Saturday, April 17, 2021

Trump and the trend

Almost everyone who wrote about the 2016 and 2020 elections said that Donald Trump appealed to the "white working class."  In the Washington Post, Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu argue that almost everyone was wrong:  the headline is "Trump didn’t bring White working-class voters to the Republican Party. The data suggest he kept them away."  A smaller heading under that says "White working-class voters had been moving to the Republican Party for years. Trump stopped the trend."  Those headlines are a bit misleading (they were probably written by editors)--according to their figures, Trump's 2016 share of the white working class vote was the highest of any Republican in the period covered by their data (which in 1980), and his share in 2020 was the second highest.  But his strong performance was just a continuation of a long-term trend--2016 and 2020 don't stand out as unusual.  

I looked at this issue in a  couple of posts, and said that there was a long-term trend in the effects of college education on vote, but that 2016 was unusual--Trump's relative performance among less educated voters was much better than any previous Republican.  Why were my conclusions different?  One difference is that I looked at relative performance--Carnes and Lupu looked at actual share of the "white working class" vote.  Another is data sources--they used the American National Election Studies and I used exit polls.  The ANES data are generally regarded as of higher quality (they are a national probability sample and have a high response rate) but the samples are smaller, so they are more affected by sampling error.  Finally, Carnes and Lupu take account of both education and income:  they define the working class as people without a college degree who are below the median income.  Taking account of income is good, but cutting the size of the "working class" also means more sampling error.  The result is that there's a good deal of noise in their estimates, making it harder to see if any election deviates from the trend. 

An alternative way to take about of both income and education is to estimate the effects of both together.  I did this using the General Social Survey, partly because the samples are usually larger, but mostly because I'm more familiar with that data set.  I did logistic regressions of Democratic vs. Republican votes (omitting third parties) on a dummy variable for college graduates vs. all others and the logarithm of household income (adjusted for inflation).  The estimated effects of college degree:


Higher values mean that people with a college degree are relatively more likely to support the Democrats and people without are relatively more likely to support the Republicans.  There is an upward trend, but a clear jump in 2016--it's well above the predicted values from a time trend fitted to the 1968 to 2012 data.  

Now the effect of income:  all values are negative, meaning that higher income goes with support for the Republican candidate (controlling for education).   There is no apparent trend--the highest value (greatest Republican appeal to low-income voters) was in the 1968 election, but that was a small sample.  The 2016 value was not unusual.  

 

 So Trump had unusually strong relative appeal to voters with less education, but not to voters with lower incomes.  Rather than trying to translate that into a generalization about the working class, I'd just talk about education and income.  

    The "relative appeal" connects to my first point about the Carnes & Lupu analysis.  Trump got about the same share of the vote as Mitt Romney had in 2012, but he did better among people without a college degree and worse among people without a college degree.  Of course, that's not all because of the difference between Trump and Romney--they had different opponents and were running under different circumstances.  The comparison we really want is to an "ordinary" Republican running against Hillary Clinton in 2016, and of course we can't know that.  But still, it would seem reasonable to start by assuming that the difference was partly appeal to less educated voters and partly repelling more educated voters. Most of the commentary seemed to focus on the first part and ignore the second.  So although I disagree with Carnes and Lupu on one point--the distinctiveness of 2016--I think they made a contribution in raising questions about whether Trump had a special appeal to the "working class."

 

 Note:  if would be reasonable to focus on groups defined by a combination of income and education if there was some interaction between them--more exactly, a three-way interaction so that income/education groups shifted position from one election to the next.  There is some evidence of an interaction between income and education--income seems to have more effect among people without a college degree--but no evidence that the relationship changes from one election to the next.  That is, the effect of education changes, the effect of income changes, but there's no evidence that the effect of the combination changes.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Meritocratic elites

 Many observers say that as society has moved in a "meritocratic" direction, there has been a widening class gap--successful people become less sympathetic to people who have problems, while the less successful alternate between despair and resentment of those who look down on them.  I've had several posts saying there isn't much evidence of this in surveys--this is one of the more recent ones.  But on an issue like this, no question is perfect, so from time to time I look for others.  This is one that has been asked pretty frequently since 1994:  "Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they're willing to work hard or hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people."  Comparing the percentages who say that you can make it in 1999 (the first year for which I can find individual-level data) and 2019:

