothetical races involving Nelson Rockefeller, Wallace consistently did less well than in races involving Nixon.  In a survey taken a couple of weeks before, Wallace consistently did better in contests involving Rockefeller than in those involving Nixon.  I have no idea why there would be a change involving Nixon and Rockefeller in those few weeks, but the pattern suggests that Wallace supporters had become disenchanted with the Democrats, and the only question was whether they would vote for the Republican or for Wallace. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The people, maybe

In 1964, a survey conducted by the Gallup Poll asked "In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions--a very great deal, a good deal, not very much, or none at all?"  Starting in 1997, the question has occasionally been included in Pew surveys, most recently in March 2016.    A similar question, "How much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making choices on Election Day?" has appeared several times between 1998 and 2016.  The figure below shows average responses (higher numbers mean more trust and confidence), with different colors indicating the different forms:

Confidence in the wisdom of the people was only slightly lower through 2006 than it had been in the 1964, but fell sharply between 2006 and 2015.  This pattern is in contrast with confidence in most institutions, which has declined pretty steadily since the 1970s, as discussed in this post (maybe with a bigger drop from the 1960s to the 1970s, as discussed in this one).  It would be tempting to say the decline was a response to the rise of Trump, but the average in a survey from September 2015, when the campaign for the Republican nomination was just getting started, and March 2016, when he was moving toward the nomination, were almost exactly the same.  So in terms of this question, he seems to have been a symptom more than a cause.

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Everyone is right, sort of

In the last couple of months, Donald Trump has been boasting that "Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!"  At the same time, a report from the Economic Policy Institute says that black unemployment is higher than it was fifty years ago.  The figures for black unemployment, which I got via FRED, start in January 1972.  The 6.8% in December 2017 is indeed the lowest since those records began (the previous low was 7.0% in April 2000). 

The EPI numbers refer to unemployment for "black and other," and were 6.7% in 1968 and 6.4% in 1969 (they give a link to the table).  Like the figures on unemployment among blacks, they are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the question is how much difference including "other" makes.  They report both "black and other" and "black" for 1972, and "black" is 0.4% higher (10.4% vs. 10%).  If you estimate unemployment among blacks in 1968 and 1969 by adding 0.3 or 0.4, it was about the same as it is today.

Of course, white unemployment is low now and was low in the late 1960s, so if you are interested in racial differences, the thing to look at is the ratio of black unemployment rate to white unemployment rate.

The ratio bounces around from one month to the next, presumably mostly because of sampling error, so I also show a 23-month moving average in red (chosen because it seemed to give a reasonable balance between simplicity and detail).  It seems like the ratio increased somewhat through the late 1980s and then fell, leaving it just slightly lower at the end than the beginning.  Things are a bit more complicated than that, because the ratio tends to be higher when general unemployment is low, as it is now--if you adjust for that, there is more of a downward trend in the ratio.  Still, the trend is not as large as I would have expected given the narrowing of racial differences in education. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Protestant, Catholic, Jew .... and beyond?

Since the 1930s, the Gallup Poll has asked questions of the form "IF YOUR PARTY NOMINATED A GENERALLY WELL-QUALIFIED MAN FOR PRESIDENT AND HE HAPPENED TO BE _____, WOULD YOU VOTE FOR HIM?"  (Later they changed it to "person" and "that person.")  The figure shows the percent who said they would vote for a Catholic and a Jew:

Starting in the late 1990s, they have asked about "a generally well-qualified person who happened to be Jewish"--over 90% have said that they would.  In the late 1950s, the percent saying that they would vote for a Catholic was only a little higher than the percent saying they would vote for a Jew.  Since Catholics were about 25% of the population and Jews were about 3%, that suggests that among Protestants, willingness to vote for a Catholic was lower than willingness to vote for a Jew. 

In April 1960, the Gallup poll had a survey asking about hypothetical contests for President, including Kennedy vs. Nixon.  In that match, 46% said they would vote for Kennedy and 44% said Nixon.  Then they asked "As you may know, Kennedy is a Catholic in his religion.  Supposing Kennedy were NOT a Catholic—which man would you like to see win—Nixon or Kennedy?"  51% said Kennedy and 40% said Nixon.  In October 1960, they asked "AS YOU KNOW, SENATOR KENNEDY IS A CATHOLIC. HAS THIS FACT MADE YOU MORE IN FAVOR OF HIM, LESS IN FAVOR OF HIM, OR HASN'T IT MADE ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL? (Oct 1960)"  5% said more in favor and 19% said less in favor.  That is, Catholicism made a difference to voters in 1960, and it didn't take subtle techniques to detect it.

