Saturday, December 29, 2012

Education and taste in reading

In the early days of survey research, there weren't nearly as many surveys as there are today, but they were more likely to venture outside the usual range of topics.  For example, in 1948 a Roper/Fortune survey focused on "cultural interests."  One question gave people a card with a list of possible plots for a novel or story and asked "if you were going to spend this evening reading, which would you select--assuming that they all would be well-written?"  It also asked whether there were any that "you'd rather not read about at all?"

The plots were: 
1.  "A stuffy banker is outwitted in an amusing way by a group of farmers"
2.  "A plain girl to whom no one had paid much attention in her home town goes to Washington,  becomes a great social success, and marries a brilliant young Senator."
3.  "An amateur detective solves an unusually puzzling murder."
4. "A soldier returns to find that his wife has been blinded in an air raid."
5. "The adventures of a little-known sea captain who had a great influence on the outcome of the American Revolution."
6.  "The problems of a man who can't make decisions because he always had been tied to his mother's apron strings."
7.  "The wife of a European diplomat runs away with an American businessman."
8.  "Two high school sweethearts drift apart but finally realize they have loved each other all along and are married."

It seemed to me that 4, 6, and 7 were the plots that were most compatible with "literary" fiction, since they didn't involve a clear happy ending or solution.  Therefore, I expected that they would be less popular overall, but that education would increase the taste for them.  The actual rankings by popularity are:

Captain           +5
Banker            +3
Girl              -1
Detective         -4
*Apron            -6
*Blind            -9
Sweethearts       -13
*Affair           -20

Asterisks indicate the ones I regarded as more "literary."  On the average, they were indeed less popular than the others.  The figures are percent who said they they would pick that story minus the percent who said they wouldn't want to read it.  Most of the numbers are negative because people could pick only one as their favorite but could give multiple answers on ones that they wouldn't want to read. 

I regressed each person's ratings of each story on five characteristics, education, economic level (as estimated by the interviewer, age, and dummy variables for black and female:

                Educ    Eclev               Age    Black  Female
Captain       +.083   +.046                +.019   +.006   -.194
Banker        -.029   +.012                +.038   -.018   -.117
Girl          -.032   +.003                +.003   +.126   +.314
Detective     +.014   -.027                -.021   +.003   -.352
Apron         +.021   -.051                +.003   +.099   +.115
Blind         -.054   -.045                -.034   -.034   +.046
Love          -.099   -.058                +.002   +.050   +.249
Affair        -.064   -.014                -.031   +.036   +.079

Contrary to my expectations, education didn't make people more favorable to the "literary" plots. More educated people were a little more favorable to the one about the man who couldn't make decisions, but less favorable to the ones about the soldier returning to find his wife was blind and the affair.  Gender was the strongest influence on all but one (the returning soldier)--in general, education reduced taste for plots that were more popular among women. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still more on gun control

Back in July, I had a couple of posts on gun control.  Unfortunately, recent events brought the issue back to mind.  Since 1980, the Gallup Poll has asked the following question (with minor variations):  "Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns except by the police and other authorized persons?"  Between 1959 and 1979, they asked the same question about "pistols and revolvers."  Here is a figure showing changes over the whole period:

There has been a large decline in support for a handgun ban over the period.  Looking more closely, support seems to have fallen rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s (although the question was asked only a few times, so it's hard to be sure), then more slowly until about 2000, and the more rapidly again.   The sustained decline in support supports Ross Douthat's claim, mentioned in my earlier post, that it reflects a more general shift in values.  I'm not convinced by his idea of "individualism" as the source, but I don't have a good alternative at the moment.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Evils of Europe

During this election, there seemed to be a lot of talk about the danger that Barack Obama was going to turn America into Europe. I recall hearing similar things said about Democratic candidates in previous elections, but I don't think it was nearly as common. That doesn't sound like such a terrible fate to me, but I'm not a typical voter. What do most people think about life in Western Europe? There haven't been many questions on the subject, but back in 1990 a survey sponsored by Parents Magazine asked which scored the highest in various areas of life, the United States, Japan, or "major Western European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, or Italy." The results, arranged by size of America's lead on Europe (questions slightly abbreviated):