                            1999        2019        change

 HS or less            75%        62%        -13%

Some college        75%        62%        -13%

College grad         80%        57%        -23%

Belief that you could get ahead by hard work declined among all educational levels, but the decline was largest among college graduates.  In 1999,college graduates were somewhat more likely to agree; in 2019, they were somewhat less likely to agree.  The pattern is the same as the one I found for a question from the GSS--belief that hard work is the source of success seems to be growing among less educated people relative to more educated people.  People who get more education seem to be growing less likely to credit themselves for their success, while less educated apparently don't feel that the system is rigged against them.  

 Still, it's possible that despite what people say about general principles, educated people are increasingly likely to look down on less educated people and/or less educated people are increasingly likely to feel that they are looked down upon.  But I don't believe that is the case.  

One reason is that the logic of the argument isn't very strong.  "Meritocracy" is used to mean a situation in which success depends on educational credentials, and the attainment of those credentials depends on success at the lower levels of the educational system.  What's the alternative?  One possibility is that success depends on social position or connections. From history, it seems clear that people at the top in societies like that generally believe that they deserve their position because they are just fundamentally different from other people.  Another is that success depends less on educational credentials and more on performance on your job--so the person who leaves school early still has a chance to get ahead.  That seems closer to what the critics of "meritocracy" want.  But would an elite who rose through performance in the market be less arrogant than an elite who rose through education?  Success in education depends on tests and assessments, and anyone who experiences them can see that they are imperfect--even the best test or assignment can't measure everything you were supposed to learn in a course, and being just over or just under an arbitrary line can make an important difference.  So a person who succeeds in the educational system is likely to get a sense that luck had some role.  In contrast, in the market a person is directly confronting whatever challenges they face, so if they succeed they may be convinced that luck had nothing to do with it.  

Another reason is that the examples of elite arrogance today are so weak--the favorite is Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables," which was a (clumsy) attempt to sympathize with working-class Trump voters.  Even if you judge that remark more harshly than I do, it was certainly a long way from George Frederick Baer's "The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for -- not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men of property to whom God has given control of the property rights of the country, and upon the successful management of which so much depends" or "These men [coal miners] don't suffer. Why, hell, half of them don't even speak English." Supporters of labor unions condemned Baer's comments, but he wasn't forced to resign his job as president of the Reading Railroad.  According to his Wikipedia biography, Baer left school at age 13 to work as a printer's devil for a local newspaper.  He later acquired the newspaper, raised and commanded a company in the Civil War, became a lawyer.  He attended Franklin and Marshall College, but apparently didn't graduate, and didn't attend law school.  So he had wide-ranging experience of life that's said to promote empathy. 

So I think that this aspect of the critique of "meritocracy" is the opposite of the truth--compared to most elites in history, today's meritocratic elites are much more sympathetic to ordinary people and more willing to acknowledge the importance of luck or "privilege" in their success.


[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Giving the working class what it wants?

 After losing a presidential election, parties usually have a debate about what went wrong and how they can win over new voters.  2020 was different--most Republicans boasted about the composition of their votes and skated around the problem that there weren't enough of them.  One of the latest examples is from Jim Banks, a member of the House of Representatives from Indiana.  Banks proposed that the Republican party could and should "permanently become the Party of the Working Class."  He said it could do this partly by continuing with Donald Trump's opposition to immigration and free trade but "supplement it with new, relevant ideas."  Specifically, he proposed "anti-wokeness," opposition to "regressive coronavirus lockdowns," and taking a position against "Big Tech."  Would these positions actually appeal to the working class?  For immigration and free trade, the answer is clearly yes.  It's hard to specify what "anti-wokeness" means, but the answer is probably yes--however, this cluster of issues isn't very important to voters, particularly working-class voters.  As I've written, there's not much class difference in opinions on covid restrictions--moreover, this issue is likely to fade as more people get vaccinated.  That leaves opposition to "Big Tech," which has been a central theme for many other Republican "populists," notably Josh Hawley.  

