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]

1 comment:

  1. No one likes us-I don't know why
    We may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try
    But all around, even our old friends put us down
    Let's drop the big one and see what happens

    We give them money-but are they grateful?
    No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
    They don't respect us-so let's surprise them
    We'll drop the big one and pulverize them.