Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Best" colleges, least learning?

In a previous post, I considered the idea that watching Fox News reduces knowledge. I will now be fair and balanced by considering the possibility that attending an elite university reduces knowledge. In 2005 the Intercollegiate Studies Institute conducted a survey of “civic literacy” among freshman and seniors at 50 colleges and universities. The questions were mostly about American history and institutions: a complete list can be found at the ISI site. Seniors got an average of 54% correct, which the ISI presented as a “failing grade.” Of course, having 60% as the minimum passing grade is just an arbitrary convention, so whether 54% is actually a good, bad, or mediocre score is a matter for individual judgment. But they also found an interesting pattern: gains from freshman to senior year were usually smaller at more prestigious universities. 

Here are the averages for the Ivy League and four groups of universities based on the US News rankings: the top 50 national universities, the next 50 national universities, the top 51 liberal arts colleges, and all others. (All Ivy League universities are in the top 50 of the US News rankings—Rhodes College is ranked 51 among liberal arts college).
                     N Freshman Seniors  Gain
Ivy League           6   64.0    63.9   -0.1
Top 50 universities 15   58.8    60.5    1.7
51-100 universities  6   49.1    52.3    3.2
Top 51 colleges      4   57.1    62.8    5.7
Others              25   42.9    48.2    5.3

The gains in the top 100 universities were smaller than the "others," and in the Ivy League, seniors scored slightly worse than freshmen:  in the ISI's interpretation, the Ivies (plus Duke and Berkeley) “reduced civic knowledge.”  The problem with that interpretation is that there are two things at work: learning and forgetting. Students at more selective institutions start out knowing more, so they have more to forget. I estimated a regression predicting senior from freshman year scores:
For example, freshman at the University of Southern Maine had an average score of 37.5, which gives a predicted senior score of 43.6, for an expected gain of 6.1. Freshmen at Brown had an average score of 63.4, which gives a predicted senior score of 65, an expected gain of only 1.6. The top and bottom performers relative to expectations:

Concordia College    +4.4
Harvard University   +4.4
Rhodes College       +4.2
Smith College        +4.0
Murray State         +3.6

St. Thomas College   -4.7
Rutgers              -4.7
Cornell              -6.8
Oakwood College      -7.0
St. John's           -7.2

The scores are influenced by sampling error (the report says that 14,000 students were surveyed, which averages out to 140 per class at each institution), but probably there are some real differences in the rate of learning (or forgetting) at different colleges.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Support for residstribution: to the poor

In October, I had a post on the claim that support for redistribution has "plummeted" in the current recession.   It turns out to be either false or misleading, depending on how you look at it.  The important thing was Obama's taking office:  support for redistribution, as measured by this question, is consistently higher when a Republican is in office.  I interpret that as people make an implicit comparison--should we do more or less than we are doing now?  The rate of unemployment seemed to have no effect on opinions, and the shift from 2008 to 2010 was not unusually large given the change of presidents. 

That question involved the desirability of reducing the differences between the rich and the poor.  There are two ways to do that:  giving to the poor and taking from the rich.  They're not the same:  we could take from the middle class and give to the poor, or take from the rich and give to the middle class.  Economic conditions won't necessarily have the same effect on opinions about these two kinds of redistribution.  So I looked for a question that focused on the poor, and found one that asked people to choose between two statements:

 Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return (or) poor people have hard lives because government benefits don't go far enough to help them live decently

This has been asked pretty frequently since 1994, first by Times-Mirror and later by the Pew Research Center.  The last time (Feb 2011), 41% said that poor people had it easy, and 47% said they had hard lives.  To simplify, I combine the two figures by computing percent "easy" minus percent "hard":  in this case, -6.  Larger positive numbers indicate more conservative opinions.  The changes since 1994:

Opinions were most conservative in the 1990s, and have been more liberal since 2000.  I tried a regression equation predicting average opinions from the party of the president, the unemployment rate, and whether the survey was before or after the enactment of welfare reform in August 1996.  As with redistribution in general, opinions were more conservative under Democrats.  They became more liberal after welfare reform.  I interpret these differences as people responding to changes in the way things are, or the way they think things are.  The unemployment rate also makes a difference:  opinions become more liberal when unemployment increases.  So hard times don't make people turn against the poor:  they make them more sympathetic. 

I'll try to find a question that focuses on views of the rich--if I find one that's been repeated often enough to make a comparison, I'll write about it in a future post.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

More on intellectuals

Continuing my exploration, I found a 1958 Gallup Poll that asked "Are people who are intellectual more likely to be Democrats or Republicans?"  The most popular answer was "no opinion," at 39%, followed by "Neither," at 27%.  Only 15% said Democrats, and 19% said Republicans.  This question was asked after the Democrats had nominated Adlai Stevenson, who had a reputation as an intellectual, for president in both 1952 and 1956.  Apparently the identification of intellectuals with Democrats hadn't caught on in the general public.

The survey also asked "If you were going to a meeting of the garden committee of the Women's Club, would you find more Republicans or Democrats there?"  Again, the most popular answer was "no opinion" (50%).  24% said Republicans, 12% said Democrats, and 13% said "neither."  People had a stronger impression in this case, but it still wasn't very strong. 

It would be interesting to ask similar questions today.  People who are interested in politics are constantly offering generalizations (or stereotypes) about the tastes, lifestyles, and occupations of Democrats and Republicans, but it's hard to say how much of this has sunk in with the average person. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

We need a leader, not a reader

A few weeks ago, Herman Cain got some attention when he said that "we need a leader, not a reader."  He's left the presidential race, but he was connecting to an image which I talked about in my November 24 post:   Democrats are intellectuals and Republicans go with their gut instincts.  People from both parties seem willing to embrace this image, although they put a different spin on it.  Of course, there are some Republicans who present themselves as readers (or even acknowledge having been a college professor), but it's a pretty clear tendency.  My question is how far back it goes.  You could trace it back to the 1950s (the "egghead" Adlai Stevenson)  or farther (FDR's "brains trust").  But my guess is that it started with Ronald Reagan's presidency--not Reagan himself, but the way that people reacted to him. 

