Friday, June 15, 2018

Vacation from facts, 1

I will be on vacation when this post appears, so it seems appropriate to take a break from facts and engage in speculation.

"Tribalism" has become a favorite word in writing about contemporary politics.  It seems like the wrong word to me--the key thing about a tribe is that you don't choose it, you are born into it.  A second feature is that tribal leaders have a good deal of freedom in conducting relations with other tribes (see this paper, p. 141)--if they say that we've traditionally been allied with group A, but now it's in our interests to make an alliance with group B, the members will go along.  Tribal politics can involve intense conflict, but it can also involve toleration and coexistence--you can't blame someone for being born a member of a different tribe, and there's a chance of winning them over by making a deal with their leaders.

What we have now is ideological politics.  where people choose a side because it represents the right principles.  Ideological politics necessarily involves conflict.  You can definitely blame someone for choosing the wrong principles; also, leaders have less freedom, because the members may revolt if they seem to betray those principles.  It's sometimes said that Republicans have abandoned their principles to follow Trump, but when those principles are specified they turn out to be things like free trade, concern about budget deficits, and the rule of law, which aren't traditional Republican or conservative principles--they cut across party and ideological lines, and are probably strongest in the "good government" center.  If Trump did something that really went against conservative principles--e.g., proposed a program of infrastructure spending financed by closing tax loopholes that benefit high earners--there would be a revolt.  Of course, I can't give evidence of that, because Trump has conformed to conservative orthodoxy on everything that's important to conservatives--you don't have to take my word for it, you can take Mitch McConnell's. 

That raises a question of why ideological politics grew in the United States.   In almost all other affluent democracies, it has been declining for a long time, and the decline seems to be continuing.  I will turn to that in my next post. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Measuring racial resentment

My last post discussed a scale that is usually referred to as "racial resentment."  The questions (all with responses going from strongly agree to strongly disagree) are:
  1. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
   2. Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up.  Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
   3. It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
  4. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

I'd say that the first question simply measures perceptions of how much racial inequality there is. It showed a strong trend towards "disagree" between 1986 (when it was first asked) and 2012.  Even with the move towards "agree" in 2016 the correlation is about 0.8.  That is, people see less racial inequality than they used to, which is reasonable given actual changes in society. 

With the other three, the end that is scored as "resentment" can include two kinds of people--those who think that things are reasonably fair, and that blacks haven't taken advantage of opportunities, and those who think that blacks are getting some kind of unfair advantage.  In terms of the last question:   people who think that blacks have gotten about what they deserve and those who think they've gotten more than they deserve.  So they are basically just measures of general liberalism versus conservatism on the causes of racial inequality.  None of those showed a strong trend through 2012. 

In 2013, I had a post about a question that seemed like a pretty good measure of resentment "For each of the following groups, please tell me whether you feel that they are receiving too many special advantages, receiving fair treatment, or are being discriminated against?" The groups included blacks/African Americans.  I remarked then that unfortunately the question hadn't been asked since 2008, and it still hasn't.  It also goes back only to 1990, so I took another look for questions that might be regarded as measuring racial resentment. 

There is one question that was asked several times in the 1970s, and then reappeared in a very similar form in the 2010s.  The 1970s version asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement "the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities."  The 2010s version:  "Over the past couple of decades, the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities," with "completely agree," "mostly agree," "mostly disagree," and "completely disagree" as possible responses.  If we collapse the 2010 categories into agree and disagree, the percent agreeing minus disagree is:


The figures for 1976, 1978, and 2012 are averages of multiple surveys (5, 2, and 3). Although the question wording differs, I don't think that could plausibly account for the difference in responses. It's reasonable to conclude that there's less racial resentment now than there was in the 1970s. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Era of Good Feelings?

The paper I discussed in my last post showed changes in an index of "racial resentment" from the American National Election Studies, which rose in 2008 and 2012.  The authors interpreted this as evidence that whites felt the presidency of Barack Obama as a threat to their status.  That reminded me that I had a post mentioning the index several years ago.  The index is the sum of responses (strongly agree .... strongly disagree, reverse coded for #2 and #3) to the following statements:

   1. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
   2. Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up.  Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
   3. It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
  4. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

At the time, I said "this scale certainly measures something of interest, but 'resentment' doesn't seem like the right term."  That was just my feeling based on reading the questions--does the data shed any light on the issue?   Let's start with looking at changes (among whites) over the entire period covered by the ANES:


So either racial resentment fell dramatically among whites in 2016, or the index doesn't really measure racial resentment.  The first interpretation doesn't seem very plausible, but the ANES survey has two parts, one of which takes place after the election, and that's the part in which these questions were asked.  So you could say that perhaps white fears of threats to their status fell after Trump was elected.  If we break it down by the party that people voted for (non-Hispanic whites only):


From 1988 through 2012, the means for Republican voters gradually rose and the means for Democrats fell, which is to be expected given general ideological polarization over the period.  The elections of 2008 and 2012 don't stand out as unusual.  Then in 2016, the mean fell a little among Republican voters, and a lot among Democratic voters.  The first change is consistent with the idea that people who would otherwise have felt threatened were reassured because they had a president who would look after them, but the second is puzzling from that point of view.  You would have to say that Democratic voters were the ones who were secretly yearning for a protector, and felt most reassured by Trump's win. 