                                                                USA Japan Europe DK
Overall quality of life         87%   5     5     4 
Giving each person the 
     opportunity to succeed     83%  12     3     2 
Popular culture                 84%   3     8     6 
International leadership        80%   8     5     7 
Political system and 
               institutions     82%   3     9     6 
Producing high quality 
    goods & services            46%  44     6     4 
Moral fiber of its citizens     49%  29     9    13 
Scientific and technological 
    achievements                38%  52     7     3 
Educating its citizens          30%  52    13     5 
Providing quality medical care  45%   8    36    11 
Serious literary and artistic 
                    endeavors   41%   6    41    12 

They fall into three groups, one in which the United States was overwhelmingly seen as the leader, one in which the United States and Japan were pretty close, and one in which the United States and Europe were close. The same survey asked people which would rank first in 20 years (that is, in 2010). There was a general pattern of regression to the mean--for example, 76% thought the United States would lead in quality of life (down from 87% in 1990) and 44% thought it would lead in scientific and technological achievements (up from 38%). There two areas that stood out for optimism: 58% saw the United States as moving to first in "providing quality medical care for all its citizens" and 51% saw it as moving to first in education.

Monday, December 10, 2012

We wuz robbed, part 2

A recent survey by Public Policy Polling asked "Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election this year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?"  Only 35% of the respondents who voted for Romney said that he won it legitimately--59% said that ACORN stole it and 16% didn't know.  In December 2004, a Gallup/CNN/USA Today Poll asked "Which comes closer to your view of this year's (2004) presidential election--(George W.) Bush won fair and square, or Bush only won because of vote fraud or other illegal means?"  60% of Democrats said he won "fair and square," while 34% said that he won because of fraud.   

So it seems like Democrats were more willing to accept defeat in 2004 than Republicans were this year (although even 34% is a lot).  The questions aren't quite the same, but they seem pretty comparable.   The bigger problem is that PPP is an automated survey, where the questions are recorded and people answer by pushing buttons on the phone.  I don't know of any research about differences in answers between automated surveys and conventional surveys with a human interviewer, but I suspect that people may take the automated survey less seriously and be more likely to pick "outrageous" options.  Response rates are also lower, although it's not clear what effect that would have.  Hopefully one of the conventional survey firms will ask something on this topic.  

PS:  I once looked for similar questions after the 1960 election, when there were many claims of fraud.  But there weren't any, which says something in itself.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Taxes on high, low, and middle incomes

About a week ago the New York Times had a story on taxes which said that over the last 20 years, the percentage of people who thought high-income people paid too little income tax had fallen, while the percentage who thought low-income people paid too little had risen.  That seemed like a surprisingly big change, so I checked the source (the Gallup Poll).  

The figure shows the percent who say taxes for the given group are too high minus the percent who say they are too low.  The changes are almost mirror images of each other, so you can combine the two sets of numbers into one--differences between opinions about the tax burden of the rich and the poor.  The Gallup Poll also asked about "middle-income people" and "you."  Those figures tracked each other closely, so they can also be combined into one.   The result is two numbers, one representing views about the tax burden of the average person and the other representing views about the relative burdens of the rich and poor.

Here are the averages for four periods:
                         Average       High/Low
1992-3               104               118
1994-9               115                 94
2003-8                 87                 92
2009-12               80                 65

Those years don't quite correspond to administrations:  I count 1993 with 1992 because the survey was taken in April and Bill Clinton's tax program wasn't passed until August 1993.  After that happened, people were more inclined to say that the average person paid too much, and less inclined to think that the rich paid too little and the poor too much.  In contrast, after the Bush tax cuts people felt considerably better about their own tax burdens; views about the gap between rich and poor didn't change.  Finally, there's been little or no change in how people feel about their own tax burdens since 2009 (I haven't checked, but I don't think the difference between 2003-8 and 2009-12 is statistically significant), but people have been much less inclined to say that the rich paid too little and the poor paid too much.

