Saturday, March 2, 2024

The secret of success

 In 1939, the Gallup poll asked "Do you think people who are successful get ahead largely because of their luck or largely because of their ability?"  They asked the question again in 1970, and CBS news asked it in March and September 2016.  

                Luck         Ability        DK/NA
1939         16%            80%           4%
1970           8%            86%           6%
3/2016       14%            81%          6%
9/2016       11%            80%           6%

At each time, overwhelming majorities said that ability was the major cause.  That's important in itself, but differences by social standing are also of interest.  The 1939 survey contained an interviewer rating of economic standing, and people who ranked higher were more likely to say that ability was what mattered.  The 1970 and 2016 surveys didn't have the interviewer rating, so that can't be used for comparison, but both the 1939 and 1970 surveys asked about occupation, so you can compare occupational differences:

The figure shows the log of the odds ratio of ability to luck answers by occupational group.  I classified the occupations as higher to lower:  business and professionals, then farmers and white collar workers, then skilled manual workers, with semi- and unskilled manual workers at the bottom.  At both times, people in "higher" occupations were more likely to say ability, but the relationship seems weaker in 1970--the estimated slope is about 1/2 to 2/3 as large, and there is more scatter around the line.  

The 2016 survey didn't ask about occupation, but it did ask about income, which can be used to compare it to 1970.  Of course, the income categories were different, but there happened to be 11 each time, so to keep things simple I'll just number them as 1 through 11.

There was a clear relationship in 1970--people with higher incomes are more likely to say that success depends on ability--but not in 2016.  

Over the whole period, the relationship between social standing and opinions about the cause of success has become weaker, and maybe even disappeared.  Rather than looking down on the working classes, as critiques of "meritocracy" claim, people in the upper and middle classes have become less likely to assert their superiority.  I've argued this before, but didn't have such direct evidence.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research--with special thanks for obtaining the 2016 survey]

Sunday, February 25, 2024

You never know

 A few weeks ago, I wrote about a claim that "only about four percent of all marriages today are between a Republican and a Democrat."  I gave some results from surveys that asked people how their spouses voted, but mentioned that in some cases people might be mistaken.  There aren't many surveys that ask members of couples separately about their votes, but I found one from 1993 by Nancy Burns, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba (data in ICPSR).  Among couples in which both members voted in the 1992 presidential election, 76% voted for the same candidate and 24% split their votes.  Of course, that election was unusual because an independent candidate (Ross Perot) got a large number of votes.  Limiting it to Bush and Clinton, 67% voted for the same candidate, and 7% split their votes.  

The survey didn't ask people how they thought their spouse voted for President, but they did ask whether they disagreed on any race.  In 47% of the couples, both said no, and in 22% both said yes.  In the other 31%, one partner thought that they didn't disagree on any races and one thought they did.  Breaking votes for president down by perceived disagreement:

                                 Same            Different

Both No                   96%              4%                      [89%-0%]
Split                         68%              32%                    [60%-15%]
Both yes                   46%              54%                    [32%-12%]

The figures in brackets are limited to Bush and Clinton votes.  Looking at it another way, almost half of the split votes, and more than half of the Bush/Clinton split votes, came from couples in which one member thought that they agreed on all the races (there were no clear gender differences in accuracy of perception).  

Although the data are old, I think that the general point is still relevant--if there's ambiguity, people tend to assume that their friends and family vote the same way that they do.  It's possible that increased political polarization has made people pay more attention to evidence about what their friends and family actually think, but it's also possible that it's made people more likely to avoid political discussions and more likely to assume that reasonable people agree with them.  

Friday, February 16, 2024

Two nations?

 A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had a piece on the upcoming election that said "Red and Blue Americas are moving farther and farther apart geographically, philosophically, financially, educationally and informationally."  It went on to say "In 1960, about 4 percent of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party. By 2020, that had grown to nearly four in 10. Indeed, only about 4 percent of all marriages today are between a Republican and a Democrat."  I already wrote about the last point.  I think it refers to perceived voting differences from one's spouse (there aren't many political surveys which interview both members of a couple):  they are rare today, but were also rare in the previous years for which I had data (1944, 1960, and 1984).  This post will consider the hypothetical question about a child marrying someone from the other party.  This is a summary of all the relevant questions I could find:

Year                       Positive               Negative             Survey

1960                     14%                       4%                         Almond/Verba
2008                                                     24%                     YouGov               
2010                                                     41%                     YouGov
2014                     28%                       17%                       Pew
2017                                                     14%                      PRRI
2018                     69%                       35%                       PRRI     
2020                                                     38%                      YouGov

The three figures in boldface involve the same question:  the others all had different questions and different response categories.  Some of the surveys just asked one question about marrying someone from the other party, but others asked everyone two questions--one about marrying a Republican and one about marrying a Democrat.  For the ones with two questions, I also show positive responses--people who say they would be pleased if the hypothetical child marries in the party (rather than saying it wouldn't matter to them).  There's clearly been an increase in both positive and negative reactions, although the differences among the questions makes it hard to say much about its exact timing (I wish people had stuck with the 1960 question).