A 1978 Los Angeles Times survey provides a good opportunity to look at this issue.  The survey asked people which qualities were most important "when you think about who should be president."  One of the qualities on the list was "intelligent."  The percentages choosing each option (they add to more than 100% because people could choose up to two):

Experience                25%           23%            26%
Honesty                   55%           53%            54%
Leadership                26%           31%            40%
Strong convictions         8%           10%            10%
Cares about people        28%           26%            18%
Attractive personality     2%            1%             1%
Intelligent               30%           33%            32%

Republicans were had more preference for "leadership" and Democrats for "cares about people," but there was no difference in preferences for intelligence--actually, Democrats were least likely to say that it was important, but the differences weren't statistically significant.  A comparison by self-rated ideology produced the same pattern.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Becoming uninformed

A recent survey of New Jersey residents found that people who watched Fox News were less likely to know the outcomes of the recent uprisings in Egypt and Syria--not just less than people who got their news from other sources, but less than people who didn't follow the news at all.  Is this part of a general pattern?  I found a Pew survey from 2010 which had several questions about current affairs:  which party had a majority in the House of Representatives, which position Eric Holder had, which company Steve Jobs headed, and which country had recently had a volcanic eruption that disrupted air travel.  It also had questions about how frequently people watched or listened to various programs.  I computed scores of how often people followed liberal (Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Rachel Maddow) or conservative (Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck) programs. 

Watching both kinds of programs was associated with greater knowledge (even controlling for education).  The association with conservative programs was actually slightly bigger, although the difference was not statistically significant.  And both had stronger associations with knowledge than reading newspapers and news magazines.  (I say associations rather than effects, since there's no way to know how much of the information people got from the programs).  So apparently Fox News doesn't always make people less informed.  On the other hand, the comparison suggests that there was something wrong with their coverage of the Middle East uprisings--their audience is not just generally ignorant of basic political facts.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The common touch

A CNN/Opinion Research poll from April 2010 asked "If you had to choose, would you rather vote for a candidate for public office who is very smart but seems out of touch with average Americans, or a candidate who is in touch with average Americans but does not seem very smart?"

34% chose the smart candidate, 55% chose the one who was in touch, and 11% said they had no preference or weren't sure.  The strongest influences on the answers were political preference and self-rated political ideology:  Democrats and liberals were more likely to prefer the smart candidate.  Among liberal democrats, a little more than half preferred the smart candidate; among conservative republicans, more than 80% preferred the one who was in touch.  More educated people were also more likely to favor the smart candidate, but the effect was much weaker.

Some of these differences probably involve reactions to recent Presidents or presidential candidates--even though the question is abstract, people are bound to think "like Barack Obama," or "like George Bush."  But the differences are large enough to suggest that there might also be a more general difference in the images of the parties.  This particular question was never asked before 2010, but in a later post I'll talk about earlier questions that touch on the issue. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wall Street

"The words 'Wall Street' are often used to describe the nation's largest banks, investment banks, stockbrokers and other financial institutions. Overall, would you say that Wall Street and what it does, benefits the country a lot, benefits it somewhat, harms it somewhat or harms the country a lot?" (Harris)

      Benefits   Benefits     Hurts     Hurts     Other/DK
       a lot     somewhat    somewhat   a lot

9/96    19%       51%         16%        6%          8%
10/97   27%       53%         10%        3%          7%
9/98    22%       51%         16%        3%          8%
9/99    24%       48%         11%        3%         14%
9/2000  22%       47%         13%        3%         15%
10/02   23%       43%         17%        7%         10%
2/10    11%       44%         24%       14%          6%
4/11    11%       43%         23%       16%          6%

"Overall, would you say that Wall Street and what it does, benefits the country a lot, benefits it somewhat, harms it somewhat or harms the country a lot?"
10/03   19%       51%         16%        6%          8%
10/06   22%       51%         17%        6%          5%
2/09    17%       37%         25%       14%          7%

There was a big drop in positive evaluations between 2006 and 2009, but not as big as I would have expected. On the other hand, they haven't bounced back at all since 2009.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interesting if true

David Brooks recently wrote "When people are asked whether government or Wall Street is more responsible for the recession, they say government by overwhelming majorities."  He didn't cite a particular survey, so I checked:

"...who do you blame most for the current recession?" [Allstate/National Journal, Sept 2009]
26% Government institutions that didn't do enough to oversee and regulate ...
25% Financial companies that made risky loans or made risky investments
17% Government policies that resulted in large deficits and too much regulation
15% consumers who took on too much household debt and mortgages ....
7% no one--this recession is a part of the normal economic cycle
9% Don't know

Which of the following do you think was most responsible for the financial crisis and recession of the past two years? [National Review Institute, Jan 2010]

33% Reckless practices by banks and Wall Street firms
26% Irresponsible borrowing by people who could not afford to repay their mortgages
13% Lack of government regulation
22% Federal government policy that promoted poor choices
6% Don't Know

What do you think was most responsible for the recession? [Pew, March 2010]

23% Bad decisions by Wall Street banks
37% Bad decisions by the government
18% Bad decisions by CEOs at companies other than big Wall Street banks
7% Bad decisions by everyday consumers
8% The natural business cycle
8% Don't Know

When you think about the causes of the economic downturn that has affected the United States for the past three years, which do you think has been the biggest contributing factor? [Allstate/National Journal, Sept 2011]

26% Investment firms and banks making risky loans and investments...
22% The economic policies under former President Bush....
19% American companies not investing their profits in creating jobs in America
14% Families taking on too much debt that they couldn't afford
13% The economic policies under President Obama
7% Don't know

There is one question for which the results seem to support Brooks:
"If you had to choose, who do you blame more for the economic problems facing the United States--financial institutions on Wall Street or the federal government in Washington?" [Gallup/CNN, Oct 2011] 30% said financial institutions and 64% said the government, so my guess is this is the survey he was thinking of. But the other questions show that quite a few people think that the government's mistakes were either too little regulation or the Bush tax cuts.