The changes in opinion through 2008 can plausibly be exchanged by actual changes in tax rates--Clinton increased them and made the system more progressive, while Bush cut them.  There haven't been major changes in tax rates under Obama, so my guess is that views about the gap between rich and poor have changed in response to political discourse--in the last few years, many Republican leaders have made a point of  saying that low income people pay too little and high income people pay too much, so ordinary people who support the party followed along.  The puzzle is why the Bush tax cuts didn't have any discernible impact on opinions about the tax burden on people with high income. 


Friday, November 30, 2012

Who are the rich?

A 1997 survey by Princeton Survey Research Associates asked "Which one of the following areas of the economy do you think accounts for the largest number of new wealthy Americans?"  and offered several choices.  The percent choosing each:

computers and software                 34%
communications                          7%
entertainment and sports               23%
Wall Street,                          
   investments and stock trading       16%
banking and other financial services    5%
international economic development      4%
small business formation                5%
Don't know                              6%

It's not possible to compare these responses to reality, since the categories omit major areas of the economy (including real estate and most retail and manufacturing), and aren't always mutually exclusive (e. g., small business and computers and software).  Still, the percentage naming "entertainment and sports" is remarkably high, beating Wall Street and banking combined.  The best estimates of the occupations of rich people, by Jon Bakija, Adam Cole, and Bradley Heim, are that about 12% of the top 1% were in finance and 1.7% in "arts, media, and sports."  If you use the top 0.1%, the figures were 14% for finance and 3.5% for arts, media, and sports.  By their estimates, the biggest occupation for rich people is "executives, managers, and supervisors, non-finance".

People with higher incomes were more likely to choose "small business formation" and less likely to choose "banking and other financial services," but those are minority opinions in all groups.  The proportions choosing computers, entertainment, and Wall Street were about the same regardless of income.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Capitalism and Obama

The survey I mentioned in my last post also asked whether people approved of the job Barack Obama was doing as president.  If you regress approval on reaction to the six terms, these are the results.

Socialism     .138
Progressive   .122
Libertarian  -.055
Capitalism   -.039
Liberal       .291
Conservative -.227

A positive sign means that a positive view of the word goes with a positive rating of Obama's performance.  So people who had positive feelings about liberal, socialism, and progressive were more likely to approve of Obama's performance; people who had positive feelings about conservative, libertarian, and capitalist were less likely to approve.  No surprises there, but note that the effect of feelings about capitalism is very small (and not statistically significant). 

But as I've said a number of times, understanding of political terms is likely to differ by education.  Here are the results if you break the sample into people without a college degree and people with one:
               No degree     Degree
Socialism       .147          .123
Progressive     .087          .161
Libertarian    -.009         -.095
Capitalism     -.097          .100
Liberal         .245          .356
Conservative   -.180         -.292

Feelings progressive, liberal, conservative, and libertarian have the expected sign in both groups, but are stronger among people with a college degree--that's what you'd expect if more educated people have a better (or more conventional) understanding of what those words mean.  Feelings about socialism have a weaker association among more educated people.  That could be because "socialism" is mostly a term of abuse in American political discussion.  So some educated people who support Obama may go out of their way to say that they're not an socialist. 

The really surprising difference occurs with capitalism:  other things equal, educated people who have positive feelings about capitalism are more likely to think that Obama is doing a good job.  That is, the relationship has the "correct" direction among less educated people and the "wrong" direction among educated people.  Maybe the college-educated people who have negative feelings about capitalism tend to disapprove of Obama because they regard him as too conservative.  But in that case, I'd expect a similar reversal for socialism.  Another possibility is that college-educated people who have negative feelings about capitalism are just generally disgruntled, and disapprove of most things (remember that only a small minority of people with college degrees say they have negative feelings about capitalism).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Education and the isms

The Pew survey mentioned in my last post asked people for their reactions to six terms:  socialism, progressive, liberartian, capitalism, liberal, conservative.  Here are scores for the reactions to each.  For example, among people who didn't graduate from high school 50% had a positive reaction to "socialism" and 48% had a negative reaction, for a score of 50-48=+2.  (The remaining 2% said they were neither positive nor negative--there were also people who said they didn't know, but I exclude them).
              Socialism  Progressive Libertarian  Capitalism Liberal Conservative
No HS           +2          +51         +10          -10      +27        +39
HS             -30          +49          -7           -8       +2        +47
Some College   -36          +57         +18           +2      +16        +35
College Grad   -38          +40          -6          +39       +1        +28
Grad School    -38          +42         -14          +59      +27         -1