Starting in the late 1950s, Gallup also asked about voting for an atheist:

Willingness has grown, and it's now a little below willingness to vote for a Catholic or a Jew in the late 1950s.  I also show two from Time/CNN/Yankelovich surveys in the 1990s, which asked "Would you vote for a candidate for President who did not believe in God?" Those showed much lower support, although by a dictionary definition "did not believe in God" is weaker than "atheist," since it could be interpreted to include agnostics.  Unfortunately, those questions have not been repeated.  

In 2003, the question was asked about a Muslim for the first time--56% said they would.  In 2012, it was 58% and in 2015 it was 60%.  Given the short span of time and the sample sizes, it's hard to say if that's an upward trend.  In 2015, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll asked "Would you vote for a qualified Muslim for president?":  49% said they would, 40% said they would not.  

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, March 3, 2018


A lot of the coverage of Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum has talked about how this is a departure from the traditional Republican position.  For example, this story in the New York Times says  "Mr. Trump has strayed from the party’s traditional orthodoxy of embracing free and open markets," quotes Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Ben Sasse with critical remarks, and then Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) with a positive comment.  I've said it before, but it's worth saying again:  support for free trade is not a traditional Republican or conservative position.  For example, a 2008 Fortune/Abt SRBI poll asked people how they felt about a proposal to "Place high tariffs on goods coming from countries that produce low-priced goods so that American companies can compete with them."  60% of conservatives, 64% of moderates, and 57% of liberals said they were strongly or somewhat in favor.  The breakdown by party ID:  64% of Republicans, 59% of Democrats, and 66% of independents in favor.  That is, partisanship and ideology made little if any difference.

Education mattered:  68% of people with no college were in favor, compared to 52% of college graduates.  So did gender:  68% of women and 54% of men were in favor.   However, as I observed in my previous post, tariffs are pretty popular with all segments of the general public.  The groups that are strongly against them are elites, or more exactly professional and diplomatic elites, and people who listen to those elit

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another chance?

A Pew survey finding that 58% of Republicans say that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going has been getting a good deal of attention.  However, according to a Pew survey from 2016, there was no partisan difference among college graduates in views of of how useful their college education had been in giving them job opportunities and workplace skills (there was some difference in views about how useful it was for personal growth).  That reminded me of a post I had a few years ago about a survey that asked how important various factors were in getting ahead.  Liberals were more likely to rate "a good education" as important, while conservatives were more likely to choose hard work or saving and spending decisions.

I looked for more questions about the individual value of education, and found a CBS News survey from 2011 that asked "Would you go back to school to further your education if you could
do it for free?"  65% of those who had voted for Obama said yes, compared to 51% of those who had voted for McCain, and 79% of those who had not voted.  I thought that people who had less education would have more interest in going back to school, but there was no clear difference by educational level.  However, opinions were related to age gender, and race (older people, men, and non-Hispanic whites were less likely to say yes).  The Obama/McCain difference was still there, and just about as large, after controlling for those factors.*

So it seems like there is some ideological difference in views about the individual value of education.  That value is both economic and non-economic, but the strong negative association between age and interest in further education suggests that people were focusing on the economic benefit.  Like the survey I wrote about in my earlier post, this one suggests that people on the left are more likely to see education as important for success.  Combined with the results of the Pew survey, it seems that this is not because they think that educational institutions are more effective in teaching job skills, but presumably because they think you can make up for lack of education by other qualities.  (This happens to be something that Piketty speculated about in the talk mentioned in my previous post.)

*The Obama/non-voter difference was reduced and was not statistically significant--there's a lot of uncertainty because the number of reported nonvoters was fairly small.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The wrong question

Thomas Edsall had a piece in the New York Times asking "why democracy has failed to stem the growth of inequality."  Building on work by Thomas Piketty, he proposes that the answer can be found in the changing composition of Democratic and Republican voters.  In this account, educated people have shifted towards the Democrats because of their position on various "social issues."  Since educated people tend to have high incomes, they are not very interested in programs to help the poor:   "the highly educated constituency currently controlling the party has been ineffective in protecting the material interests of the less well off."  That means that people with low incomes have less reason to vote for the Democrats, so some of them shift to the Republicans, increasing the influence of educated voters in the Democratic party, and further weakening its support for equality.