Note (Nov 18): The Roper Center switched around the numbers for "lack of government regulation" and "government policy that promoted poor choices." Using the correct numbers, blame is evenly split between "conservative" and "liberal" targets in this survey.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Support for a Balanced Budget Amendment

Proposals for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget seem to be coming back.  This idea is always popular with the general public, but I was curious to see if there were any changes in its popularity.  I selected straight questions like "Would you favor or oppose a constitutional amendment that would require Congress to balance the federal budget each year."  I excluded any question that included qualifications, extra provisions, or points that could be regarded as arguments on either side.  The figure shows the ratio of favorable to unfavorable responses (the percent saying that they didn't know varied from survey to survey, and sometimes wasn't reported).

The ratio ranged slightly over 1:1 (a little over half of those with opinions in favor) to almost 9:1 (90% in favor).The most recent ratios are low by historical standards, raising hope that the idea is slowly going out of fashion.  But the most striking change was a decline in support for a balanced budget amendment between about 1979 and 1985, followed by a rebound in 1986 and 1987.  The changes don't have any obvious relationship to economic conditions or the party in power. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Make a wish

A 2010 survey sponsored by CBS News, Vanity Fair, and 60 Minutes asked "If one of the following things could happen to you without any effort on your part, which one would you pick? "

1. Receive $10,000 dollars tax free      42%
2. Lose 10 pounds                         8%
3. Become fluent in another language     21%
4. Get a college or advanced degree      17%
5. Be one year younger.                  10%

I wondered what types of people would choose each answer.  A summary of what I found:

higher incomes:  less likely to choose money, more likely to choose language and education.
older:  less likely to choose education, more likely to choose being younger
more educated:  less likely to choose education and being younger; more likely to choose losing weight and another language
women:  more likely to choose education, less likely to choose being younger
blacks:  no significant differences
Hispanics:  less likely to choose money, more likely to choose being younger
conservatives:  no significant differences

Some of the patterns reflect "diminishing marginal utility":  the more you have of something, the less benefit you get from having even more.  For example, if I were offered this choice, I wouldn't go for more education.  But there are others that can't--e. g., the differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics.  The lack of difference by race and political ideology is also striking, since they are strongly related to opinions on many topics.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What happened to the British working class?

The New York Times today had a piece called "The Paradox of the New Elite," which contained the following statement:  "As recently as 1988, some 67 percent of British citizens proudly identified themselves as working class. Now only 24 percent do."  I found this surprising--things like that usually change slowly.  The article linked to an article in the Guardian, which linked to a BritainThinks poll.  That was where the 24% came from.  There were some interesting things in the poll report, but at the end it said "This study draws on an online survey of 2003 UK adults. Data were demographically weighted to be representative of the UK adult population."  The combination of "online survey" and "demographically weighted" usually means that the survey organization made no attempt to get a representative sample--they just relied on people who could be enticed to their website. 

I looked at the British Social Attitudes survey, which does things the old-fashioned way (selecting people at random and contacting them).  They have the following question "Most people say they belong either to the middle class or the working class. If you had to make a choice, would you call yourself middle class or working class?"  Unfortunately, the most recent year was 2006, but then the results were 56% working class and 35% middle class.  Earlier data for the same question can be found from the British Election Studies.  They didn't ask the question in 1988 (there was no general election in Britain last year), but 55% said they were working class in 1983 and 57% said they were working class in 1987.   No change in 20 years.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Support for redistribution has plummeted (?)

A Scientific American article by Ilyana Kuziemko and Michael Norton has received a lot of attention recently.  (I read about it here).  They say that "support for redistribution, surprisingly enough, has plummeted during the recession" [their italics].  They cite the a General Social Survey question:
"Some people think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistanceto the poor. Others think the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor." People can pick any number from 1 (should do something) to 7 (should not concern itself).
Kuziemko and Norton are right--the mean answer was 3.59 in 2008 and 3.95 in 2010 (higher numbers mean less support for redistribution). But their article goes on to say that this is an example of "last place aversion": basically, when times are hard, people get less generous: they get satisfaction from knowing that someone is even worse off than they are. Since the GSS goes back to the 1970s, we don't have to limit ourselves to comparing 2008 and 2010--we can look at the whole history. In that time, there is pretty much no relation between the unemployment rate and opinions about redistribution. For example, between 1980 and 1983, the unemployment rate rose from 6.3 to 10.3 percent, but people became more favorable to redistribution (3.88 to 3.73). There is one thing that predicts opinions pretty well, though: the party of the President. When there's a Democratic president, the average opinion has been 3.84; when it's a Republican, it's 3.62. What's caused support for redistribution to "plummet" isn't the recession, but the change from Bush to Obama. Although the question doesn't explicitly ask people whether the government should do more or less than it's doing now, I suspect that some people have that in mind. When the government doesn't seem to be doing much, they want more; when it seems to be doing a lot, they think it's enough or too much.   So it's unlikely that support for redistribution has changed at all in a real sense.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


In 1998 a Gallup/USA Today survey asked about whether "some practices . . . will be commonplace in the year 2025, or not?"   Then they asked "do you think that in 2025 each one will generally be legal or not legal in the United States."  One of the practices was gay marriage:  74% thought it would be commonplace and 69% that it would be legal.  In September 2004 a Los Angeles Times survey asked, "Regardless of your opinion about same-sex marriage, do you think legal recognition of it is inevitable, or not?"  59% said it was inevitable, 31% that it wasn't, and 10% didn't know. 

The sense of inevitability wasn't because most people favored same-sex marriage.  The immediately preceding question in the LA Times survey asked people about a constitutional amendment that would "prevent states from legally recognizing same-sex marriage":  51% said they would favor it, with 43% opposed.  It also doesn't seem to be because people assume all laws will become less restrictive.  When the 1998 survey asked about "illicit drug use, such as marijuana and cocaine," 64% said it would be commonplace, but only 30% said it would be legal.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I can take care of this, part 2

The question I discussed in my last post was also asked in a 1990 survey by Yankelovich and Time Magazine.  In that survey, 32% said that they could do a better job of running the country than "our government officials are currently doing," and 64% said they couldn't. 