So I stand by my earlier thought that this index doesn't measure resentment.  My next post will offer some thoughts on what it does measure.   

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Explaining too much

In the last few days, I have seen several stories saying that "a new study ... found that opposition to welfare ... has grown among white Americans."  The study (by Rachel Wetts and Robb Willer) didn't actually show any figures on opposition to welfare--it focused on changes in the gap between white and non-white opinions--but I can see how journalists would have that interpretation.  The abstract says:  "we find that whites’ racial resentment increased beginning in 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s successful presidential candidacy and a major economic downturn, the latter a factor previously shown to amplify racial threat effects. . . . These findings suggest that whites’ perceptions that minorities’ standing is rising can produce periods of 'welfare backlash' in which adoption of policies restricting or curtailing welfare programs is more likely."

Has opposition to welfare grown?  Here are the means for whites and blacks in a question from the General Social Survey about whether we are spending too much [3], too little [1], or about the right amount [2] on welfare.


White opinion moved in the "too much" direction after Obama's election, but so did black opinion.  Looking over a longer period, white opinion has moved up and down, and is more favorable to welfare spending than in the 1970s and most of the 1990s.  Black opinion has also gone up and down, but there seems to be a gradual shift towards "too much."

If you look more closely, it seems that the ups and downs are related to the party of the president:  people tend to say "too much" when a Democrat is president, "too little" when a Republican is.  Presumably this is because, rightly or wrongly, they perceive the government as doing more when a Democrat is in office.  This is a well-known pattern that has been documented in research on a variety of issues.  So what mattered was Obama's party, not his race (see this post for another example).

If you regress average opinions on party in power and a time trend, you get the following predicted values:

There is a clear trend towards less opposition among whites and more opposition among blacks, so the racial gap in opinions is gradually declining.  The effects of party control are almost the same among blacks and whites.  I didn't investigate systematically, but it doesn't appear that general economic conditions have any effect among either blacks or whites.

The paper proposed that whites would also regard the rising share of non-whites in the population as a threat.  Since this changes gradually from year to year, that would lead to gradually rising opposition to welfare among whites.  The actual trend is in the opposite direction from the predicted one.

The hypothesis that underlies the paper is that when "relative advantage in the racial status hierarchy" is threatened, whites turn against programs that are seen as helping minorities.  I think the general hypothesis is probably right--the other part of their paper provides pretty convincing experimental evidence that whites express more negative views on welfare when they are made to think about the prospect of America as a "majority minority" nation.  But although perceived threat may help to explain differences among people at a given point in time (e. g., between different places), when looking at historical change it is overwhelmed by the effect of a general decline of racial prejudice. 


Technical note:
1.  Wetts and Willer use a question on welfare spending from the American National Election Studies.  I used a very similar question from the General Social Survey, mostly because the question has been asked for a longer period of time and the GSS has a convenient cumulative file.
2.  My "white" category includes people who also report that they are Hispanic.  That probably accounts for some of the trend among whites.  If I were writing a paper, I would distinguish between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites and maybe add some other controls, but since I am writing a blog post I will just say that I don't think it accounts for much of the trend.




Friday, May 25, 2018

Democracy and public support for democracy

A recent piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times discusses research by Steven Miller and Nicholas Davis.  They find that "outgroup intolerance" is associated with lower support for democracy.  Edsall also says that intolerance is on the rise:  "The percentage of whites who qualified as socially intolerant doubled from 12.6 percent in 1995 to 24.9 percent in 2011."  I'm sure that his claim about a dramatic rise in social intolerance is a mistake:  it doesn't appear in the Miller/Davis paper and is inconsistent with data from their source, the World Values Survey.  But rather than trying to figure out where it came from, I want to pursue a more general point.  He quotes Miller and Davis as saying until now, there had been little "serious inquiry" into American attitudes towards democracy, but that "a recent and growing scholarly literature raises questions regarding the depths of citizens’ support for democracy."  Although the recent literature undoubtedly adds something, I think there has been a good deal of serious inquiry starting in the 1950s, and it yields a pretty clear picture.

