Saturday, September 15, 2018

Very dishonest people

I had posts a couple of weeks ago about views of the "honesty and ethical standards" in various occupations.  The figures for "college teachers" had an unusual pattern, rising from the 1970s until about 2000 and then declining.  Breakdowns by party ID are available for some years and shown in this graph:

The average rating from Democrats rose after 2000, while the average rating among Republicans fell.  There was only a small gap in average ratings in the 1990s, but by 2012 Democrats rated the honesty and ethical standards of college teachers substantially higher. 

I looked at two other occupations for comparison.  I didn't have time to do all years, so I just took 1990, 2000, and 2012.  For journalists:

                R         D        Diff.
1990     3.09     3.28       0.19
2000     2.66     3.15       0.49
2012     2.57     3.21       0.64

Also divergence, although it grew more in the 1990s--most of the divergence on college teachers was after 2000. 

For business executives:

               R         D
1990     3.19    3.10      -0.09
2000     3.18    3.03      -0.15
2012     3.03    2.81      -0.22

Maybe a slight divergence, but nothing dramatic.  The substantial changes are for two groups that are favorite targets for conservatives.  It's also worth noting that there are obvious reasons that the ratings of executives would have declined between 2000 and 2012, just because of the state of the economy.  However, that doesn't apply to college teachers--the economy has ups and downs, but the amount and quality of what professors do doesn't change much from year to year.  So my guess is that conservative media outlets just started running more stories about outrages on college campuses, and ratings among Republicans declined as a result.  The rise among Democrats might have been a reaction to that, but I think it's more likely to be a continuation of the previous upward trend (which I would attribute to more people having attended college).   

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, September 9, 2018


In 1992, a poll asked "In your view, are most people who receive welfare payments genuinely in need of help or are they taking advantage of the system?"  The question was asked several times over the next couple of years, and then there was a long gap before it was asked in 2012, and then in 2016 and 2017.  The figure shows percent saying "genuinely in need" minus percent saying "taking advantage."

Views are considerably more favorable in recent years--in fact, the April 2017 survey is the first one in which more than half chose "genuinely in need."  Why the change?  Several possibilities occur to me:
1.  Welfare may be less strongly associated with race in the public mind.  At one time, blacks were overrepresented in news stories on poverty and welfare.  I don't know about more recent research, but it seems possible that news organizations became more aware of this and made efforts to avoid it.  My impression is that there is more attention to small-town and rural (that is, mostly white) poverty than there used to be.  If there has been a change in media coverage, public perceptions might have followed. 
2.  Animosity to blacks is declining, so even if welfare is still associated with race, people may not be as bothered by the idea that the government is spending to help blacks.  The idea that there has been real decline in anti-black prejudice is not popular in sociology now, but there's a lot of evidence for it.
3.  It may be a result of changes in anti-poverty programs.  There's been a big growth in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which are popular, rather than AFDC/TANF, which are not.  Also, my guess is that welfare programs are administered more efficiently now--one thing that computers are good for is keeping track of people and money.

1.  See this post for a related question.
2.  I noticed a poll from 2013 which showed 30% "genuinely in need" and 56% "taking advantage"--more like the 1990s than the other surveys from the 2010s.  But on reading the fine print, I found that it was a sample of Hispanics only.  Hispanics have more negative views of welfare than non-Hispanics?  Apparently yes--I checked one of the other recent surveys and it was the case there.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Monday, September 3, 2018

Who's the problem? (part 3)

   Changes in average ratings of the "honesty and ethical standards" of more occupations.  First, some professions:

Ratings of the clergy declined over most of the period, and ratings for lawyers might have declined a little.  Engineers increased, and there was no clear change for accountants.
    Ratings for professions related to medicine rose;

Then some occupations that don't fit into any of the previous categories.  They generally increased.

Finally, a group that's of particular interest to me.  There's a unique pattern for college teachers:  an increase until about 2000 and then a decline, with a big drop between 2012 and 2016.  Data for elementary and high school teachers don't begin until about 2000, but both of them seem to have a declining trend since then. 