As in the 2010 survey, men were a lot more confident than women (42% to 25%).  One thing I didn't mention in my previous post was party differences.  Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say that they could do better, but was that just because it was a Democratic administration, or is it something more general? In 1990, the President was a Republican (George H. W. Bush), so the Democrats were the "outs."  The percent saying they could do better, by party:

          Democrats   Independents      Republicans
1990     32%               36%                34%
2010     21%               49%                41%

So there seems to be a general tendency for Republicans to have a lower estimation of "our government officials" than Democrats.  But notice that the biggest difference between 1990 and 2010 is among independents.  That could mean independents really strongly the Obama administration, or (what I think is more likely) that they strongly dislike political conflict.   Disagreements between the parties are more intense now than they were in 1990, and independents may conclude that they're both to blame.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I can take care of this

In February 2010 an Opinion Research/CNN survey asked:
 "Do you think you personally could do a better job running the country than our government officials are presently doing?"

36% said yes, and 64% said no.  (Almost no one said they didn't know).   People with higher incomes were somewhat more confident about their ability to run the country--30% of those earning under $35,000 and 42% of those earning over $75,000 said they could do better than the current crew.  People with some college are the most confident--44% said yes, compared to 38% among college graduates and 30% of among people with no college.  But the biggest difference was between men and women--45% of the men said they could, compared to only 27% of the women. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The wisdom of crowds?

ABC News reports a poll showing that 55% of people expect the Republican nominee to win next year and only 37% expect Obama to win (8% don't know).  I looked for earlier questions asking people to predict races.  There were quite a few, so to narrow it down I focused on the 1948 race, when Harry Truman won even though all of the polls and pundits said he would lose.  The people didn't do any better.  In February 1947, when asked "Regardless of how you yourself feel--which party do you think will win the Presidential election next year?"  20% said the Democrats, 63% said the Republicans, and 17% didn't know.  In April 1947, the percent saying Democrats was up to 30% and the Republicans fell to 53%.  The last time it was asked (April 1948), 21% picked the Democrats and 57% picked the Republicans. 

After the election, a Roper/Fortune survey asked people who they had expected to win.  Only 19% said Truman, and 77% said Dewey.  It also asked "Before election day, who did you think most of your friends were going to vote for?"  27% said Truman, 40% Dewey, 3% Thurmond, 2% said most were undecided, 9% said evenly divided, and 19% didn't know.  So if people had made the naive assumption that the winner would be the person most of their friends were for, more of them would have predicted it correctly.

PS:  I also ran across a question from 1945 (just after the Labour Party won the election in Britain) that shows the change in political climate  over the years: 
 "Do you think a Labor Party will ever win a presidential election in this country?"  38% said yes, 37% said no, and 25 didn't know. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011


My last post showed numbers indicating a large decline in the number of people who said that they enjoyed their time on the job more than time off the job.  But the two earliest surveys asked that question of everyone, while the others just asked it of employed people.  So I looked at one of the 1955 surveys to see what employed people said then.  They were more likely to say they enjoyed time off the job, but the margin was only 49%-39% (11% not sure, etc).  39% is still a lot higher than the later figures, so it looks like there was a real change.

Was that because work became less attractive to people or because leisure became more attractive?  Some of the surveys contained a question that sheds some light on that issue:  "Do you enjoy your work so much that you have a hard time putting it aside?"

                   Yes            No        DK
1955            50%          46%       4%
1955            51%          45%       4%
1988            33%          67%
2001            23%          77%

The 1955 surveys asked the question of everyone, not just employed people, but at least in the first of the two surveys, that didn't make any difference (employed people were a little more likely to say yes, but the difference wasn't statistically significant).    So Americans enjoy their work less than they used to, or at least are more likely to say they don't enjoy it.  Or if you're determined to be optimistic, like my friend and colleague Brad Wright in his new book, maybe you could say that we have a healthier attitude towards work--we still enjoy it, but are able to put it aside. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Work vs. leisure

"Generally speaking, which do you enjoy more--the hours when you are on your job, or the hours when you are not on your job?"

             On Job  Not On  Not sure
1955    43%   44%     12%
1955    39%   48%     13%
1988*   20%   68%     13%
1990*   18%   60%     22%
1991*   18%   68%     14%
1993*   22%   70%      8%
1999*   16%   77%      7%
2001*   19%   76%      5%
*Asked only of respondents who work outside the home (about 60% of total)

All surveys were by the Gallup Poll, except 2001 by IPSOS/Reid.  The difference between the 1950s and the later results is impressive.  It's possible that people who weren't employed outside the home in 1955 affected the results--they may have interpreted "on the job" as "while keeping busy", which could lead to favorable responses--but I don't think that could explain all of it.  Maybe conventional wisdom about changes in values during after the 1960s was right.  Social scientists don't like to admit it, but sometimes what everybody thinks is true actually is true.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"It seems that we need some kind of sociologist"

That's from Paul Krugman's presidential address to the Eastern Economic Association.  He argues that macroeconomics has regressed by abandoning Keynesian theory, and offers some speculations as to why before concluding that we need a sociologist.  Well, I'm a sociologist and I'm here to help.  Actually, I don't think that surveys are all that useful in answering this kind of question, and I know of only one survey of economists, from 1996.  Still, I wanted to take a look.  I began by constructing an index from questions about whether tax cuts are good or bad for the economy, whether it would be better for more or fewer workers to be union members, whether high taxes are holding the economy back, whether government regulation is holding it back, whether high taxes are a big economic problem, and whether the gap between rich and poor is a big economic problem.  The result is what you could regard as a measure of liberalism versus conservatism, although I didn't start out planning to create one.  I just began with a factor analysis of a larger number of questions, and this is the strongest pattern that emerged. 

My question was whether position on this index was related to age.  It was--younger economists were more "conservative."  The oldest economist in the sample (born in 1921) had a predicted value of 2.2; the youngest (born in 1969) had a predicted value of about -1.5.  By comparison, the average value of the index was 3.7 for Democrats, -0.7 for Independents, and -4 for Republicans.  So the difference between the oldest and youngest generations was about as big as the difference between Independents and Republicans--that certainly seems large enough to be of interest. 

I hoped to explore exactly when the change took place, but the sample was small, only about 200 cases, so it wasn't possible to tell much.  However, there was no discernible shift towards calling themselves conservatives or Republicans.  (There were more Democrats than Republicans, and most said they were moderate).  That is, it doesn't seem to have been a straightforward ideological movement. 

