Saturday, December 21, 2013

Literature and politics

In 1990, a Gallup poll asked people if they had ever read a book by the following authors:  Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Tom Wolfe, William Faulkner, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, James Michener, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Saul Bellow, John Updike, James Joyce, Melville, Kurt Vonnegut, and Danielle Steele [sic].  The percent saying that they had ranged from 4 for Flaubert to 87 for Twain.

The survey also contained a few basic questions on politics.  I made an index of political views from questions on approval of President Bush, party identification, and description of political views as liberal or conservative.  Controlling for age, gender, education, income, and race (black vs. all others), people who have read more of these authors were more liberal/Democratic.  It was the second strongest predictor, exceeded only by race.

I also did a regression with a separate variable for each author, which produced a significant improvement in fit.  The biggest effects (positive numbers mean a liberal/Democratic direction and negative mean a conservative/Republican direction):

Flaubert   +.91
Bellow     +.83
Wolfe      +.53
Vonnegut   +.47
King       +.25

Steel      -.33
Michener   -.40

That's six more or less contemporary authors plus Flaubert.  At first glance, it seems odd to have Flaubert in a group with Stephen King and Danielle Steel, but I think they have something in common--compared to most of the other authors on the list, they're less likely to be required reading in high school or introductory college English classes, so people have to make a more active choice to read them.   The relationship to political views doesn't correspond to the political views of the authors--for example, Bellow was pretty conservative by that time while Michener was an active Democrat.  

I wasn't surprised to find some relationship between reading and political views, but I was surprised at how strong it was.  Among people who hadn't read Flaubert only 8% were liberal Democrats who disapproved of Bush; among people who had, 34% were.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Popular Economics

In 1970, Milton Friedman wrote a famous essay entitled "The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits."  In his view, "the key point is that . . . the manager is the agent of the individuals who own the corporation . . . and his primary responsibility is to them."  Forty years later, a survey sponsored by the Public Affairs Council asked "In your opinion, whose interests should most major companies put first? The interests of...
Their stockholders
Their top executives
Their employees
Their customers or
The communities where they are located"

The most popular choice was customers (39%), followed by employees (25%), communities (19%), stockholders (14%), with top executives bringing up the rear at 3%.  Republicans, conservatives, and supporters of the Tea Party were more likely to agree with Friedman, which isn't surprising.  (Although the liberal/conservative difference was smaller than I expected).  The pattern of demographic differences is more interesting.  There were some racial/ethnic differences in the percent choosing "stockholders," but they weren't that big:

                           Stockholders  Execs   Employees Customers  Communities
Non-Hispanic Whites             14%        3%        25%      42%        17%
Non-Hispanic Blacks             10%        4%        30%      32%        25%
Hispanics                       12%        4%         8%      27%        29%

Substantial gender differences:
Men                             19%        4%        22%      37%        19%
Women                            9%        3%        27%      41%        20%

Big income differences 
Under $10,000                    6%        4%        27%      33%        30%
Over $150,000                   24%        1%        14%      48%        13%

Big age differences:
18-24                            7%        2%        22%      37%        33%
65+                             21%        4%        24%      36%        15%

and big differences by education:
Not HS graduate                  8%        7%        25%      38%        31%
Post-BA education               21%        2%        19%      42%        16%

The educational differences remained substantial after controlling for age and income.  In the discussions over the future of the Republican Party over the past year, some people have proposed "libertarian populism" as a winning strategy.  But as these figures show, the libertarian (or classical liberal) position is more popular among affluent, well-educated people.  Among people with low income or education, more than half say the primary responsibility should be to employees or the community.  And even among people earning over $150,000 a year, the combined total for employees and the community is larger than the number choosing stockholders.  The idea that the primary responsibility of business is to its employees or the community has sometimes been called "corporatist," which ironically has become a favorite term of abuse among conservative critics of the Obama administration.  But if you want to be a populist, that's the direction to go.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The hope that springs eternal

Paul Krugman frequently says that conservatives live in an "information bubble," and sometimes gives the belief that Mitt Romney would win as an example: "the polls clearly pointed to an Obama win but Republicans lived in a closed information loop where such information was excluded ..."   He may be right on the general point, but I've never found the example to be convincing.  First, even though election polls have a pretty good track record, there are sometimes systematic discrepancies.  In 2012, the polls showed only a narrow lead for Obama, so it wasn't irrational to think that Mitt Romney was going to win.  Second, it seems to be a general human tendency to think that things will turn out the way you want them to turn out.

