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.