In fact, spending to help people with low incomes has increased substantially during the period of rising inequality, as I discussed in a post in July.   The American state doesn't do as much for people with low incomes as many European states do, or as much as some people (including me) think it should, but it has "stemmed the growth of inequality" if you focus on the gap between the poor and the middle class.

The question we should be asking is why the government hasn't done much to limit the gains of those at the top.  The shift of college educated voters towards the Democrats doesn't help to answer this question.  Edsall notes that between "1988 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted income of college graduates increased by 16 percent and for those with advanced degrees by 42 percent."  However, almost all of these gains occurred before 2000--since then, average incomes at all educational levels have been flat, and only people at the very top of the income distribution have made substantial gains.  So the majority of both more and less educated people seem to have a material interest in redistributing the wealth at the top.  There has been very little discussion of why this hasn't happened, but I have considered it here and here.  One important factor is that people are not very aware of how high incomes are at the top end:  when people are asked how much the chief executive of a national corporation makes, the average estimate is only about $500,000.  The high incomes of celebrities and sports figures get a lot of publicity, but those of CEOs and people on Wall Street generally do not.  Another factor seems to be that people just don't like the idea of very high taxes on anyone (see my second paper for further discussion).  As a result, public opinion doesn't put much pressure on the government to redistribute income away from the top.  On the other side, politicians seem to be less concerned with bringing attention to business misconduct or excess than they used to--this may be because of the increased importance of corporate contributions and the chance of making a good living as a lobbyist if you lose office.  I was struck by how quickly the Equifax security breach dropped out of sight as an issue--in the 1970s or 1980s I think there would have been congressional hearings, pointed comments about the generous salaries of the people in charge and questions about what they did to justify those salaries, and calls for new regulations.  Instead it was in the news for a few days, and then everyone moved on (and Equifax stock started rising again).    This lack of publicity means companies don't face much pressure to limit the growth of top incomes.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Poor us

I July, I wrote about a question from 1999 about whether "other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States."  Agreement was substantially higher among the less educated, although it was high at all educational levels.  I have looked for later questions on the same issue and haven't found any, but I did find an earlier example, from a 1946 NORC survey.  People were asked "Do you think that this country's interests abroad are being well taken care of by the President and other government officials, or do you think other countries are taking advantage of us?"  The results by educational level:

                             care     Taken advantage    DK
Not HS grad         29%       53%                    18%
HS grad                32%       58%                    10%
Some college        40%       50%                    11%
College grad         51%       38%                    11%

Less educated people were substantially more likely to think we were being taken advantage of.  This wasn't a reflection of party loyalty:  the president in 1946 was a Democrat (Truman), and at that time less educated people were more likely to be Democrats. 

There was an open-ended question about which countries were taking advantage of us.  The most popular answers were the Soviet Union and Great Britain--for those countries, and most of the others, there was no clear difference by education.  They coded some answers as "all of them, that can--all of Europe,"  and less educated people were substantially more likely to give that answer.  You could say that a substantial number of less educated  people thought that someone was taking advantage of us, but weren't sure who it was.

Although 1946 was a long time ago, this attitude still seems to be common.  It's certainly a major element in Donald Trump's world-view.  I recently discovered the Trump Twitter Archive, which includes almost all of Trump's tweets since 2009.  There are a large number along these lines:

"Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect—and much worse.”  (2012)

"When will our nation's sacrifices  be respectfully appreciated? Iraq and Libya should reimburse us in oil." (2011)

"Boycott Mexico until they release our Marine. With all the money they get from the U.S., this should be an easy one. NO RESPECT!" (2014)  He was referring to an ex-Marine who had been convicted of bringing loaded guns into Mexico, a violation of their laws).

"Now a small country like Sudan tells Obama he can't send any more Marines.  We are a laughing stock."  (2012)

It's possible that the belief that your country is being taken advantage of is a general part of nationalism, but I believe that it's especially strong in the United States.  Our self-image is of being generous--helping to rebuild Germany and Japan after the Second World War, welcoming immigrants, trying to promote democracy.  The flip side of that is a feeling that other nations don't appreciate our sacrifices or are taking advantage of our good nature.  I think Trump's appeal to this sentiment helps to explain his support in the "working class" (ie less educated people). 