Education makes people more negative about socialism, progressive, libertarian, and conservative, and more positive about capitalism.  "Liberal" is more complex:  people with the least and most education are more positive than people with moderate amounts.  Reaction to capitalism is the most strongly affected by education.   Among people with graduate education, capitalism gets the most positive reaction among all these terms; among people without a high school degree, it gets the least positive This is a surprise, since a classic theme in conservative thought is that education makes people more critical of capitalism (or in some accounts, makes them think that they could  run things better than the market).  

Some of the difference probably is just  a matter of schools teaching people that "capitalism" is a name for the economic system we have in America, not changing views about that system.  But it's hard to argue that the educational system is turning people against capitalism. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Socialist Youth

John Hinderaker, a conservative blogger, says "to me, the most telling incident of the campaign season was a poll that found that among young Americans, socialism enjoys a higher favorability rating than free enterprise."  The last poll I could find asking about "free enterprise" was in 2010, when 86% Americans said they had a positive reaction to "free enterprise."  It was actually higher (over 90%) among people aged 18-29.  However, there is a Pew survey from 2011 that asked for reactions to "socialism" and "capitalism"; among people aged 18-29, 52% had a favorable reaction to socialism and 47% had a favorable reaction to capitalism.

  There were big differences in the reaction to "socialism":

              positive   negative
18-29      52%            46%
30-44      38%            58%
45-64      26%            70%
65+         15%            82%

Age differences in the reaction to "capitalism" were much smaller:

             positive   negative

18-29      47%            49%
30-44      54%            42%
45-64      55%            42%
65+         60%            38%

Hinderaker offers an explanation, which is that  the "educational system, the entertainment industry, the news media and every cultural institution that comes to mind are all dedicated to turning out liberals."  But people with college degrees (and even graduate degrees) are slightly less likely to have a positive reaction to "socialism" and considerably more likely to have a positive reaction to "capitalism." 

 Paul Krugman suggests an alternative:  "after decades in which right-wingers have attacked long-established institutions — Social Security, progressive taxation, unemployment insurance — as 'socialism,' a lot of young people now believe them, and think that this 'socialism' thing really isn’t so bad." That sounds plausible:  a related point is that many older people probably associate "socialism" with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The March Into Socialism

Is support for socialism on the rise in America?  Looking at the outcome of the election, some  conservatives say yes (and aren't happy about it).  I remember some similar talk after 2008, but then it was forgotten in the wake of the 2010 election.  What's actually happening?  There haven't been many questions, but here's what I could find:

"The United States would be better off if it moved toward socialism"  (Research & Forecasts)
1982     20% agree, 72% disagree

"Would you say you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion towards each of the following ideas... socialism?"  (Comparative Study of National Character)
c. 1990  11% favorable, 32% depends, 50% unfavorable
"Just off the top of your head, would you say you have a positive or negative image of ... socialism?" (Gallup)  
2010   36% positive, 58% negative

"As I read a list of words and phrases, please tell me what your reaction is to each.  Do you have a positive or negative reaction to .... socialism" (Pew)
2010  29% positive, 59% negative
2011  31% positive, 60% negative

It's hard to be sure because of the changes in question wording, but it looks like Americans may have a more favorable view of socialism now than they did 20-30 years ago.   

Monday, November 5, 2012

Battleground states

A New York Times story yesterday pointed out that presidential candidates have appeared in only ten states since the conventions, while John F. Kennedy campaigned in 49 states and Richard Nixon campaigned in all fifty during the 1960 election.  The story said that this change reflected a decline in the number of states that are close enough to be worth fighting for and cited a few examples.  I decided to look more systematically, using all presidential elections from 1916-2008.  The figures show the interquartile range--the difference in percentage of the two-party vote between the states with fairly high (75th percentile) and fairly low (25th percentile) Democratic shares of the vote.  I show two figures, one for all states and one excluding the South. 