I looked for questions of the general form "Regardless of how you plan to vote, who do you expect to win the **** presidential election, ***** or ****?"  There was some variation in question wording, but it seemed to make little or no difference to the results.  In recent elections, the question has been asked pretty frequently, so I used examples from within about ten days of the election (four or five per election).  In earlier years, they were less common, so I used anything from the end of September on.  In most cases, there were still only one or two, and a few were missing entirely.  The figure shows the relationship between the proportion who expected the Democrat to win (out of the people who had an opinion) and the Democratic share of the two-party vote.

There's a strong relationship to the actual election results--for example, only 6% thought that George McGovern would win in 1972, but more than 80% expected Bill Clinton to win in 1990.  There was no systematic difference in expectations about Democrats and Republicans, but there were a few cases in which expectations were substantially different from what you would expect given the actual votes.  One was 1968, when only 25% expected Humphrey to beat Nixon, but the election was very close.  That survey was taken at the end of September.  I've heard that the election tightened up near the end, so if the question had been asked just before the election expectations might have been more evenly split.  The other elections that stand out are 1952 and 1956, which both involved Adlai Stevenson vs. Dwight Eisenhower.  In 1956, about 30% expected Stevenson to win.  Eisenhower had won pretty easily in 1952 and been a popular president, so I'm surprised that anyone except a few die-hards thought Stevenson had a chance.  For 1952, the only data available was from August, but at that point about 45% expected Stevenson to win.

My guess about the reason that 1952 and 1956 were different is that after 1948, when all the polls said that Dewey would beat Truman, people (especially Democrats) were more inclined to go with their gut.  But maybe it was something about Stevenson or the political climate of the time.  In any case, there's no sign that Republicans were particularly unrealistic in 2012.

Another interesting point is that in 1968, 6% expected George Wallace to win.  In 1992, only 2% expected Ross Perot to win, even thought Perot got a considerably higher share of the vote than Wallace did (19% vs. 13%).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Should we be worried about inflation?

One part of this question is about the chances that inflation will increase.  The other part is how bad it would be if inflation increased.   There's been a lot of discussion of the first part, but not much of the second--people just seem to take it as obvious that inflation is bad.   Of course, hyperinflation can bring the economy to a standstill, but would inflation of 5% or even 10% be a serious problem? Presumably the idea is that higher inflation leads to lower economic growth, so I looked for research on that issue.  The most widely cited paper seems to be one by Robert Barro in 1995.  He found that higher inflation indeed went with lower growth.  Moreover, the relationship appeared linear--every increase in inflation would reduce the expected growth rate by about .02 percentage points.  (For example, a country that was predicted to grow by 2.1% if it had stable prices would be predicted to grow by 2% if it has 5% inflation, 1.9% if it had 10% inflation, etc.).  That is, there was no "safe" level of inflation.  But another widely cited paper published at about the same time, by Michael Sarel, came to very different conclusions: inflation didn't have any negative effects on growth until it got beyond 8%.

Oddly, there didn't seem to be much later research trying to see who was right, so I took a look myself.  Data on real GDP per capita going back to 1950 can be found in the Penn World Tables.   I got data on inflation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The BLS data includes only 16 countries, but they are all industrialized economies and reasonably stable democracies, so you don't have the questions of comparability and data quality that you have when using large numbers of nations.

Inflation                          Mean growth     Median growth
negative (deflation)               1.6%                 2.6%
0-2%                                   2.3%                 2.4%
2-4%                                   2.6%                 2.6%
4-7%                                   2.5%                 2.5%
7-10%                                 2.9%                 2.7%
over 10%                             1.1%                 1.1%

So inflation appears to have no association with growth until you reach about 10%, a level that the United States hasn't reached since 1981 (we haven't even passed 5% since 1991).  That suggests that we have a lot of safety room.  The relationship continues to hold if you use an average of the last three years of inflation and if you add controls for country-level fixed effects.  This obviously isn't a definitive analysis, but it's more than I've seen in any of the warnings about the dangers of inflation.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nothing to see here

A question very similar to the one I discussed in my last post--"The federal government controls too much of our daily lives"--has been asked in the United States fairly often beginning in 1987 (most often in the Pew surveys).  The figure shows average opinion with completely agree as 4, somewhat agree as 3, somewhat disagree as 2, and completely disagree as 1.

There's not much pattern.  The lowest scores occurred in Nov 2001 and July 2002, presumably as a reaction to 9-11, which was followed by a general rise in  support for the government.  There may have been more distrust in the early 1990s, which as I've mentioned before, seemed to have an anti-government mood (for no obvious reason).  However, I'm not sure that's statistically significant, and most of the ups and downs are small enough to be the result of sampling variation.  Average levels of agreement are the same regardless of the party of the President, The two most recent scores are about the same as the scores in the late 1990s, which was a period of prosperity and if not exactly good feeling (there was the attempt to impeach Bill Clinton), at least less acrimony than we have now.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Too much government?