Gallup did surveys that asked about "technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google" in August 2019 and late January 2021.  On question was about general views of technology companies.  The balance of positive and negative views (very or somewhat positive minus very or somewhat negative):

                                        2019            2021

College grad                        -1            -10

Some college                     +16            -23

No college                        +22            -4

There was also a question about whether the government should increase, decrease or not change regulation of such companies.  The percent in favor of increasing regulation:  

                                        2019            2021

College grad                        58%          68%

Some college                       47%         56%

No college                            41%        47%

 Less educated people (the only measure of class available in the survey) had more favorable views of "Big Tech" in 2019.  There was no consistent class difference in 2021.  At both times, less educated people were less likely to support increased regulation.  So regardless of whether opposition to big tech is generally popular (opinions seem to be pretty evenly divided), it doesn't have any special appeal to the working class--if anything, it has more appeal to the middle class.

This shouldn't be surprising--people like bargains, and Facebook and Google provide their services for free while Amazon provides goods at low cost.   There are concerns about privacy and their use of personal data, but these are the kinds of things that educated people are likely to be more concerned about.  This example leads back to a point that I've made before:  Republicans like the idea of appealing to the working class, but don't want to make a real effort to do it.  Rather than trying to identify policies that would benefit the working class or appeal to the working class, they just attribute their own views to the working class.  (The one prominent Republican who has proposed measures that might benefit the working class is the the pseudo-populists' bete noire, Mitt Romney).  


[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, April 4, 2021

More prosopography

 In my last post, I noted that although college graduates are vastly over-represented among members of Congress, that was true in the early 1950s as well.  Moreover, the number who are graduates of "elite" colleges and universities hasn't changed much.  So there's not much evidence of a growth of "meritocracy."  However, I mentioned that there were some changes in other respects.  One is a shift in the relation between party and educational background.  In 1952-3:

                               Dem         Rep

Elite universities             10.5%    17.0%                

Elite Colleges                  1.1%     4.1%

Top public                      6.7%     7.8%

Other public flagship           23.6%   17.3%

Other                           47.5%   38.8%

None                            10.5%    15.1%

Republicans were about twice as likely to have attended elite colleges and universities, and somewhat more likely to have attended top public universities.  Among Republicans, the universities with the largest number of alumni were Yale (8), Michigan (8), and Harvard (6); among Democrats, they were Alabama (10), Georgia (8), and North Carolina (8).  In 2016-7:

                                Dem     Rep

Elite universities             23.6%    10.5%   

Elite colleges                  3.3%     1.3%

Top public                      9.4%     8.2%

Other public flagship           9.8%     19.7%

Other colleges & univs.        53.7%     60.2%

None                            0.4%      0%

Now, Democrats are about twice as likely to have attended elite universities and colleges.   Among Republicans, the universities with the largest number of alumni are Harvard (8), Brigham Young (8), and then a tie between LSU, Michigan, and Missouri (all 5); among Democrats, the top ones are Harvard (12), Stanford (11), and Yale (6).  Majorities of both parties went to "other" universities, and there are lots of them,  most of them with only one or two members.  Still, it seems clear that on the average, Democrats went to higher prestige colleges than Republicans.  For example, only two of the 17 who attended colleges in the University of California system are Republicans, but seven of the thirteen who attended colleges in the California State (or California Polytechnic) system are Republicans.  

This difference may help to explain something that's puzzled a number of observers, including me:  why many Republican politicians are fascinated with the idea that the Republicans are the party of the common person and the Democrats are the party of the "elites." 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Long delayed

 On December 21, 2020, Jennifer Senior had an opinion piece in the NY Times called "95 Percent of Representatives have a Degree.  Look where that's Gotten Us."  I was going to post something on that, but other things kept coming up, so I'm only now getting around to it.  Her point was that members of Congress are very well educated compared to the people they represent.  Moreover, she implied that the gap had been growing, and that this was partly responsible for the decline in public confidence in government.