Krugman's hypothesis is that the cause of the change is internal--it results from the sort of models economists admire ("rigorous" rather than ad hoc).  Since I'm just speculating, I offer another--older generations of economists were influenced by the experience of the 1930s and 1940s, and younger ones by the 1970s, when you could plausibly argue that government efforts to manage the economy were the source of the problem, or at least making things worse. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

About a year ago, I wrote about a Gallup Poll from 1950 that asked people about where they would send a son to college if he could get in and they could afford it.   I recently ran across a similar question in a Roper/Fortune survey from 1949:  "if you had to pick one college or university in the United States where a boy could get the best education, regardless of cost, what one would you pick?"  The top ten (about 3000 people answered the question):

Harvard     258
Notre Dame  184
Yale        135
MIT         122
Cornell      78
Minnesota    67
Wisconsin    67
Columbia     62
Michigan     52
West Point   52
Ohio State   52

That's about the same as the Gallup list.  But Roper/Fortune also asked about where "a girl could get the best education."  The top ten:

Vassar      118
Wellesley    82
Smith        75
Barnard      66
Wisconsin    48
Minnesota    44
Berkeley     43
Northwestern 35
Winthrop     32
Ohio State   31

At the time, many of the leading universities didn't admit women as undergraduates.  Still, there were quite a few that did:  MIT, Cornell, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State from the top choices for boys, plus Penn, Chicago, Stanford, and others.  But the top four spots were taken by women's colleges.   I would have thought that Radcliffe would be at or near the top because of its association with Harvard, but it didn't make the top ten.  I wonder if some people said "Harvard" and were not counted (since Harvard College didn't admit women then).  Vassar's substantial need over the next three is also interesting.  But the big surprise is Winthrop, which I had never heard of.  It was a women's college in South Carolina--now it's coeducational and has become Winthrop University.  As I mentioned in the post on the Gallup survey, southerners didn't seem to have much regional loyalty when choosing colleges for a hypothetical son.  But maybe with a girl, ideas of the "best education" had a moral, social, and cultural component, and for some Southerners that could be had only in the South. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Youth of Yesterday

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Roper did a series of surveys for Fortune magazine that covered a wide range of topics.  One of them involved views of college students.  People were given a list of words, and asked to "pick the three or four that best describe your idea of what the average college student is actually like. (By that I don't mean what they should be). "  Here is the list, rearranged so that it's in order of most to least frequently picked.

Intelligent          47%
Ambitious            41%
Well-informed        33%
Well-mannered        29%
Hard-working         26%
Democratic           21%
Time-wasting         12%
Snobbish              9%
Radical               9%
Conservative          8%
Soft                  6%
Hard-drinking         5%
Over-worked           3%
Immoral               3%

Views were very favorable--"ambitious" could be seen as either positive or negative, but all of the other top choices were unambiguously positive.  Unfortunately, the Roper/Fortune series came to an end in 1949, and that's the only time the question was asked.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Washington" and Washington

The New York Times "Economix" column recently discussed the Gallup survey of economic confidence.  People in the District of Columbia were much more positive than people in any other state.  The column suggested that this fact helped to explain the gap between policy-makers and the public:  people in Washington aren't as worried about the economy.  And that's because Washington's businesses (government, lobbying, public relations) are all growing.  The article mentioned that many people who live in DC are poor and the unemployment rate is high, but didn't make much of that.  It occurred to me that there might be another factor:  views of the President.  People who support Obama might be more likely to say that the economy is doing well (or at least OK), and Obama got over 90%  of the vote in DC. 

A linear regression of the confidence index on the state unemployment rate and the percent voting for Obama in 2008 produced this:


For the District of Columbia, the unemployment rate is 10.8 and 92.5 percent of the 2008 vote went to Obama, so the predicted value is:


That's a higher predicted value than any state.  The actual value in DC is +11, which is considerably more than the predicted value, so this probably isn't the whole story.  But a major reason that the District of Columbia seems confident about the economy is that a large majority of the people who live there support Obama.  Of course, most of them aren't the "Washington" of politicians and lobbyists.  (And much of that "Washington" actually lives in Maryland or Virginia). 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who are the Freudians?--2

Dreams often reflect unconscious desires

         Yes  No  Not sure
18-29    63%  31%    6%
30-49    48%  38%   14%
50-64    39%  44%   17%
65+      26%  42%   33%

Children under four have sexual thoughts

         Yes  No   Not sure

18-29    22%  74%    4%
30-49    11%  77%   12%
50-64    12%  75%   12%
65+       9%  78%   13%

Main reason for psychological problems

         Parents   Own fault   Luck   Other   Don't Know

18-29    41%        22%         8%     18%     11%
30-49    29%        18%        19%     20%     15%     
50-64    21%        21%        14%     25%     20%
65+      20%        25%        11%     14%     29%

Younger people are more likely to favor the "Freudian" on all three questions.  Any time there are age differences in a survey taken at one point in time, they could be the result of either lasting generational differences or views that change with age, or some combination.  I can't think of any plausible reason that views about dreams should change with age.  On the last question, I think at least some of the differences reflect changes with age.  It seems reasonable that younger people would think that relations with parents have more impact on life, for good or bad. Still, these results suggest that "Freudian" ideas are still slowly gaining support in the general public, even as Freud has lost some standing among intellectuals. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Who are the Freudians?

My last post discussed a survey that asked about some more or less Freudian ideas--that young children have sexual thoughts, dreams often reflect unconscious desires, and the main cause of psychological problems is the relationship to one's parents.   Who accepted them?  It seems reasonable that more educated people would be more favorable.  You could argue that there's been a general drift away from tradition, so young people would be more favorable to them.  On the other hand, Freud's prestige seems to have peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, so maybe middle-aged people would be most favorable.