In 2007, the Pew Global Attitudes Project asked people for their reaction to the statement :  "The state [or government] controls too much of our daily lives."  In the United States, 28% said they completely agreed and 37% mostly agreed.  This was more agreement than in Canada (a combined total of 59% agreeing), Sweden and Spain (both 61%), but no different from Britain and France (64 and 65%), and less than Italy and Germany (73% and 74%).

In less developed countries, people are generally less likely to agree, but there is a lot of variation.  For example, in Bangladesh, 43% completely agree and 41% mostly agree, but in Peru, only 8% completely agreed and 23% mostly agreed.  There are some general patterns--for example, agreement is relatively low in East Asian countries--but also a good deal of variation among countries that seem pretty similar in other ways:  for example, Brazil (76% agree) and Argentina (40%).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

More American Exceptionalism

The 2005 Gallup International Voice of the People Survey was conducted in 66 nations (Gallup International is not affiliated with the Gallup Poll--the American survey was conducted by TNS Intersearch).  One of the questions was "Have there been times in the last 12 months when you and/or your family have not had enough to eat?"  In the United States, 3% chose "frequently," 8% "sometimes," 15% "rarely," and 74% "never."  If you count those responses as 1, 2, 3, and 4, that gives an average of 3.53.  As you might guess, that was not the highest score:  Denmark had 0.3%, 1%, 1% and 98%, for an average of 3.97.  The United States did not even rank in the top half:  we were 36th.  In this respect, the United States was about even with the less successful transition economies:   similar to Lithuania, Croatia, Moldova, and Romania, but behind Poland and the Czech Republic.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Who killed the Kennedys?

In 1981, a Louis Harris survey asked people whether certain events "were the act of one individual or part of a larger conspiracy?"  The events were the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King and the attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan (the attempt on Reagan had taken place just a few days before the survey).

A factor analysis showed a general factor of believing in a conspiracy vs. one individual (between 10 and 18 percent said they weren't sure on the questions--I put them in an intermediate category).  People who believed they were conspiracies tended to be younger, less educated, poorer, and non-white.  None of those differences are very surprising (although the effect of income was stronger than I expected), but I was interested in exploring the age differences.  Was there a clear break between generations or a gradual shift from young to old?  Unfortunately, the Harris survey didn't record exact age, just eight groups.  However, those groups fell pretty clearly into three categories:  people born in 1947 or after were most likely to believe that they were conspiracies and people born before 1932 were least likely.  People born 1932-46 were almost exactly in the middle.  Stereotypically, this was the "silent generation," but to a large extent it was also the generation that made the 1960s the 1960s.

PS.  There were also some political differences:  people who voted for Jimmy Carter were less likely to think that they were part of a conspiracy, and so were people who called themselves moderates.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an interview with Eugene Fama, co-winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Economics.  At one point, he talked about a favorite book, F. A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom.  He said "it's a philosophy, of course:  it's not empirical."  That's a strange assessment:  even the title of the book is an empirical proposition.  That proposition hasn't been supported by the 70 years of history since Hayek wrote:  the condition of people in countries like Britain, the United States, and even France can't be classified as serfdom without some risk of terminological inexactitude.  However, the main hypothesis of the book could be interpreted more broadly:  government intervention in the economy, even when supported by the majority, reduces freedom.

The World Values Survey includes the following question, "Some people feel they have completely free choice and control over their lives, while other people feel that what they do has no real effect on what happens to them. Please use this scale where 1 means 'none at all' and 10 means 'a great deal' to indicate how much freedom of choice and control you feel you have over the way your life turns out."  That seems like a pretty good measure of freedom.  The ranking of countries:

 "Puerto Rico"                8.28
 "Venezuela"  8.14
 "Colombia"                   7.97
 "Trinidad and Tobago"        7.88
 "New Zealand"           7.87
 "Mexico"                     7.74
 "Andorra"                    7.72
 "United States"         7.72
 "Canada"                     7.66
 "Finland"                    7.59
 "El Salvador"                7.50
 "Sweden"                     7.50
 "Australia"                  7.49
 "Guatemala"                  7.48
 "Brazil"                     7.46
 "Cyprus"                     7.44
 "Jordan"                     7.43
 "Norway"                     7.43
 "Taiwan"                     7.41
 "Uruguay"                    7.41
 "Dominican Republic"         7.37
 "Switzerland"                7.36
 "Indonesia"                  7.34
 "Argentina"                  7.33
 "Malaysia"                   7.31
 "Singapore"                  7.25
 "Great Britain"         7.25
 "Viet Nam"                   7.24
 "Zambia"                     7.20
 "Slovenia"                   7.19
 "Chile"                      7.17
 "Ghana"                      7.09
 "Peru"                       7.09
 "Romania"                    7.07
 "China"                      7.06
 "Kyrgyzstan"                 7.06
 "South Africa"               7.03
 "Nigeria"                    6.93
 "Philippines"                6.92
 "Thailand"                   6.92
 "Iran"                    6.85
 "Germany"                    6.83
 "Uganda"                     6.82
 "South Korea"                6.74
 "Hungary"                    6.69
 "Spain"                      6.69
 "France"                     6.67
 "Algeria"                    6.66
 "Netherlands"                6.63
 "Saudi Arabia"               6.60
 "Rwanda"                     6.52
 "Croatia"                    6.49
 "Poland"                     6.48
 "Serbia"                     6.45
 "Italy"                      6.34
 "Hong Kong"                  6.32
 "Czech Republic"             6.29
 "Georgia"                    6.27
 "Moldova"                    6.27
 "Slovakia"                   6.26
 "Russian Federation"         6.25
 "India"                      6.20
 "Ethiopia"                   6.17
 "Mali"                       6.12
 "Lithuania"                  6.06
 "Serbia and Montenegro" 6.03
 "Bosnia and Herzegovina" 6.00
 "Bangladesh"                 5.98
 "Estonia"                    5.98
 "Morocco"                    5.92
 "Macedonia"                  5.92
 "Tanzania"                   5.80
 "Japan"                      5.78
 "Zimbabwe"                   5.77
 "Egypt"                      5.72
 "Burkina Faso"               5.70
 "Turkey"                     5.67
 "Armenia"                    5.66
 "Iraq"                       5.65
 "Azerbaijan"                 5.61
 "Latvia"                     5.56
 "Bulgaria"                   5.53
 "Ukraine"                    5.42
 "Albania"                    5.37
 "Belarus"                    5.20
 "Pakistan"                   4.68

It seems clear that people in more affluent countries feel that they have more "free choice and control," which makes sense.   There also seem to be some cultural differences:  many Latin American countries rank near the top, and most East Asian countries rank low.  There are some rankings of "economic freedom," defined in a way that Hayek would approve of, so it would be pretty straightforward to see if there is a correlation after controlling for these factors.  I've intended to do something like this for a while, so maybe this will motivate me to get started.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Some people may be Rooshans, and some may be Prooshans

In September, I wrote about differences in working hours between the US and Europe.  According to the OECD, Americans aged 15-64 are employed for an average of 25.9 hours per week, while French are employed for an average of only 17.5 hours.  Some of this is because of differences in the typical "full-time" work week, and some of it is because of differences in unemployment, but some of it is because more people retire early in Europe.  Why do people retire early?  One possibility is because they want to, but another is that people who lose their jobs and may be unable to find new ones.  If they're old enough to qualify for some kind of retirement benefits, they may retire even though they would prefer to be working.  According to some people, that's the situation in much of Europe because of "structural rigidities" that make employers reluctant to hire people.

It occurred to me that one way to investigate this would be to look at the "life satisfaction" of people by work status.  Unemployed people can be expected to be considerably less satisfied than employed people.  People whose retirement was "involuntary" would be more like unemployed people in terms of their satisfaction.  So in countries in which a lot of retirement was involuntary, retired people would be less satisfied relative to employed people.  The Eurobarometer surveys, which have been conducted in EU countries since the 1970s, contain a question on satisfaction with your life.  The United States isn't included in the Eurobarometer, but the same question is asked in the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System.  I used them (specifically the Mannheim Eurobarometer Trend File and the 2009 BRFSS) to get be following figures, which represent the difference in average life satisfaction between retired and employed people.  Positive numbers mean that retired people are more satisfied than employed people; negative numbers mean less satisfied:

France        0.14
Ireland        0.06
Luxembourg     0.04
NIreland       0.04
Britain        0.01
WGermany       0.00
USA            0.00
Spain         -0.02
Netherlands   -0.03
EGermany      -0.03
Sweden        -0.04
Finland       -0.06
Italy         -0.07
Austria       -0.07
Belgium       -0.08
Denmark       -0.08
Greece        -0.09
Norway        -0.20
Portugal      -0.20

In the US, Britain, and Germany there is little or no difference between retired and employed people.  In southern Europe and Scandinavia, retired people are on the average less satisfied.  But in France, retired people are considerably more satisfied than employed people.  This supports my conclusion in the earlier post:  that the French work less than Americans because that's the way they want it.  