PS:  The Trump Twitter Archive also helps to show why his "economic populism" faded so quickly--it didn't exist until he started running for office.  Up through 2014, his tweets on economic issues were standard conservative stuff--government spending is too high, deficits "will turn America into Greece," the " Fed's recklessness is going to lead to record inflation."  Even after that, he didn't have that many tweets about departures from orthodoxy.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 2, 2018

The moment of truth

When journalists write stories about "working class whites" they may talk to factory or construction workers, but it they mention any survey data, it involves differences between more and less educated people.  That's because very few surveys now ask about occupation.  The American National Election Study still does, but it's an academic survey, so things take time.  The data for 2016 was released in May, but it didn't include the occupation variable.  But the occupation data has now been released, so now it is possible to distinguish between the effects of occupation and education. 

It's known that the gap between more and less educated (white) voters was substantially bigger in 2016 than it was in previous elections.  What about the gap between blue and white collar workers?  The ANES has a detailed classification, with about 90 different occupations.  I reduced this to six categories:  managers, professionals, other white collar or technical, protective services, supervisors, and manual workers.  "Protective services" is not usually distinguished as a separate class, but they are hard to place and Donald Trump often boasts about getting their support, so I made them a separate category.  Limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites, here is support for Republicans in 2012 and 2016 relative to manual workers.

                         2012    2016
Managers          -.18     -.49
Professionals    -.34     -.78
White collar     -.12      -16
Protective          .49      .23
Supervisors       .24      .10
Manual                 0         0

To approximately translate these into percentage differences, multiply by 25.  For example, the Republican vote among supervisors was about 6% higher than among manual workers in 2012.  One thing to notice that the "New Deal" pattern, where Democratic support was higher among manual workers than among the middle classes, is pretty much gone; Democratic support is now highest among professionals.  The other is that there seems to have been a change between 2012 and 2016:  manual workers moved towards the Republicans relative to all other classes (or all others moved towards the Democrats relative to manual workers).  

These comparisons do not control for education.  If you do that, the effect of having a college degree is about -.23 in 2012 and -.72 in 2016--that is, about three times as large (these are close the gaps shown in the exit polls).  What about occupation after talking account of  education?  The estimated shift of manual workers is less than half as large as it was before including the control, and not anywhere close to statistical significance (a t-ratio of about 0.8).  That is, the major change in voting patterns involved education, not occupation.  Or in everyday terms, the big change was not that working-class whites turned to Trump, but that less educated whites turned to Trump.  You could say that this is just an academic distinction, because working class voters tend to be less educated.  But education and occupation are different things--of course they are correlated, but a lot of people without college degrees have white collar occupations (see this post).  I have argued that the changes had more to do with Trump's (and maybe Clinton's) styles and with views of the nation than with appeals to economic interests, and the fact that the change in voting patterns primarily involved education and not occupation supports this interpretation.  

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Populism of the past

Today, "populism" is usually a negative term, basically meaning bombastic, authoritarian, and incompetent (this article is an example).  Things used to be different.  In 1972, Irving Kristol (a conservative) started an article by asking "What is populism and why is everyone suddenly saying such nice things about it?"  Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield (liberals) published a book called A Populist Manifesto which started from a similar point--that lots of people were calling themselves populists--before making a case for progressive populism.  They held up Robert Kennedy's 1968 campaign as a model for what they were proposing, and Eugene McCarthy's 1968 campaign as a sort of negative model.  The idea was that Kennedy tried to understand white working-class voters, while McCarthy ignored or dismissed their concerns. They said that if the Democrats followed McCarthy's example, the white working class would turn to people like Richard Nixon and George Wallace.  Similar claims are still made today--that if the Democrats had followed Robert Kennedy's example, they would have had more success in holding on to working-class voters.

In May 1968, a Gallup poll asked about hypothetical races between Nixon, Wallace, and the th(ree leading Democratic contenders, making it possible to compare the support for McCarthy and Kennedy. There were substantial differences--bigger than I expected.  First, Kennedy got 86% of the hypothetical vote among blacks, while McCarthy got only 46% (with 36% saying they'd vote for Nixon).   I don't know why McCarthy did so poorly--maybe it was because he had challenged Lyndon Johnson, who was still popular among blacks.   Because of this difference, I restricted the rest of the analysis to non-blacks.