That's a lot of data.  What conclusions can be drawn?  Here's what I notice:

   1.   There are more upward than downward trends.  And the trends are upward for almost all of the "ordinary" occupations--ones that are not in the news or the subject of political controversy.   General trust in people has been declining since the 1970s, and you might think that this would lead to a declining trust in most occupations.  But this is not what has happened.
   2.  Almost all of them rose in 2001.  Of the 21 occupations which were included in 2000 and 2001, 19 had increased, and the two declines were very small.  This was presumably because the 9/11 attacks (the 2001 survey was taken in late November) created more general solidarity.  I thought that the increases might be larger for occupations that could be seen as closer to the center of American life, but there was no obvious pattern.
  3.  There are differences among the political occupations.  Members of Congress and Senators declined a lot after 2000, governors and state officeholders declined by a smaller amount, and local officeholders didn't decline at all.   That is, people are making distinctions, at least to some extent:  turning against congress more than against "government" or "politics" in general.
4.  The decline for all types of journalists is pretty closely.  I thought it might track views of politicians (especially Congress) more closely--that is, that journalists would be blamed when they brought bad news.  But there's not much sign of that.

I also have some thoughts about the recent decline for college teachers, which I will discuss in a future post. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Who's the problem (part 2)

Here are graphs showing changes in the average rating of the "honesty and ethical standards" in various occupations.  There were a lot of them, so I divided them into groups.  First, politics:

Until 200, there was little or no trend for any of them.  Since 2000, Senators and members of Congress have dropped substantially, governors and state officials have dropped by a more moderate amount, and local officeholders have stayed about the same. 

Then there are occupations that I classed as "related to politics":  lobbyists and several different types of journalists. 

For the journalists, it seems to be a pretty steady downward trend since the 1970s.  Lobbyists are rated much lower, and there is no change over the decade for which the question has been asked. 

Then some business occupations:

Bankers and stockbrokers declined in 2008 and have not recovered.  Business executives have a more steady downward trend.  But people in advertising, HMO managers, and nursing home operators show no change or maybe an increase.  Around 1980, stockbrokers were rated much higher than people in advertising--now they are about the same. 

Then justice and the military: 

They have only asked about judges and the military since about 2000--judges have declined a bit, while military officers have stayed about the same.  For police, there is an upward trend until about 2000 and little change since then.  Two individual years stand out--one is 2001, when a number of occupations had a jump, which was probably a consequence of 9/11 (the survey was taken in December).  The other is 2014, which was when the Michael Brown shooting and protests in Ferguson, Mo. took place. 

That's a lot of data, but there's more, so I will save the rest of it for my next post. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Who's the problem? (part 1)

Some people argue that people are unhappy with the state of American economy and society because of things like slow economic growth and rising inequality.  I have had several posts arguing against that idea--this is the most recent and this is another one.  People are not especially discontented with their economic situation, or the state of the nation, or life in general.  However, confidence in most American institutions has declined since the 1970s.  Is that because people have become more negative about elites, or certain elites, or people in general?

Since the 1970s, the Gallup Poll has asked "Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields -- very high, high, average, low or very low? How about.."  The list of occupations changes--forty-three different ones have been included, some only once but others as many as 35 times.  They include some true elites (e. g., Senators), some professions that cover a wide range (e. g., lawyers, clergy), and some ordinary jobs (e. g., auto mechanics).  There's a lot of information there, so I'll break my discussion into several parts.  One of the first thing I did was to fit a time trend to each occupation.  27 were positive (that is, in the direction of higher honesty and ethics), and 10 of those were statistically significant at the 5% level.  Fourteen were negative, and ten of those were statistically significant.  (Two of them were asked just once, so no trend could be estimated).  The biggest statistically significant upward trends were:  nursing home operators, auto mechanics, funeral home operators, labor union leaders, and medical doctors.  That's a diverse group--I can't think of anything that they have in common.  The largest statistically significant declines were state governors, stockbrokers, members of Congress, TV reporters, and bankers.  Those could all be regarded as elite occupations.   