This may help to explain something Paul Krugman wrote about the other day:  why many people are so negative about French economic policy, even though by objective standards the French economy is not doing badly.  Krugman says it's because France recently raised taxes rather than cut spending.  But I think it goes deeper than that:  see this New York Times editorial from 1997.  A lot of American commentators just seem to be bothered by a country that prefers short work hours and early retirement, even more than by high taxes.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting ahead

A 2010 Gallup survey asked "What do you think matters most for getting ahead in life today:
A good education, (or)
Hard work, (or)
Saving and smart spending decisions, (or)
Knowing the right people, (or)
Coming from a wealthy family, (or)
Natural ability, (or)

The survey also asked the usual questions about political party preference and liberal-conservative ideology, plus a question about whether you would call yourself a supporter of the Tea Party, an opponent, or neither.  I combined those three questions into an index of political views:  higher numbers mean more liberal.

The following table shows the number of people who chose the different answers and their average political views.
                     N    Political views
Wealthy family       46     .64*
Natural ability      27     .35
Good education      334     .25*
Other                27     .11    
Luck                 16     .09
Right people         61     .06
Saving & Spending   123    -.20*
Hard work           240    -.41*

The asterisks indicate that we can be confident that the mean is different from zero (that is, that people who choose the answer are more liberal or more conservative than the average).

For me, the most interesting thing is that people who say "good education" are substantially more liberal than those who say "saving and spending decisions" or "hard work."  All of those things are commonly accepted as justifications for inequality, in contrast to coming from a wealthy family, knowing the right people, or luck.  That is, almost everyone regards it as fair that jobs requiring more education should offer higher wages.   So why is there such a big difference between people who think education is most important and people who think hard work or saving and spending decisions are most important?    One possibility is that people don't think that access to education is fairly distributed:  they think that getting a good education depends on family background or where you live.  Another possibility is that they don't think of a good education as entirely your own accomplishment:  after all, schooling is provided by the government.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the only survey that offered a choice between "good education" and "hard work," although a number have given people a choice between some variant of hard work versus family background and connections. So we can't tell if this is something new.

During the last presidential election, Rick Santorum (BA, MBA, JD) once called Barack Obama a "snob" for saying that college education for everyone should be a policy goal.  He was widely criticized for this, but it sounds like he knew his audience.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Tax or spend

In 2001, a survey sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Fund asked "Do you think that the country can afford a major program to provide health insurance for most uninsured Americans, which might require a tax increase to pay for it or do you think that the country can't afford a major program?"  79% said the country could afford it, while 18% said we couldn't.  This question was asked to a randomly selected half of the sample.  The other half were asked  "Do you think that the country can afford a major program to provide health insurance for most uninsured Americans, which would mean much more government spending or do you think that the country can't afford a major program?"  74% said we could and 23% said we couldn't.

The difference between the responses to the two questions isn't statistically significant at conventional levels.  But among Republicans,  72% said we could afford a program which "might require a tax increase" and only 62% said we could require a program which "would mean much more government spending."  Among Democrats and Independents, there was no difference in responses to the two questions.  The difference among Republicans only is (barely) significant at the 5% level.  This isn't overwhelmingly strong evidence, but it suggests that Republicans are more negative about "government spending" than about taxes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Risk and Gender

Last month, I gave figures for opinions on a question that was asked in several European nations in 1989 and in the United States a couple of years later: "In general, how would you most prefer to be paid--on a fixed salary basis, so that you always know how much you will earn--or mostly on an incentive basis which will allow you to earn more if you accomplish a lot, but may result in less earnings if you don't accomplish enough."  Europeans were generally more likely to prefer a fixed salary.  In response to a request, here are the figures for men and women separately:

                          Men choosing                 Women choosing                   Difference
                          Salary                                 Salary    

US                       35%                                   48%                                13%
France                  67%                                  75%                                   8%
Britain                   58%                                  75%                                17%
Spain                    70%                                  76%                                  6%
W. Germany           78%                                  83%                                  5%
E. Germany           57%                                  70%                                 13%
Italy                       31%                                 69%                                  38%

In every nation, women are more likely to prefer a salary.  The largest "gender gap" is in Italy, but I'm suspicious of the figures for that country, as I mentioned in a previous post.  The differences could reflect gender differences in basic attitudes towards risk, but it's also possible that men are more used to working in jobs with incentive payments (which is more common in sales an factory work).

Saturday, October 26, 2013

American Exceptionalism?

Since 1991, a number of surveys have asked people if they agree or disagree with the statement "I admire people who get rich by working hard."  Usually about 50% "completely agree" and 40% "mostly agree."  Agreement is uniformly high among different demographic groups; it has some connection to political views, but even among liberals about 80% agree.  Is this another case of "American exceptionalism"?