Dreams often reflect unconscious desires

                        Yes  No  Not sure
Not high school grad    30%  42%   28%
high school  grad       39%  42%   19%
college graduate        45%  40%   15%
graduate study          49%  32%   19%

Children under four have sexual thoughts

                        Yes  No   Not sure
Not high school grad    13%  80%    7%
high school grad        11%  80%    9%
college graduate        14%  75%   11%
graduate study          12%  63%   26%

Main reason for psychological problems
                    Parents Own fault   Luck Other Don't Know
Not high school grad  32%     32%       11%    7%    20%
High school grad      27%     22%       16%   17%    18%
college graduate      26%     17%       13%   24%    20%
graduate study        17%     19%       10%   30%    24%

There's no obvious common pattern.  An unusual thing about the second question is that the percent saying they aren't sure increases with education.  Usually educated people are more likely to offer an opinion, even on topics where not knowing is in principle the most reasonable option. 

 Three tables is probably enough for one post, so I'll leave age differences until next time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Know thyself? No thanks

A 2006 survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates contained several questions on "psychological health."  Three of them involve acceptance of Freud's ideas, at least in a popularized form.  "Do you believe that the dreams people have often reflect unconscious desires, or not?"  43% said they did, 40% that they didn't, and 17% that they didn't know.  "If an adult has psychological problems, do you think the MAIN reason is usually .... their relationship with their parents growing up .... is their own fault .... or is just bad luck?"  29% said parents, 22% said their own fault, 13% bad luck, 18% that it was none of these or something else, and 18% that they didn't know.  "Do you believe that a very young child under four years of age is capable of having sexual thoughts and fantasies, or not?"  Only 13% said yes, 76% no, and 11% didn't know. 

It also asked "now thinking about INTENSIVE therapy or psychoanalysis, where you meet with a psychiatrist or other therapist five days a week over a long period of time:  If someone else were paying the bills, would you be interested in undergoing intensive therapy or psychoanalysis to improve your psychological health or learn more about yourself?"  13% said yes, 84% said no, and 4% weren't sure.  

In my next post, I'll look at differences by age and education. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What's an entitlement?

Journalists and people involved in politics often talk about "entitlement programs," or just "entitlements," meaning programs for which people who meet certain criteria have a legal right to benefits.  In a legal sense, "entitlement" is a synonym for "right," but in ordinary language, it tends to have a negative implication.  Someone who stands up for their rights is admirable; someone with a sense of entitlement is not.  The everyday meaning seems to be along the lines of "thinking you should get something without having to earn it." 

So I wonder how the ordinary public understands the talk of curbing the growth of "entitlement programs."  Unfortunately, recent surveys don't shed much light on this, but back in 1994 an NBC/Wall Street Journal Survey asked "Would you favor or oppose cutting spending on government entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal budget deficit?"  61% were in favor, 25% opposed, 7% said that it depends, and  7% were not sure.  But only half of the people were asked that question--the other half (randomly chosen) were asked"Would you favor or oppose cutting spending on such government programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and farm subsidies in order to reduce the federal budget deficit?" Only 23% were in favor, 66% were opposed, 8% said it depends, and 3% weren't sure.  The point of the comparison is that the programs mentioned are entitlement programs.  But apparently most people don't know that. 

You could regard this as a case of public ignorance or inconsistency, but I think the fault is with the insiders who keep using the technical term rather than trying to communicate in language that people will understand. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Out of the mainstream, 2

A February 2005 survey by the New York Times and CBS News asked "on the whole, do you think it should or should not be the government's responsibility to provide a decent standard of living for the elderly?"  79% said it should, 17% that it shouldn't.  Who was this 17%?  They tended to be more affluent and white--no surprise there.  But they were also better educated and older.  For example, only 5% of the people who weren't high school graduates thought it shouldn't be the government's responsibility--that rose to 27% among college graduates and 31% among people with graduate education.  Of course, more educated people tend to make more money, but the educational difference is still there after controlling for income.  I thought that the age effect might be limited to more affluent people, who might think that there were more pressing needs than looking out for them--but it seemed to apply to older people at all income levels.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of the mainstream

In 1974, a Gallup poll asked:  

In which of these nations would you prefer to live: in a
nation where all business is owned and operated by the
government and everyone has about the same amount of money,
or in a nation where some people are rich and some are
poor depending upon their effort, training, or luck?

About 12% chose the first nation, 80% chose the second and 7% weren't sure.  The question basically offered a choice between the Soviet economic system (or a more egalitarian version) and Western capitalism, and when you look at it that way, 12% is surprisingly high.  What sort of people chose the first nation?  Some plausible hypotheses:

1.  Disadvantaged people--they weren't getting much out of existing system, so why not try something else?
2.  Less educated people--education might make people more aware of and more concerned with what other people thought, and therefore less likely to take positions out of the mainstream.
3.  More educated people--education might make people more likely to question established views.  Plus there are arguments that intellectuals are attracted to socialism.
4.  Younger people--it was the time of the "generation gap," when young people seemed to be alienated from American institutions.

The two factors that turned out to make a difference were race and income:  blacks and people with low incomes were more likely to choose the egalitarian socialist nation.  Education, gender, and age made little or no difference.  Among poor blacks, about half chose nation 1; among affluent blacks, about a quarter did.  About 20% of poor whites and only 7% of affluent whites chose nation 1.  So the first hypothesis is a clear winner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Back to Depression

In November 2010, I had a post on answers to the following question:
"As you may know, the United States went through a depression in the 1930s in which roughly one out of four workers were unemployed, banks failed across the country, and millions of ordinary Americans were temporarily homeless or unable to feed their families. Do you think it is very likely, somewhat likely, not very likely, or not likely at all that another depression like that will occur in the US within the next 12 months?"  It had been asked a number of times between October 2008 and December 2009.  Since that post, it's been asked again (June 2011).  People are a little more pessimistic than they were in 2009:  the latest figures are  19% very likely, 29% somewhat likely, 32% not very likely, and 19% not at all likely.  The opinions of Democrats and Independents are about the same as they were in 2009, but Republicans have become considerably more pessimistic:  very likely has gone from 13% to 25%, and somewhat likely from 29 to 37%, while "not at all likely" has fallen from 20% to 9%.  You might have thought that the outcome of the congressional elections last November would have made Republicans more optimistic and Democrats more pessimistic, but apparently not.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Compromise vs. principle, 2006

In November 2006, the Democrats regained a majority in the House of Representatives after twelve years in the minority.  President Bush was unpopular--only 38% of people said that they approved of his performance.  A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll asked "When dealing with George W. Bush, do you think Democrats in Congress should compromise to get things done even if they have to sacrifice some of their beliefs, or should the Democrats in Congress stand up for their beliefs even if that means less might be accomplished?" and a parallel question about how Bush should act in dealing with the Democrats.  Overall 52% thought that both should compromise, 17% thought that Bush should compromise and the Democrats should stand firm, 11% thought that the Democrats should compromise and Bush should stand firm, and 13% said that both should stand up for what they believed in.  The other 7% said they were not sure about one or both questions.  Of course, opinions differed by ideology.