McCarthy did substantially better than Kennedy among college graduates, although both of them ran behind Nixon (McCarthy trailed by 36%-50%, while Kennedy trailed by 19%-64%).  Kennedy did better among people without a high school diploma (who were almost 40% of the sample).  Income was measured with 11 categories, so it's more convenient to compute the mean income by vote.  The average income of Kennedy supporters was only a little higher than the average of Wallace supporters and undecideds, and substantially lower than that of Nixon supporters.  (The differences among Kennedy, Wallace, and undecideds were not statistically significant).  The average incomes of McCarthy supporters was closer to that of Nixon supporters than to either Wallace supporters or undecideds.

At that time, the Gallup poll asked about the occupation of the "chief wage earner."  McCarthy did considerably better among professionals and managers, and Kennedy did somewhat better among all of the other occupational groups.

So in terms of demographics, the Newfield/Greenfield account holds up.  But support for Wal]lace was almost exactly the same in the hypothetical race with Kennedy as in the one with McCarthy (actually a little higher with Kennedy).  That is, although Kennedy appealed to the kind of people who were inclined to support Wallace--less educated, lower incomes, lower-status occupations--he didn't seem to appeal to the people who were inclined to support Wallace.  86% of the people who said they'd support Wallace in a three-way race involving McCarthy said they'd support him in a three-way race involving Kennedy.  There was considerably more movement between Nixon and the possible Democratic nominees.

Kennedy and McCarthy didn't do as well as Humphrey in a hypothetical three-way race--I wouldn't put much weight on that, simply because people may have been more familiar with Humphrey.*  But McCarthy did a little better than Kennedy among whites, almost exactly balancing Kennedy's advantage among blacks. So it looks like Kennedy would have attracted different voters, but not necessarily more voters.

*In terms of demographics, Humphrey's support was in between Kennedy's and McCarthy's.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Family or skills?

I've written about public opinion on several aspects of immigration, but there is one that I haven't considered:  whether decisions about who to admit should give more weight to "merit." This issue also hasn't received much attention in surveys, but in 2007, 2013, and 2017, there was a relevant question:  "When the US government is deciding which immigrants to admit to this country, should priority be given to people who have family members already living in the US, or should priority be given to people based on education, job skills and work experience?"  The overall distribution of opinions:

                   Family    Work
2007             34%         51%
2013             28%         59%
2017             44%         46%

The difference between times is statistically significant.  There also are shifts in the relation with partisanship--I show the percent saying family minus the percent saying education, skills, and experience:

                   R            D     I
2007           -29         0     -22
2013           -30      -25     -38
2017           -29     +20       -3

Republicans were almost exactly the same at all three times, but Democrats and Independents moved towards education and skills between 2007 and 2013 and then towards family between 2013 and 2017.  Another way to put it is that there were moderate differences by party in 2007, small differences in 2013, and large differences in 2017. 

I don't remember if immigration policy was particularly in the news in May 2007 or April 2013, but in August 2017 the Cotton-Perdue bill, which would shift the priority away from family ties and towards skills, had just been introduced.  My guess is that Democrats and independents were reacting against the proposal, but that raises the question of why Republicans didn't move in favor of education and skills.  It may be because Donald Trump hadn't emphasized the issue in his campaign or his presidency up to that point--he'd focused on illegal immigration and vetting for terrorist sympathies.  So Democrats may have been more sensitive to proposed changes. 

In the last few months, Trump has started pushing for changes in immigration law; ending "chain migration" and the "lottery system" have become two of his favorite twitter themes.  So if this question is asked in the near future, I think Republicans will shift in favor of skills, and Democrats and Independents will shift further against it.  I also think that overall support for skills will decline, because Trump's remarks last week linked the issue to race in the public mind.  A shift to skills would almost certainly shift the composition of immigrants towards whites.  However, although the idea of a skill-based system had been discussed by people who were interested in public policy, it hadn't received a lot of news coverage, so the average person answering the question probably didn't think about this implication.  Blacks were more likely than whites to favor family ties, but the difference was small (43.5% vs. 36%).  But after last week, race will be the first thing that many people think about; maybe his base will move towards favoring skills, but blacks, Hispanics, and many whites will move in the other direction. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"People love me. . . . Everybody loves me"

I've had several posts questioning the claim Donald Trump had a strong connection to the public (this one, for example).  But what if we focus on less educated people (often miscalled the "working class"), who did vote for him in large numbers?  A Pew survey in October 2016 asked if Donald Trump would be a great, good, average, poor, or terrible president if elected, and asked the same question about Hillary Clinton.  The averages by education (some college or less vs. degree or more), with great=5....terrible=1.