The question was also asked in the 1989 Pulse of Europe survey, which I discussed in an earlier post.  The results:

                     UK     France    Italy    Spain    W. Germany   E. Germany
Completely agree     60%      59%      61%      63%       37%         40%
Mostly Agree         32%      27%      30%      28%       49%         49%

That is, there is less enthusiastic agreement in the US than in Britain, Italy, Spain, and even France.  Only the Germans have a lower percentage of "completely agree."  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Not just Harvard

My last post observed that Harvard students (and faculty) were mostly Republican until the 1940s, and pretty evenly divided in the 1950s and 1960s.  Of course, Harvard is not necessarily typical of American universities.  In the course of writing that post, I discovered the straw poll organized by the Daily Princetonian in 1936, which included 92 colleges.  I haven't been able to find the full list of results, but I found that the Princetonian organized a poll of 47 colleges and universities in 1932 (see the issue of October 28, 1932 in their archive). 

I divided the institutions into four groups:  (1) the South (2) elite private institutions outside the South (3) public institutions outside the South and (4) other private institutions outside the South.  The distinction between elite and others was made by expert judgment (aka my off the top of the head impressions).  All of the public universities included were "flagship" state universities.  They covered a wide geographical range, from Maine to California (Berkeley).  The average vote shares in the four types:

            Roosevelt  Hoover  Thomas   Foster
Southern        72%     17%     10%       0%
Elite private   17%     63%     19%       1%
Public          31%     48%     20%       1%
Other private   24%     42%     33%       1%

The actual vote in the election was 57% for Roosevelt, 40% for Hoover, 2.2% for Thomas (Socialist) and 0.3% for Foster (Communist).  Support for Hoover was much higher in elite private universities than among the general public.  Hoover's share in other universities was pretty similar to the popular vote for their region (Hoover got 42% of the vote outside the South but only 19% in the South).  

Support for Thomas was much higher in all types of universities than in the general public.  I expect that most of his supporters would have gone for Roosevelt as a second choice, and might picked Roosevelt if they were really voting, since third party sympathizers often are swayed by "don't waste your vote" arguments. Nevertheless, the Socialist party does seem to have been a serious rival to the Democrats on college campuses at that time.

PS:  I have put the totals for individual colleges in an Excel file.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Those were the days

In my last post, I said that "Before the 1960s, the political atmosphere at most [universities] was moderate to conservative."  There were only a few surveys of students or faculty before the 1960s, and as far as I know none of them asked general questions about political views.  However, "straw votes" have regularly been held at Harvard University since the 19th century, and information about the results can be found in the Harvard Crimson archives.  Participation seems to have been high, and people appear to have taken them pretty seriously--there weren't many votes for "joke" candidates, and support for major-party candidates didn't swing wildly depending on whether they had Harvard affiliations.

Between 1884 and 1948, the Republicans won the Harvard poll every time except 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt ran as an independent and split the Republican vote.  In the 1950s, things got closer:  Adlai Stevenson (D) won a narrow victory in 1952 (although the Harvard Republican club charged that there was voter fraud), then Eisenhower (R) came back to win narrowly in 1956, and then Kennedy (D) won in 1960.  Kennedy's victory was solid but not overwhelming--Nixon got over 40% of the vote.  In 1964, the Republican vote fell to 14%, and in 1968 it fell further, to 11% (less than the combined vote for various minor left-wing candidates).  Since then, the Democrats have won the Harvard poll every time except 1980 (when the Independent John Anderson won).

Some other notes:
1.  Other colleges conducted similar votes, at least in some elections.  One of the most elaborate ones was the "National Collegiate Poll" in 1936, which seems to have included about 50 colleges and universities.  Franklin Roosevelt won, but his 53% was well below his share in the real vote (61%).  Roosevelt did well in the South and most urban universities, but New England went heavily for the Republican.
2.  Yale and Princeton were more strongly Republican than Harvard.  In 1960, more than 70% of the Princeton students chose Nixon over Kennedy.
3.  Faculty were also allowed to participate in the straw vote, and their votes were sometimes reported separately.   The faculty leaned Republican, but were less consistent than the students.  For example, the faculty went for FDR in 1936 and 1940, but overwhelmingly favored Thomas Dewey (R) in 1948 (no vote was taken in 1944).
4.  The socialists got significant support beginning in the 1920s.  In 1912, when the Socialists reached their peak in the actual vote with 6%, they got only 3% of the Harvard vote.  In 1920, the actual vote for the Socialists fell to 3%, but Harvard support rose to 6%.  In 1932, Norman Thomas (Socialist) got 2% of the actual vote but 19% of the Harvard vote, almost equal to FDR.  In 1948, Thomas got only 0.3% of the actual vote but 7% at Harvard.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The making of wacko birds

A lot of people think of the time since the late 1970s as a conservative era.  But Ross Douthat observes that many conservatives don't see it that way.  In their view, they've been able to hold the line against the welfare state (aka "Leviathan"), but not to roll it back, and if they relax their vigilance for a moment, it will start advancing again.  This helps to explain the vigor with which they've resisted health care reform:  they figure that if it gets established, there will be no going back (Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann have said something like that).  