Why do we have stability with (perceived) party differences within actual marriages but increasingly negative reactions to party differences in a hypothetical marriage?  People generally know something about their spouse's political views (although there's undoubtedly a tendency to exaggerate agreement).  But with the hypothetical question, they have to come up with an idea of what an unspecified Democrat or Republican would be like.  The most likely source for that would be prominent Democratic or Republican political leaders.  In a time when ideological differences between parties were small and political leaders tried to show respect for the other side, that wouldn't seem so bad.  But with larger differences and more conflict between the parties, it would.  That is, increased objections to a hypothetical marriage to someone from the other party don't necessarily reflect increased social distance between Democrats and Republicans in the public--they could just reflect increased differences at the elite level.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 10, 2024

All together now?

 A few days after the 2008 election, a USA Today/Gallup poll asked "In dealing with the problems facing the country, do you think Barack Obama will make a sincere effort to work with the Republicans in Congress to find solutions that are acceptable to both parties?" and parallel questions about whether the Republicans would make a sincere effort to work with the Democrats and Obama and whether the Democrats would make a sincere effort to work with the Republicans.  In March and September 2009 they asked about whether the various parties had made a sincere effort to work with each other, and in February 2010 they asked about working together on health care reform.  They also asked the forward-looking questions after the 2010, 2012, and 2016 elections.  The figure shows the percent who said that Obama, the Democrats, the Republicans, or Trump would (or had) worked with the other party:

Obama consistently ran ahead of both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the Democrats were generally somewhat ahead of the Republicans, but they all rose and fell together.   In principle, you might expect that they would move in opposite directions at least some of the time:  that people would see one side as being obstructionist and give the other side credit for trying, but that didn't happen with any of these surveys.  Rather, the public seemed to blame both sides about equally when there was disagreement (if anything, Obama's ratings might have fallen more than the Congressional parties).  

I think this data helps to explain why Republicans turned against the Senate immigration deal.  If it had passed, Biden would have gotten some of the credit from the public, and most Republicans are unwilling to do anything that will make Biden more popular (several of them said as much).  A few years ago, I suggested that a strategy of uniform opposition had driven down Obama's popularity.   Republicans have continued with that under Biden.  Of course, there has been some important bipartisan legislation, like the American Rescue Plan Act, but they were mostly early in his term and my impression is that the Republicans have tried to avoid publicizing them.  It used to be that when popular legislation was passed on a bipartisan basis, both parties would talk about it and try to claim some of the credit.  But more recently, people seem to have realized that elections are more about the President than about Congress, so for an opposition party, denying credit to the President is more important than claiming credit for yourself.  And blocking potentially popular legislation might make your side less popular, but it will probably make the other side less popular as well.

A few other observations:

1.  The numbers expecting the parties to make a sincere effort to work with each other were higher than I expected. 
2.  Just after the 2016 election, 58% expected Trump to make an effort to work with the Democrats, which was somewhat ahead of the number who expected the Republicans in Congress to work with the Democrats.  That might be because in 2016, many people saw Trump as a "dealmaker" rather than a traditional conservative, or it may be that there is a tendency to have hopes for a new president.  
3.  It's not possible to be sure, but it seems that the questions that asked about the future produced more positive responses than those that asked about the past.
4.  Following from the previous points, it's unfortunate that this question hasn't been asked since 2016--I would like to see how expectations have changed.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 2, 2024

Republicans and reality

 If you go by the standard statistics, the economy is doing very well--unemployment remains low, inflation and interest rates are coming down, the stock market is rising.  Yet the public still isn't impressed, although ratings have been improving recently.  Paul Krugman suggests that the reason is politics--that Republicans have rated the economy as bad ever since Joe Biden took office, and have continued to do so even as economic conditions have improved.  He says that Republican "beliefs are nearly impervious to reality."  

The Michigan Consumer Surveys have a monthly "index of consumer sentiment" which goes back to the 1940s.  Since April 2017, they have regularly asked people about their party identification.  The figure shows consumer sentiment by party during the Trump administration:

There wasn't much variation among either Democrats or Republicans until Covid hit in early 2020 and ratings declined among both before rising a little in the fall.  I count January 2021 as the beginning of the Biden administration, so changes in the last two months are probably a response to the election results.  Through October 2020, the correlation between Democratic and Republican ratings is about 0.9.  