                              No degree       degree
Trump                        2.49              2.09
Clinton                       2.56              3.03

There was little difference among people without a college degree, but Clinton rated a little higher.  She was much higher among people with a college degree.

The same question had also been asked in a survey from April 2011, which asked about some people who were being mentioned as possible candidates for the Republican nomination.  That group happened to include Donald Trump.

                              No degree       degree

Trump                         2.56            2.10
Romney                      3.08            3.04
Palin                           2.51            2.10
Huckabee                   3.20            2.80
Ron Paul                    2.82            2.61
Gingrich                    2.68            2.46
Bachmann                 2.66            2.38

            Despite everything that happened between April 2011 and October 2016, the average assessment of Donald Trump among both educational groups was almost the same at the two times.  All of the potential Republican candidates got higher ratings from less educated people--the difference was small for Romney, but large for Trump and several others.\

\In December 2007, the same question was asked about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

                             No degree       degree

Obama                       3.27            3.44
Clinton                       3.14            3.08

Clinton's rating among college graduates was about the same in 2007 and 2016, but her rating among people without a college degree dropped substantially.  What happened?  My first thought is that the accumulation of scandals or quasi-scandals might have had more impact on less educated voters, who might pay more attention to personality than ideology.  I also have the impression that her association with Bill Clinton's administration, a period of declining unemployment and even wage growth, counted for more in 2008 than in 2016, partly because it was more recent then and partly because her time as Secretary of State intervened. 

But the overall point is that Trump's success in 2016 was more about the weakness of the opposition than about any positive appeal.  Of course, he had a lot enthusiastic supporters--in a country of 320 million, even a small minority can be a lot of people.  But the public as a whole, and even the less educated part of the public as a whole, were not that enthusiastic.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What have reformicons learned?

Ross Douthat has a column called "What has Mitt Romney learned?"  The idea is that Romney's opposition to Trump is praiseworthy, but that he had helped to pave the way for Trump by running as a traditional pro-business conservative in 2012 and making no effort to offer anything to the working class.  It all seemed reasonable until this passage near the end "there is a small caucus in the Republican Party for a different way, for a conservatism that seeks to cure itself of Romney Disease by becoming genuinely pro-worker . . . It basically consists of Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of (ahem) Utah, plus perhaps Arkansas’s Tom Cotton and a few other figures ..."

Rubio ran for the Republican nomination in 2015-6.  He got lots of media coverage and seemed to be well financed, but didn't get many votes.  Those that he got weren't mainly from the working class, but from "establishment Republicans."  That is, when working class voters were offered a choice between the leading "pro-worker conservative" and Donald Trump, they unhesitatingly went for Donald Trump.  I don't find this hard to understand--if you read the elite media, you knew that Rubio was supposed to be a reform conservative, but in the debates he was just one more guy talking about how conservative he was and how Hillary Clinton would do irreversible harm to the America we knew and loved.  

What would a pro-worker conservatism be like?  Douthat links to a piece by Pete Spiliakos, which says that the problem with the recent tax bill is that its benefits are skewed towards high earners, with too little going to the middle and working classes--in other words, exactly what Democrats are saying.  A reasonable short definition of the difference between left and right on economic issues is that the left is in favor of using the power of the state to help people with low and moderate incomes at the expense of people with high incomes, and that the right opposes that.  So a pro-worker conservatism would have to involve some move to the left, because being pro-worker is a basic principle of the left.  Of course, it could involve more than that--for example, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit but cutting back on the minimum wage, or reducing occupational licensing--but it can't avoid it entirely.  

However, as I have observed before, both politicians and intellectuals in the Republican party seem to be consumed by the desire to prove how conservative they are, and how strongly they oppose progressivism and all of its works.  With politicians, this means that if someone compromises, he or she is vulnerable to being pushed out by someone who promises to take an even harder line.  With intellectuals, it means that even those who want reform assume that any reform has to come from the right and therefore convince themselves that people like Rubio, Lee, and Cotton might be the answer.  The result is that both establishment and reform conservatism are ineffectual.