The New York Times recently gave a list of twenty "Republicans Standing Their Ground":  House members who pushed for delay or defunding of the health care law as a condition for passing a budget resolution.  I looked up their biographies on the website of the US Congress.  They're a well-educated group:  nineteen have college degrees and sixteen have graduate degrees.  The quality of the institutions is high, too.  Twelve have undergraduate degrees from colleges or universities ranked as "most competitive," "highly competitive plus," or "highly competitive" by Barron's, and most of the rest are from places I would characterize as pretty good.  

I think that there may be a connection between these two points.    A large majority of college faculty and administrators are liberal, and this is especially true at "elite" institutions.  In that kind of environment, it's understandable that conservatives will come to think of themselves as resisting a powerful "establishment."
Universities have not always been dominated by liberals.  Before the 1960s, the political atmosphere at most of them was moderate to conservative.  So older generations of conservative leaders would not develop the sense of being embattled.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Another post in honor of the government shutdown

In 1992, an ABC News poll asked people if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement:  "Whatever its faults, the United States still has the best system of government in the world?"  The question has been repeated several times since then by various survey organizations.  The results:

                     Agree   Disagree   DK
April 1992        85%    14%       1%
Sept  1994       84%    13%       3%
April  1996       83%    15%        2%
Dec   2000       89%    11%        1%
Dec   2007       81%    17%        1%
Sept  2010       77%    21%       2%
Aug   2011       77%    21%       2%

There's very little variation, although the last three times have produced the lowest rates of agreement. The last time it was asked was shortly after the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 was resolved.  In 2000, it was asked a few days after the Supreme Court ruling against a recount in the presidential election. I hope that someone has asked it during the current standoff, and that someone asks again right after it is resolved.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

In honor of the government shutdown

Everyone agrees that there is a lot less trust and willingness to compromise in Washington than there used to be.  What's less clear is whether there has been any parallel movement in the general public.  It's surprisingly hard to find any direct information, but I did uncover one interesting question.  In 1981 and 1990, the World Values Survey asked "Here is a list of things which some people think make for a  successful marriage. Please tell me, for each one, whether you  think it is very important, rather important or not very 
 important for a successful marriage."  One of the things was "agreement on politics."  The question was also included in a Pew survey in 2007.   The averages in the three years (higher numbers mean less important):

1981  2.50
1990  2.45
2007  2.43

Those differences are statistically significant--that is, there's a trend towards rating agreement on politics as more important for a successful marriage (although a majority still say it's not very important).  In the 2007 survey, Republicans rate it as more important (2.34) than Democrats (2.46), with Independents rating it as least important (2.51).  Less educated people rated it as more important.  That surprises me, since more educated people generally have stronger political opinions.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

More risk-taking

Around 1989, the Times-Mirror corporation sponsored a survey called "The Pulse of Europe."  The United States wasn't included, but many of the questions were asked in various Los Angelest Times surveys taken at about the same time (some of the questions have also been asked in later Pew surveys).

One of the questions was "In general, how would you most prefer to be paid--on a fixed salary basis, so that you always know how much you will earn--or mostly on an incentive basis which will allow you to earn more if you accomplish a lot, but may result in less earnings if you don't accomplish enough."

                       Salary        Incentive     Not sure
US                    40%             53%              7%
France               68%            27%              5%
Britain                65%             32%              2%
Spain                 70%             25%              4%

There's a clear contrast between European and American preferences.  (The question was also asked in Italy, but I'm not sure if the data can be trusted.  Only 170 answers were recorded, which is a lot fewer than the documentation suggests there should be.  For what it's worth, they gave almost exactly a 50/50 split).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


In 1946, a Roper/Fortune survey asked "Here are three different kinds of job:
A job which pays quite a low income, but which you were sure of keeping.
A job which pays a good income but which you have a 50-50 chance of losing.
A job which pays an extremely high income if you make the grade but in which you lose almost everything if you don't make it.
If you had your choice, which would you pick?
In 1957, a Roper Commercial survey asked the same question.  (In both cases, married women were asked which job they would rather have their husband pick).  The results:

                                              1946              1957
Low income but safe                 56%               42%
50/50                                       21%               26%
High income but risky                18%               26%