During the Biden administration:

Ratings diverged in the first few months and Democrats became more positive and Republicans became more negative--since the summer of 2021 they have tracked each other pretty closely.  Over the course of the Biden administration, the correlation has been about 0.75.  That is, Republicans and Democrats responded to reality in similar ways during both administrations (and to similar degrees--the standard deviations were about the same).  Of course, politics make a difference--Democrats were more favorable under Biden and Republicans were more favorable under Trump.  It's possible that the change of administration had more impact on Republicans--this seems to be the case for beliefs about crime rates and the prospects of the next generation.  But it's hard to say, because economic conditions also changed substantially between late 2020 and mid-2021:  unemployment fell but inflation rose.  

The general point is that negative perceptions aren't just Republican partisanship:  something was making Democrats feel worse about the economy between mid-2021 and mid-2022.  

And something has made Republicans feel better since mid-2022:

 That still leaves the question of why views were so negative in mid-2022, and are still pretty negative despite recent improvement.  In August 2022, unemployment was 3.7%, annual inflation was 8.2%, and the index was 53.2.  In November 1973, unemployment was worse (4.8%), inflation was essentially the same (8.3%), but the index was twenty points higher (76.5).  I'd say that the two most plausible explanations are (a) a general shift towards more negative assessments, maybe because of more negative media coverage and (b) a stronger reaction to the inflation of the 2020s because it came suddenly and people weren't used to it.  

Monday, January 29, 2024

News not fit to link

 A recent piece in the New York Times says "In 1960, about 4 percent of Americans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party. By 2020, that had grown to nearly four in 10. Indeed, only about 4 percent of all marriages today are between a Republican and a Democrat."  That is, they included a link to the source of the second piece of information, but not the first and the third.  But my standards of what's fit to link are lower, so I'll try to provide them.

The first is from The Civic Culture, by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, but the third was new to me.  Ideally, you would have a survey that had separate interviews of both members of married couples, but there aren't many like that, so I looked for surveys that asked people about spouse's politics.  I couldn't find any that asked about their spouse's party identification or registration, but there was one from 2016 (just after the election) that asked people about how they and their spouse had voted.  There were also some earlier surveys that had parallel questions.  The results:

            Same     Different      Ratio  
1944   72%         4%                   18
1960   67%         5%                   13.4
1984   64%        6%                    10.7
2016   63%        4%                    15.8
[2016  68%       10%]                   6.8

Although I can't be sure, I'd guess that the 2016 survey was the source of the statement in the Times.  In any case, it makes it possible to compare things to the past.    In 1944, 1960, and 1984, almost all votes were for the Democratic or Republican candidate--the columns don't add to 100 because some people said that their spouse hadn't voted and others didn't know how they'd voted.  But in 2016, about 6% of the vote went to other candidates, and the figures in brackets include those votes.  If you don't count the 2016 "others," there's no clear pattern--the samples are only one or two thousand, so there's a good deal of sampling error.  If you count the "others," there was more intra-marriage disagreement in 2016 than in earlier elections.  But maybe at least some of those should be counted as intermediate (e. g., one for Trump, one a write-in) rather than disagreement?  I won't get into that--I'll just observe that the surveys don't provide evidence that married couples are more likely to vote the same way now as they were in the middle of the 20th century.  But what about the question about how you would feel if a child married someone from the other party, where there is evidence of change?  I'll consider that in a future post.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]


Friday, January 26, 2024


 After the 2022 election, it looked like Donald Trump's support in the Republican Party was finally weakening. As Trump made a comeback in the middle of 2023, some people said that one reason for his resurgence was that Republicans were rallying around him because he had been indicted on various charges.  Now this seems to have become conventional wisdom:  a news story in the NY Times says "But far from diminishing the former president’s standing with Republicans, the charges actually rallied the party around him."

A few months ago, I looked for relevant data.  Lots of surveys asked if you had a favorable or unfavorable view of Trump, but I wanted ones that asked for degree of favorability--my idea was that the indictments wouldn't convert people from unfavorable to favorable, but they might make people who were already favorable more strongly committed.  Surveys that ask people for degree of favorability or unfavorability are less common, and I didn't find enough for an analysis.  After the New Hampshire primary, I tried again and found a source I hadn't known about before:  a company called Echelon Insights has monthly polls that include a question about views of Trump (very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, and very unfavorable) and breaks them down by party identification.  Very and somewhat favorable ratings of Trump among Republicans:

The first indictment came on March 30, after data collection for the March survey was complete.  There was a lasting increase in very favorable ratings and decline in somewhat favorable ratings starting in April.  Of course, in principle the pattern could be the result of something else that happened at around the same time, but I can't think of any other obvious candidate.  There was no lasting change after the second and third indictments, but it seems reasonable that the first one would have more impact.  

There also has been some polarization of ratings among independents, with both very favorable and very unfavorable ratings becoming more common, but this was a gradual change--there's no sign that the indictments had any special impact.  The latest figures among independents are 17% very favorable and 46% very unfavorable.   For Democrats, very unfavorable ratings have been steady at about 85 percent over the whole time period.