A few years ago, I had some students collect data on the educational attainment of the 115th congress (2017-19),  and the 83d (1953-5).   As Senior observes, almost all members of Congress today are college graduates--in the 115th congress, 98%.  There were 8 members who had attended college but not received a degree and only one who hadn't attended college.  In the 83d congress, 80% were college graduates, 7% had attended but not graduated, and 13% hadn't attended.  There are two ways to look at this--one is that people without college have almost completely disappeared from Congress, but the other was that even in 1952-3, members of college had far more education than the general public.  To some extent, the increasing number of college graduates in Congress reflects changes in the general public--in 1950, only 7.7% of American adults were college graduates--today, 38.7% are.  The degree of over-representation has increased, from an odds ratio of about 48 to about 95.  To put it another way, if there were the same degree of over-representation in the 115th congress as the 83d, there would have been about 19 members without college degrees instead of 9.  In relative terms, this is a pretty big difference, but 19 out of over 500 would still be a tiny minority. 

When I collected these data, I was primarily interested in which colleges and universities members of Congress had attended.  I divided them into five groups--about 20 top private universities, about 15 top liberal arts colleges, about 10 leading public universities, all other "flagship" state universities, and all other colleges and universities.  The breakdown:

                                    83d        115th

Elite universities        14%            16%

Elite colleges                3%             2%

Top public                    7%              9%

Flagships                    20%            15%

Others                         43%            57%

None                            13%            0%

My idea was that there would be a substantial increase in the share from elite universities, but that didn't turn out to be true.  There was an increase in relative terms, because the proportion of people who are graduates of elite universities has declined (enrollment at elite colleges and universities has grown at a slower rate at the population), but in terms of the share of members of congress, there wasn't much change.  

The preceding discussion shows why I didn't try to publish anything with these data.  I thought there would be a clear and substantial increase in the educational level of members Congress, but there wasn't, partly because in the 1950s they had more education than I expected, and partly because the proportion from elite institutions today was lower than I'd expected.  There were some more subtle changes that might be interesting,  but there wasn't the big change that I expected.  Senior quotes the political theorist Michael Sandel, saying that in his view, "the technocratic elite’s slow annexation of Congress and European parliaments — which resulted in the rather fateful decisions to outsource jobs and deregulate finance — helped enable the populist revolts now rippling through the West."  But in the United States, the educational elite has only "annexed" Congress you define "elite" as people who graduated from college--and if you do, it accomplished that a long time ago.  

Note:  I just considered undergraduate institutions.  It's possible that there's been an increase in the representation of elite graduate institutions, especially law schools.  I may look at this issue in the future. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Bubbles, then and now

 A paper by Jacob Brown and Ryan Enos is getting a good deal of attention.  They find that there is partisan sorting even at the level of individual residences--that Democrats tend to have Democratic neighbors and Republicans tend to have Republican neighbors.  Although the study is cross-sectional, they imply that this tendency has been increasing, and this theme is even more prominent in the media coverage of their article.  National surveys are obviously not of much use in studying geographical sorting, but they may shed light on the more general issue of partisan sorting.  Just after the election, a Monmouth Poll asked "And thinking of your friends and family who voted this year, do you think most of them voted for Donald Trump or Joe Biden?"  Among people who voted for Trump, 89% said that most voted for Trump and 6% said that most voted for Biden; among people who voted for Biden, 80% said most of their friends and family voted for Biden and 8% said most voted for Trump.  That is, an overwhelming majority of people thought that most of their friends and family voted the same way they did.

The Gallup Poll asked similar questions in 1944, 1952, and 1956, specifically "what's your best guess about your friends, will most of them vote for Dewey this fall, or for Roosevelt" (in 1952 and 1956, they asked about voting Democratic or Republican).  I looked at the 1944 survey:  of the people who said they intended to vote for Dewey, 82% said most of their friends would vote for Dewey, 6% for Roosevelt, and 13% they they were evenly divided; among those who said they would vote for Roosevelt, 79% thought most would vote for Roosevelt, 8% that most would vote for Dewey, and 13% that they were evenly divided.  If we just look at the people who answered on one side or the other, the degree of "sorting" was very similar in both years:  people who thought their friends voted the same way they did outnumbered those who thought they voted the opposite way by a ratio of about 11 to 1.*  This is remarkable considering the difference between the elections:  1944 was probably a low point for partisan polarization in modern history, since news was dominated by the war and Dewey was a moderate who wasn't associated with the Republican Party's previous opposition to the New Deal.  