Who should compromise?
                  Both     Just Bush    Just Dems    Neither                    
Liberal             48%      30%           6%          10%
Moderate            61%      15%           6%          13%
Conservative        48%       8%          22%          15%       

Liberals and conservatives are almost a mirror image of each other--conservatives were somewhat more likely to say that neither should compromise, and liberals were a somewhat more likely to say that only the other side should compromise, but I doubt that either difference is statistically significant.  Moderates were more likely to say that both sides should compromise. 

So this is what you might expect to be the normal pattern--moderates want both sides to compromise, liberals and conservatives want the other side to compromise (that's emphasizing the differences--as I said last time, compromise is popular among all kinds of people).  But this was not a normal political situation--the Democrats were riding high, and the Republicans were on the defensive.  That is, it was pretty much the opposite of 2010, so the pattern should have been the opposite--both conservatives and moderates calling for compromise.  So it seems that both of the interpretations I mentioned last time are partly true--support for compromise increases as your side gets weaker, but there's also a tendency for conservatives to be less favorable to compromise than liberals.  Admittedly, this conclusion is based on only two examples, but that's how it looks now.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Compromise vs. principle

An interesting feature of current politics is that many Republican politicians seem convinced that the public wants them to take a hard-line position on taxes and spending, and that accepting any compromise will cost them votes.  This is almost certainly wrong, not just because most people are somewhere in the middle, but because most people have a general preference for compromise over conflict in politics, regardless of the specific issue.  A Gallup Poll from January has a good question on this point:

"Where would you rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 means it is more important for political leaders to compromise in order to get things done, and 5 means it is more important for political leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little gets done?"

Only 17% chose 5, while 35% chose 1.  (12% chose 2, 23% chose 3, and 12% chose 4).  People who said they were moderates favored compromise by 41% to 14%, while conservatives favored it by a much smaller margin, 27% to 22%.   It makes sense that people in the middle should be more favorable to compromise.  The surprise was that liberals were just like moderates, favoring compromise over sticking to beliefs by  43%-10%.  Maybe this was because liberals were in a weak position after the outcome of the November 2010 elections.  But maybe it reflects a general difference between liberals and conservatives--some people say that liberals are inclined to compromise and seeing the other guy's point of view, while conservatives just want to win.  It would be nice if you could compare answers to the question at different times, but unfortunately it's only been asked twice, the first in November 2010 (just after the mid-term election).  However, there are some related questions that were asked after the election of 2006, which I'll look at in my next post.

PS:  I just found a post on the Marginal Revolution blog citing the same Gallup poll in support of the idea of a general difference between liberals and conservatives.

PPS:  And this one by Ezra Klein saying no, it's just a reflection of the current political situation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let me have men about me that are moderately overweight

A few months ago, I had a post on the relationship between height and satisfaction with life.  It's possible to look at the relationship between weight (relative to height) and satisfaction with life using the same data set.  From the height and weight that people report, you can calculate their Body Mass Index.  According to the Centers for Disease Control standards, a BMI of 18.5 or less makes you underweight, 18.5-25 is normal weight, 25-30 is overweight, and more than 30 is obese.

For men, the maximum average reported satisfaction with life occurs at 26.6, a little above the average BMI for men (27.3).  For women, it occurs at 22.3,  which is significantly below the average BMI for women (25.9).  To translate that back into everyday terms, someone who is 5'4" and weighs 130 pounds has a BMI of 22.3.  I also looked at the range of BMI values for which satisfaction is close to the maximum.  The definition of close is necessarily arbitrary--I made it .01 on a 4 point scale.  For men, average satisfaction values are "close" for BMI values between 24.4 to 29.3.  For women, they are close in the range 20.4 to 24.6.  So overall, the men who are most satisfied with life are those who are moderately overweight by the standard definition; the women who are most satisfied are in the "normal" range.

Monday, July 11, 2011

3 AM in America

According to a column by Frank Bruni in the New York times, Jon Huntsman recently said “for the first time in history, we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got.”  I remember people saying similar things in the 1970s and the early 1990s.  "For the first time" always seems to be part of the lament, as if everything had gone smoothly for all of American history until the present.  Questions about optimism and pessimism have been pretty common since the 1980s, but were rare before them.  The longest-running one is "As you look to the future, do you think life for people generally will get better, or will it get worse," first asked by Gallup in 1952 and by a number of other organizations since then.

          Better Worse Same Don't know
Feb  1952  45   33   12   10
July 1962  55   23   12   10
Jan  1979  46   46    3    6
Sept 1989  57   28   12    4
Jan  2009  61   31    3    5

The most recent figures sound remarkably favorable considering the economic situation in January 2009.  Maybe that's the result of general good feeling around Obama's inauguration; maybe people felt like we'd been through the worst of the recession and the economy would bounce back quickly, or maybe there's a mistake in reporting the numbers.  I'll look at that possibility later.  But in any case, this decade has a way to go before it can match the 1970s in terms of feeling bad.

Note:  the 1989 question was somewhat different--it asked about people in the United States over the next 10 years.  I don't think that these differences would have much effect on people's answers, but I can't be sure.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Boys and Girls--II

The Pew survey I mentioned in my last post also had questions about whether certain characteristics were more true of men or women (people could also say that there was no difference).  The characteristics were intellingent, decisive, hard-working, compassionate, emotional, ambitious, arrogant, creative, manipulative, outgoing, and stubborn.  Here are the correlations between opinions on these topics and preferences for a girl vs. a boy.  A positive sign means that people who thought the characteristic was more true of women were more likely to prefer a girl; a negative sign means that people who think it was more true men were more likely to prefer a girl.  You could say that positive signs mean the characteristic is valued--people prefer a child of the sex they think has that characteristic.  