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ideology and morality

About a week ago, Donald Trump advised people to "study the late Senator Joseph McCarthy."  It turns out that I have been thinking about Joe McCarthy, although not quite for the reasons Trump says we should.  I was looking at an essay by Daniel Bell, originally published in 1953 and reprinted in The End of Ideology (1960).  In it, he said "the tendency to convert concrete issues into ideological problems, to invest them with moral color and high emotional charge, is to invite conflicts which can only damage a society.  ... It has been one of the glories of the United States that politics has always been a pragmatic give-and-take rather than a series of wars-to-the-death."  The second sentence reflects a conventional view of American politics, but on reflection it doesn't seem convincing.  Of course, there has been a lot of pragmatic give and take, but compared to other countries Americans seem to have had a tendency to invest issues with "moral color and high emotional charge."  For example, alcohol had been widely used in American society for centuries, but was completely banned in 1920.  I don't think anything like this happened elsewhere--there was a strong temperance movement in Britain, but it never came close to achieving prohibition, even thought that would just have taken an ordinary act of parliament, while in the United States it required a constitutional amendment.  A lot of people must have felt very strongly to devote that much effort to the cause and not to be satisfied with anything less than complete prohibition. 

This example shows a problem with Bell's first sentence.  An issue can have moral and emotional charge without being part of an ideology:  that is, "an all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality" (quoting Bell again, this time "The End of Ideology in the West").  Prohibition wasn't an ideology like socialism--it was a position on one issue.  I happened to run across a 1974 article by Samuel Huntington which made this distinction, observing that "highly systematized ideologies . . . have been notably absent from the American scene.  But it is a mistake to move from this truth to the assumption that political ideals have played a less important role in the United States than in Europe. . . . American politics has been characterized by less sophisticated political theory and more intense political beliefs than most other societies."

Bell concluded his essay on McCarthy by suggesting that the conflict would pass pretty quickly.  He was right about that.  In contrast, for at least the last decade the United States has been repeating the same conflicts, like those over immigration and health care, without coming closer to a resolution.   I wonder if what has made recent conflicts so enduring is that the traditional "moral color" of American politics has come to be combined with ideology. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It's the rich wot gets the gravy

"If ______ is elected President, do you think the policies of his/her administration will favor the rich, favor the middle class, favor the poor, or will they treat all groups the same?"

                                                   Rich          Middle         Poor      Same      DK
Aug 2007   John Edwards            30%          24%            9%         18%      19%
Mar 2008   Hillary Clinton           23%          29%          13%         28%       7%
Mar 2008   Barack Obama           13%          30%           18%        33%        6%
Mar 2008   John McCain              53%          16%           0             23%        8%
Oct  2008   McCain                       59%          11%            3%        21%         6%
Oct  2008   Obama                          8%          38%           22%       24%         8%
Jul   2012   Mitt Romney               53%          11%             2%       30%         4%
Sep  2012  Obama                          12%          26%          22%        30%       10%
Sep  2012  Romney                        53%            8%            1%        33%          6%
Sep  2012  Obama                            9%           27%          31%       26%          7%
Oct  2016   Donald Trump             57%           14%            1%       27%          1%
Oct  2016   Clinton                         37%           24%          14%       22%          3%

The figures for the Republicans--McCain, Romney, and Trump--are just about the same, with between 53 and 59 percent saying their policies would favor the rich, but there are substantial differences among the Democrats.  With Obama, between 9 and 13 percent said his policies would favor the rich; with Hillary Clinton, it was 23% in 2008 and 37% in 2016.  I had a post about a similar question that was asked in 2008 and June-July 2016, which also showed that McCain and Trump were just about the same but that Clinton was substantially different from Obama.  I said "One possibility is that it's a fixed part of her image--maybe people are thinking of the well-compensated speeches she's made to Wall Street firms.  Another possibility is that the contrast with Bernie Sanders made people think of her as more favorable to rich, and that as people start focusing on the contrast with Trump perceptions will change...."  We can rule the second one out given the results of the October 2016 survey (it was taken less than two weeks before the election).  However, it wasn't completely fixed--it was there in 2008 and stronger in 2016. 

The pattern doesn't fit the way that the different candidates have usually been depicted in the media.   In 2008, Clinton was usually presented as down-to-earth and Obama as a bit of an elitist (sometimes even "professorial".  And there have been many stories contrasting the conventional businessman Romney with the "populist" Trump, who sometimes talked about an infrastructure program or closing tax loopholes that benefited "the hedge fund guys." 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]