I looked for variation in the strength of "bubbles."  There was some, but in every group I looked at, even people who voted against the majority of the group thought that most of their friends voted the same way they did.  For example, about 70% of people who were classified as business executives or professionals said they intended to vote for Dewey, but 75% of the executives and professionals who voted for Roosevelt thought most of their friends would vote the same way, and only 14% thought that most would vote for Dewey.  

This illustrates a point that is often overlooked in discussion of "bubbles"--the importance of the bubble inside our heads.  Most people seem to think that most intelligent and fair-minded people will vote the same way they do, and that their friends are intelligent and fair-minded people, which leads to the conclusion that of course most of them agree with you.  Also, if you get a sense that a friend may not agree with you on politics, most people will steer clear of politics, while if you get a sense that a friend does agree with you, you'll be more likely to talk about it.  So my general feeling is that most people have always lived in pretty thick "bubbles," and that changes in sorting aren't the main factor behind increasing polarization.  

*The 2020 survey didn't report an "evenly divided" category--about 5% said they didn't know.  For the Gallup Poll, the figures I gave excluded "don't knows," who were about 17% of the sample.  You could say that the lower number of "don't knows" in 2020 indicates increased partisan sorting.  However, my impression is that the number of don't know responses was substantially higher in early surveys--people, at least the people who answer surveys, have become used to giving opinions on all sorts of things.  Also, my guess is that if people volunteered that their friends were about evenly divided, the interviewers on the Monmouth poll were instructed to encourage them to make a choice--"well, if you had to say...."  rather than count them as don't know.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tolerance, part 6

 Last week Ross Douthat had a column about the Dr Seuss controversy.  He said that liberals used to have a strong aversion to the idea of banning books and an inclination to defend or even celebrate any book that was banned*, but that this has diminished or disappeared.  I have the same impression, but is there any systematic evidence?

Since the early 1970s, the General Social Survey has asked about whether certain kinds of people should have their books removed from "your public library":  somebody who is against churches and religion ("atheist" for short) , someone who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country ("militarist"), a Communist, and a person who believes that blacks are genetically inferior ("racist").   In a future post, I'll look at liberal/conservative differences in opinions, but here I'll consider a related issue--the strength of association among opinions on the different cases.  That is, to what extent is there a tendency to say that they all should stay or all should go.   With four cases, there are six possible combinations.  I'll show them in groups of three--first, those among the communist, the militarist, and the atheist; and second, the correlations of those three with the racist.  

A definite downward trend for each, although maybe with a pause in the early 1990s.  


A similar pattern, but the magnitude of the decline is larger.  In the first years, the correlations involving the racist were similar to those involving the other items, but by the end they were all weaker.  So it seems like people are increasingly making distinctions, rather than having a general tendency to favor removing or not removing.  

In general, the association among different opinions ("attitude constraint") seemed to stay about the same from the 1970s to around 2000, and increased in the 21st century.   These questions followed a different course.  It doesn't seem that the high/low tolerance alignment is being replaced by a tendency to distinguish between the "left" and "right" pairs (atheist and Communist vs. militarist and racist)--just a general decline in the associations, especially those involving the racist.  

This doesn't directly address Douthat's issue, but it suggests that there has been a decline in support for the general "civil libertarian" position, even though there's been increasing support for civil liberties in most specific cases.

 

Note:  since these are yes/no questions, it would be better to use odds ratios rather than correlations, but I started with correlations and don't have time to re-do the analysis now.  

*Many "progressives" say that this case isn't really censorship because the decision was made by a private organization rather than the government, but that used to be an argument you heard from the right, not the left.