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).

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