By both measures, the gap has been rising since the 1970s--that is, Democratic states are more Democratic and Republican states are more Republican.  Of course, even in 1960 both candidates had states that were out of reach, so their decision to campaign in all of them must have reflected some kind of convention or sense of obligation rather than a real expectation that they could win.  But it does seem like the states are pulling farther apart, leaving few close ones.

PS.  The unusually high figure for 1924 occurred because there was a significant third-party candidate, Robert La Follette (Progressive), who pulled a lot of votes from the Democrats in the Midwest and West.  For example, in California the Democratic candidate got only 8% of the vote, vs. 57% for the Republican (Calvin Coolidge), and 35% for La Follette.   There were 18 states in which the Democrats received less than 30% of the two-party vote. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"President Obama is in electoral trouble"

In August, I saw a reference to an election forecasting model by Michael Berry and Kenneth Bickers (University of Colorado) that predicted a Romney win based on state unemployment data.  I couldn't find the full paper at the time, but after seeing another reference, I looked again and found it.  Their assessment is given in the quotation that provides my title.  The predict Obama will win only 218 electoral votes (with new data, they've revised that down to 208) and 47% of the popular vote.  It turns out that the state-level data doesn't have that much to do with the forecast--the important variable is the national unemployment rate.  According to their estimates, high unemployment costs a Democratic incumbent a lot of votes, which is why things look bad for Obama.  That's right, just Democratic incumbents--for Republican incumbents, the national unemployment rate doesn't matter.  Why do they get this result? The state-level data go back only to 1980, so the eight elections from 1980 to 2008 are the only ones they can use to estimate the model.  In that period, there was one Democrat who ran for re-election with a high unemployment rate (Jimmy Carter in 1980), and one Republican who ran for re-election with a high unemployment rate (Ronald Reagan in 1984).  Carter lost, and Reagan won big.  When you put it that way, the "evidence" that the national unemployment rate has different effects for Democratic and Republican presidents is really just one example.  

But since Berry and Bickers use state data (plus DC), they have fifty-one cases in which a Democrat ran for re-election with a high national unemployment rate, and fifty-one in which a Republican ran for re-election with a high national unemployment rate, which seems like a lot of evidence.  The problem is that the cases aren't independent--to a large extent, they're just duplicates of two cases (Carter and Reagan).  On some level, this is a fairly sophisticated statistical issue.  But on another level, it's pretty simple--really surprising results (Republican incumbents aren't hurt by high unemployment) usually mean you did something wrong. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The value of a stupid question

The survey I discussed in my last post also included this:  "Here is a question about the actor, Charlie Sheen. As you may know, he frequently has used the word 'winning' when talking about himself. Based on what you know about his recent behavior, would you say that Charlie Sheen has mostly been winning or mostly been losing in the past few weeks?"  This was not an issue of lasting importance--in fact, I've forgotten what he was doing except that he was generally thought to be making a fool of himself.   But if you compare people by self-described political views, there was a definite relationship:  12% of the people who said that they were very conservative or conservative thought that he'd been "winning," compared to 25% among people who said that they were "liberal" or "very liberal."  Also, the relationship was stronger among less educated people.   With nearly all political opinions, you get the opposite pattern:  the relationship to self-described ideology is much stronger among educated people. 

This is one of the clearest pieces of evidence for a claim I've made several times:  for many less educated people, statements about whether they are liberal or conservative don't have much to do with their political views, and are more about lifestyle or general morals.  In effect, they may understand "liberal" as meaning something like "libertine." 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mitt Romney vs. Big Bird

In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney said he would eliminate federal funding for PBS.   President Obama and other Democrats have frequently reminded people of that, which suggests they think that it's an unpopular position.   A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey in 2011 gave people a list of ten programs, and asked if federal funding should be increased, kept the same, decreased a little, decreased a lot, or eliminated entirely.   If you give the options scores of 1 to 5, with 1 representing a spending increase and 5 representing elimination, the averages are:

Education                      1.61
Medicare                       1.70
Social Security                1.78
Medicaid                       2.00
Housing assistance for poor    2.06
Food for poor                  2.08
Military spending              2.21
Gov't pensions                 2.68
Public broadcasting            2.74
Foreign aid                    2.91

So spending for public broadcasting is second from the bottom in terms of public priorities, finishing ahead of only "aid to foreign countries for international development and humanitarian assistance" (the survey included descriptions of most of the programs--I just give shortened labels).   So Mitt Romney was right to go after PBS, at least in a political sense.  The relative lack of support for public broadcasting probably doesn't represent anti-intellectualism, since education spending gets the most support.  My guess is that people see public broadcasting as less essential, or something that could be replaced by private contributions. 

On the other hand, people aren't in favor of big cuts in any program--the mean is in favor of increasing spending for education, Medicaid, and Social Security and at keeping spending the same for Medicaid (which the survey describes as "the federal health program for the poor").  Even for foreign aid, the mean was in between kept the same and decreased a little. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The red states, blue states, and the Civilizing Process

Steven Pinker, Professor of Psychology at Harvard, had a piece in the NY Times today entitled "Why Are States So Red and Blue?," in which he proposed that the tendencies of states to vote for Democrats or Republicans have deep roots in history:  "The North and coasts are extensions of Europe and continued the government-driven civilizing process that had been gathering momentum since the Middle Ages. The South and West preserved the culture of honor that emerged in the anarchic territories of the growing country, tempered by their own civilizing forces of churches, families and temperance."

Pinker makes some interesting points, but overlooks one basic one:  the identity of "red" and "blue" states has changed over time.  In fact, the correlation between Democratic share of the vote in the 1936 and 2008 presidential elections is -.46:  by and large, the states where the Democrats did best 1936 are the ones where they did worst in 2008.  Of course, this is misleading, because the South has shifted from Democratic to Republican, while remaining conservative.  But if we exclude the south, there is still a negative correlation (-.31).   The relationship is shown in the figure below:  the black dots are Southern states and the red dots are all other states.  There are several outliers even when you exclude the South--the two states in the upper left are Vermont and Maine, which were strongly Republican in the 1930s.  The four in the lower middle are Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, and Idaho, which were strongly Democratic in the 1930s.   If you exclude those cases, the correlation is still about zero.   Of course, the parties have changed too, but by today's standards, Roosevelt (D) was definitely the more liberal candidate in 1936.  So either the civilizing process was very slow in gathering momentum or we need another hypothesis.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Another election prediction

There are a lot of formulas that predict the outcome of presidential elections from economic conditions.   One of the best, in my opinion, was devised by Ray Fair, an economist at Yale.  His equation has three economic variables:  growth of per-capita GDP in the first three quarters of the election year, change in prices over the last fifteen quarters, and number of quarters with strong economic growth (over 0.8%) over the last fifteen quarters.  There are also variables for incumbency and how long the party has been in office. 

Fair has estimated the equation using election results for the whole country.  It occurred to me that it would probably be better to omit the south.  Until recently, voting in the south had very little to do with economic conditions--it was about race and religion--so including the South is basically just adding "noise."   While I was at it, I decided to break the US down into regions and see if they reacted the same way.  I divided states into Northeast, Midwest, Plains/Mountain, and Pacific.  The results, where the dependent variable is the incumbent party's share of the two-party vote:

              Incumbent   Office Growth  Prices  Good 1/4   R2
US           2.4   -4.9  .82  -.69   .74   .281
Omit South   3.3   -4.6  .59  -.70  1.58   .445
East         3.6   -4.0  .14  -.58  2.34   .418
Midwest      3.4   -3.9  .51  -.65  1.50   .563

Plains/Mtn   3.0   -5.9 1.01  -.87   .73   .590
Pacific      3.8   -4.0  .67  -.76   .24   .445

The R-square (predictive power) increases substantially when the south is omitted.  The advantage of incumbency becomes larger, as does the advantage of having periods of strong growth.  Comparing the regions, there is an interesting pattern:  in the East and Midwest, the number of good quarters is more important, while in the Western and Pacific states, recent growth is more important.  Maybe westerners have a more short-term orientation?  That seems to fit with popular images of the differences between parts of the country. The regional differences (if they exist) are probably slightly beneficial to Obama--his record is OK in terms of recent growth, but very weak in terms of number of good quarters.  The Fair model for the US predicts a close race.  The regional differences suggest Obama will be a bit weaker than expected in the East, but stronger in the West, which includes more swing states--a few more votes in places like Colorado or New Mexico might make the difference. 