Hardworking      .107
Intelligent      .056
Outgoing         .044
Decisive         .043
Creative         .039
Ambitious        .015
Compassionate   -.008
Stubborn        -.015
Arrogant        -.021
Manipulative    -.059
Emotional       -.094

For example, people who thought men were more intelligent than women preferred a boy by 54%-21%; people who thought women were more intelligent than men preferred a boy by a much smaller margin 39%-30%.  In general the correlations seems reasonable, but I'm surprised that hardworking is the strongest positive association and compassionate make no difference.  I'd think it would be much better to have a lazy and compassionate child than a hardworking and hardhearted one.  

Of course, this analysis combines men and women.  It seems obvious that there will be differences between the sexes--that women will value qualities like compassion and creativity more than men do.  It seems obvious, but there's not much evidence that it's true.  For example, the correlation of beliefs about compassion and preference is -.052 among men and .015 among women.  Neither correlation is statistically significant, and the difference between them isn't either.  The general pattern of correlations is similar for men and women.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Boys and Girls

The Economix blog in the New York Times recently had a post showing that Americans say they would prefer a boy to a girl if they could have only one child.  This preference is just about as strong as it was 70 years ago, despite great changes in other attitudes about gender.  The latest survey (2011) finds 40% saying they'd prefer a boy, 28% saying a girl (the rest saying it didn't matter or they weren't sure).  Back in 1947, it was 40% and 25%.  Another surprising thing:  the preference for a boy was stronger among young people, who in other ways have more egalitarian attitudes towards gender.

In thinking about this, it occurred to me that older people are more likely to have had children and that experience could affect preferences.  A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center asked about the sex of one's children and hypothetical preference.  There's a strong relationship:  people with no children prefer a boy by 42%-24%; among people whose children are all sons it rises to 53%-9%, but people whose children are all daughters prefer a girl by 54%-13%.  People with both sons and daughters have some preference for a boy, but it's pretty small (27%-22%).

To some extent, people who have children may think about the actual boys and/or girls they have, who in most cases they are pretty happy with.  Since about half of all children are girls, they have more balanced preferences (and more say that it doesn't matter) than childless people, for whom the question is completely hypothetical.  Still, there's some preference for boys, even among people who've had both boys and girls.  My next post will look further at this. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Taxing the rich

I often notice a survey question asked many years ago and wish that they'd repeat it.  It's a lot less often that I find a case in which an old question was repeated after a long lapse.  I did today:

People feel differently about how far a government should go. Here is a phrase which some people believe in and some don't. Do you think our government should or should not redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich? 

35%  54%  11%   (Roper/Fortune, March 1939)
45%  51%   4%   (Gallup, April 1998)
49%  47%   4%   (Gallup, April 2007)
51%  43%   5%   (Gallup, April 2008)
46%  50%   4%   (Gallup, Oct 2008)
50%  46%   4%   (Gallup/USA Today, March 2009)
47%  49%   4%   (Gallup, April 2011)

The sampling procedures were different in the late 1930s than they are today, so I'm not sure whether there's really been an increase in support for heavy taxes on the rich.  But there certainly hasn't been a decline.  It's also interesting that the figures for October 2008, March 2009, and April 2011 are essentially the same.  From following the news, you'd think the public mood had changed a lot over that time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Growing libertarianism?

Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight blog had a post a couple of days ago entitled "Poll finds a shift towards more libertarian views."  His measure of libertarianism involved two questions, one about whether "the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses," the other about whether "the government should promote traditional values" or "not favor any particular set of values."  Both of them are meaningful questions, but I don't think that either gets at the heart of the libertarian position, which I would summarize as saying that nothing should ever override individual rights.  Some things that have a direct relatioon to core libertarian principles are opposition to mandatory seat belt laws and mandatory helmet laws for motorcyclists.  Neither is a big issue in mainstream politics, but there have been a few questions.

Seat belts:

Would you favor or oppose a law that would fine a person $25 if he did not wear a seat belt while riding in an automobile?  (Gallup)

                 Favor                   Oppose
1973:           25%                    71%
1977:           17%                    76%
1977:           17%                    78%
1982:           19%                    77%
1985:           35%                    59%
1988:           54%                    43%

Many states have primary seat belt laws that allow police officers at stop a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt. In other states, with secondary laws police must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing an occupant for failure to buckle up. Which type of seat belt law do you support--primary or secondary? (Public Attitude Monitor 1996)
Primary  44%   Secondary 45% Neither (vol) 8%

Of course, not all of the opposition in 1973 reflected libertarian principles.  Most of it was probably just "we've never done that before, why start now"?  And the 1996 question is quite different.  But the 8% is of interest as an indicator of the number of committed libertarians.

Some states have laws that require motorcyclists to wear helmets. Studies show that the use of helmets greatly reduces deaths and serious injuries among motorcyclists. On the other hand, some people are opposed to helmet laws because they claim such laws limit a person's right to choose what they do. What is your opinion? Do you strongly support, moderately support, moderately oppose, or strongly oppose motorcycle helmet laws? (Public Attitude Monitor)

1990:  strongly favor 76%   favor 14%     5% moderately oppose    3% strongly oppose
1996:  strongly favor 64%   favor 20%     7% moderately oppose    6% strongly oppose

Some people believe that motorcycle helmets should be required because they reduce deaths and serious injuries. Others oppose helmet laws because they limit a person's right to choose what they do. Because of these different viewpoints, state laws on motorcycle helmets differ.... Do you think all motorcyclists should be required to wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle?  (Public Attitude Monitor)

2001:  Yes 79%    No  20%

The 1996 figures add up to 110, not 100 (if people who don't know are counted), so the reported totals must have mistakenly added 10 to one of the first two categories.  Either way, there was some weakening of support for mandatory helmet laws between 1990 and 1996.  The 2001 question is somewhat different, and I think the way it's worded may be more favorable to the "no" position than the earlier questions.  But for what it's worth, it points towards growing opposition.

The conclusion:  at least we can rule out "no change."