1.  Tolerance and egalitarianism (in the sense of support for equal rights) have grown pretty steadily, and continues to grow.  This is happening among all major segments of the population, even the fabled white working class.  That's the good news. 
2.  However, popular support for democracy has always been pretty shallow.  Or maybe something like "unsteady" would be better--people may be strongly attached to the general idea of democracy, but they don't necessarily support the things it needs to work.  For example, in 2001 a survey asked people how they felt about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to endorse candidates for public office":  39% disagreed, and the proportion who strongly disagreed (28%) was almost equal to the propotion who strongly agreed (30%).  In 2007, people were asked about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to freely criticize the US (United States) military about its strategy and performance:  37% disagreed.  In 2002, people were asked about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story":  27% disagreed.  That is, a substantial number of people don't support some of the most basic activities of a free press.
3.   Most of the time, political elites have not appealed to anti-democratic sentiments, and have (eventually) united against anyone who does.  I've talked about the case of Joe McCarthy in this post:  the Senate censured him by a vote of 67-22 even though he still had substantial support in the public (45% favorable, 35% unfavorable).

Why had Donald Trump been successful so far?  I think it's not because of a rise in anti-democratic sentiments among the public, but because of changes in political elites.  One important difference from the situation with McCarthy is that Trump is President, and the costs of going against a President are greater than the costs of going against a Senator.  That reflects a change in political institutions: before the 1970s, someone like Trump could not have become the nominee of a major party, because most of the convention delegates were selected by party leaders, not in primaries.  A second difference is that political elites are more reluctant to join with the other party against one of their own.  A third difference is that the public has less trust in political elites--as a result, Republicans in Congress might reasonably suspect that Trump's supporters in the public would stick with him regardless of what they do.   So Trump has appealed to a current of opinion that has always been there, but which until now politicians of both parties have neglected rather than encouraged.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Elites or Masses?

One popular view of the 2016 election is that liberal elites drove voters away by lack of respect--here is a recent story .  This is not a new idea--back in the infancy of this blog (October 2010) I had a post inspired by a New York Times story entitled "Elitism:  the Charge Obama Can't Shake."  At that time, I found very few survey questions that mentioned elites or elitism.  Despite the amount of discussion of the subject, few additional ones have appeared, and I haven't found any from the 2016 election (although there was one on respect for various kinds of people, which I discuss in this post). 

However, I recently discovered one from a Fox News poll from October 2008:  "Thinking about your friends and neighbors, would they consider themselves to be part of the top elite in this country or are they part of a group that the elites in America look down upon?"  17% said part of the elite, 41% part of the group that the elites look down on, 22% gave answers that were described as "mix/depends" and 20% said they didn't know.  I found a report  that breaks it down by party identification:

                                    Elite            Despised      Depends/DK           
Democrat                     18%             44%              38%
Republican                   19%             37%             44%
Independent                 13%             44%              43%

In the sample, Republicans were most likely to think their friends were in the "top elite," and least likely to think they were in the group that elites looked down on, although none of the differences were statistically significant.  This does not fit with the usual story about Republican resentment of what liberal elitism.  The number of don't know and other answers is also noteworthy--it's unusual for 40% of people to say they don't know or volunteer another response, and suggests that the question didn't make sense to a lot of people.  (Maybe this is why they never repeated the it). 

I have a hypothesis:  that resentment about the lack of respect from liberal elites is strong not in the general public, or in the working class, but in conservative elites.  Most people don't know about the story in the latest issue of the New Yorker, or the recent incident at the University of ******, and wouldn't care very much if they did.  Conservative elites know and care.  The question is whether this sentiment is limited to a small group--a real elite--or whether some of it has filtered down to the larger group of college-educated conservatives.  Unfortunately, the original data don't seem to be available.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fully, accurately, and fairly

In 1972, a survey conducted by the Gallup Poll asked "how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media--such as newspapers, TV and radio--when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly--a great deal, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?"  The question was asked again in 1974 and 1976.  Then there was a long gap until it was asked again in 1997, but since that time it has been asked pretty regularly.  The means, with a great deal=4 .... none at all=1:


There were a few surveys which asked about the "news media" rather than the "mass media":  they are shown in red.

In December 2016, I wrote about other Gallup questions about confidence in various institutions, include newspapers and TV news.  Both showed a downward trend, so it's not surprising that confidence in the "mass media" does too.  However, the  question that I just discovered helps to shed light on the nature of the trend.  The following graph shows them all together (the mean is adjusted so it'a on a comparable scale):


With newspapers, there is an unusually high figure in one year (1979).  If you exclude that, there is very little trend from the 1970s until the early 2000s.  Similarly, TV has one unusually high year, which happens to be the first year it was asked, and then no trend until to the early 2000s.  When you add the question on the media, it's pretty clear that there was a decline from the 1970s to the 1990s, but that confidence then held up for several years before starting to decline again.

Another interesting point is that confidence in the media rose from 2016 to 2017 (September in both years).  This also happened with confidence in newspapers and TV news.  An obvious possibility is that the gain was a result of reporting on Donald Trump.  That might have pleased some liberals who in 2016 thought that the media was too hard on Hillary Clinton and/or Bernie Sanders.  I think there may also be a general tendency for it to be lower in election years:  it rose between 2012 and 2013, 2008 and 2009, and 2004 and 2005 (it was the same in 2000 and 2001).  That could be because people get tired of "horse race" coverage.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]