Note:  My estimates for the US are a bit different from Fair's, since my dependent variable is vote by state and his is the vote for the whole US (in effect, the states are weighted by the number of voters). 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Meanings of liberalism and conservatism

Since the 1970s, self-described "conservatives" have outnumbered "liberals" by a substantial margin, often almost 2:1. That raises a number of questions, notably how the Democrats, as the more liberal party, manage to remain competitive. One possibility is that many people don't think of liberal and conservative in a political sense--when they say they're conservative, they're referring to lifestyle or religion rather than politics. Few surveys have asked questions that get at this issue, but back in 1981 the Gallup poll asked "People who are conservative in their religious views are referred to as being right of center and people who are liberal in their religious views are referred to as being left of center. Which one of these categories best describes your own religious position?" and followed with the same question about political views. The survey also had a number of questions on seven political issues: abortion, the death penalty, government spending on social programs. I divided people into two groups based on education (high school or less vs. some college or college graduate) and looked at how well you could predict what they said about their political views from political opinions and what they said about their religious views. I summarize this by giving the unique contribution to explained variance.
                       No college     College 
Political Opinions       4.1%         10.8% 
Religion                10.7%          9.9% 

Total                   17.5%         37.7% 

The total is bigger than the sum of the two contributions because there's some overlap between religious rating and opinions on political issues (religious conservatives have more conservative opinions on the political issues), and if you do the calculations, you see that the overlap is much bigger for college-educated people. Putting this together, what less educated people say about their political ideology doesn't have that much to do with "politics."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


In March 2010, a Pew survey asked "Would you favor or oppose allowing an American state to secede and become independent from the country if a majority of the people from that state wanted to do this?" About 25% were in favor.  People with favorable attitudes towards the Tea Party movement were more likely to be in favor.  Beyond that, however, there were some surprises.  Because the only serious attempt at secession was the Confederacy, you might expect opinions to differ by race and region, but they didn't.  People who said that they were "very conservative" were most likely to be in favor, but  the next most favorable group was people who said they were "very liberal" (moderates were least favorable).  Younger people were more likely to be in favor, and more educated people less likely.  

The association with education is interesting because more educated people are usually more likely to favor individual choice and to put less weight on tradition (e. g., educated people are more likely to be in favor of same-sex marriage).  That tendency would suggest that educated people would be more favorable, on the grounds that the people of the state have a right to make whatever choice they want.  It could be that educated people are more likely to think of potential problems with that logic--e. g., a majority ethnic group that wanted to be able to oppress the minority.  Or maybe more educated people tend to be more "cosmopolitan," and think that larger political units are superior to small ones.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

We wuz robbed

Gallup/CNN/USA Today polls asked the following question "Which comes closest to you view of the way George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election? He won fair and square. He won, but only on a technicality. He stole the election." six times between December 2000 and February 2002, then again in January 2004 and March 2007.  Between 2000 and 2004, there was little variation--the averages were 48% fair and square, 32% technicality, and 18% stole the election.  In 2007, opinion seemed to have shifted--only 40% said he won fair and square, 34% said he won on a technicality, and 24% said he stole the election.  Most of the change involved college educated people--in the early surveys, only 10%-15% of college graduates said that he stole the election, but in 2007 it was up to 22%. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Postscript to the white working class

In exploring the data discussed in my last post, I found one group that stood out:  people without a college degree who received a salary.   56% of them said they were Republicans, and only 29% said they were Democrats.  Other whites (ie either with a college degree or paid a wage, commission, or some other method) were almost evenly divided:   43% were Republicans and 42% were Democrats. 

I'm not sure whether this would hold up in other data--the difference is statistically significant, but not so much as to remove all doubt.  But it is intriguing.