That's a pretty substantial change for a ten-year period.  Unfortunately, the question has never been asked again.  Women were considerably more conservative, whether married and answering about their husbands or since and answering about themselves:  in 1957, men were almost evenly divided among the three options, while almost 50% of women chose the safe job and only about 20% chose the high income/high risk job.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Food Stamps

Conservatives have tried to label Obama the "food stamp president," but my impression was that they haven't gotten a lot of traction with the issue.  I looked for more systematic information on views of food stamps.  There have been some (although fewer than I would have expected) straightforward questions of the basic form "should spending on food stamps be increased, decreased, or kept about the same?"  Here is a figure showing the difference between "increased" and "decreased".  For example, in January 1981 11% said increased and 47% said decreased, for a balance of -36.  

There was a lot of sentiment for reducing spending on food stamps in the early 1980s, but then things evened out.  Since 1984, the usual numbers have been about 20% in favor of increasing, 30% in favor of decreasing, and 45% in favor of keeping it the same (the rest "don't know").  November 1994 was the only exception.  My impression seems to have been about right--calls to cut food stamps aren't as popular as they were in the days of Ronald Reagan, or even Newt Gingrich.    

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What's the difference?

People in most of Western Europe work shorter hours than people in the United States.  One plausible explanation is differences in tastes:  basically, Europeans like free time and Americans like having lots of stuff.  However, the Nobel-winning economist Edward Prescott has argued that the difference is explained by taxes and spending.  When taxes are high and the government provides a lot of benefits at little or no cost, as in most European countries, there's not much gain from each additional hour worked.  Where taxes are low and you don't get much for free, as in the US and Japan, an extra hour of work gets you more.  So people in the US and Japan work longer, not because they have different tastes, but because the incentives are different.  In a paper published in the American Economic Review, Prescott says  "my analysis finds that French and U. S. preferences are similar" and later that "French, Japanese, and U. S. workers all have similar preferences."

 This has important policy implications:  it means that rather than being a reflection of what Europeans want, low work hours are making Europeans worse off than they could be.   According to his calculations, the French would be exactly 19% better off if they adopted American rates of taxes and spending, which would lead them to work as much as Americans, which would give them extra goods that they would enjoy just as much as Americans do.  

Oddly, Prescott didn't offer any information about preferences:  he just found that a formula including tax rates helped to predicted time at work for seven countries, especially the decline in work hours in France and Germany between the 1970s and 1990s. But the predictions weren't perfect, leaving open the possibility that something else (like preferences) might also be involved.  The World Values Survey of 1981 asked people whether various possible changes in society would be good or bad.  One was "decrease in the importance of work in our lives."  Here is a graph showing the relationship between average opinions on that question (higher values mean approval) and actual changes in work hours.

Here's a graph showing the relationship between the changes predicted from Prescott's formula and the actual changes.  

Change in work hours seems to be more strongly related to preferences than to the tax/consumption formula, and a regression analysis confirms this.  With just seven cases, neither one has a statistically significant effect, so a skeptic might say we can't be sure that either one makes a difference.  But at least we can definitely reaffirm common sense:   Americans, French, and Japanese don't have similar preference about work and leisure.   

The WVS included a number of other countries, so I'll show their rankings, from most to least positive views of "a decrease in the importance of work."

(West) Germany
South Africa


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Millionaires, 1979-92

Last month, I wrote about a Roper survey that asked people if they thought various statements about millionaires were generally true or generally untrue.  The questions were asked twice, once in 1979 and once in 1992, and there were some changes in opinion.  In 1992, more people agreed that:

They worked hard to earn the wealth they have
They play too much and work too little
They favor the Republicans over the Democrats

There was no significant change in opinions on:

They really live no differently from most people, except that they have more money

They are responsible for many of society's ills
They keep the common man from having his proper share of the wealth
They use their wealth mostly to protect their own positions in society
They got where they are by exploiting other people
They feel a responsibility to society because of the wealth they have

Fewer  agreed that:

They are politically conservative
They make illegal contributions to political campaigns
They don't pay their fair share of taxes
They contribute generously to charitable causes
Their spending gives employment to a lot of people
Their investments create jobs and help provide prosperity

The changes weren't uniformly in a positive or negative direction, but I think there is a pattern:  people seem to see millionaires as less involved in the economy and society.  The biggest three changes are declines in belief that they contribute to charity, give employment to lots of people, and help to provide prosperity.  This seems reasonable, given the well-publicized growth of finance.  The popular image of a millionaire may have shifted from an industrialist to a "master of the universe."

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Who's the extremist?

Since 2000, several surveys have asked "overall, would you describe the views and polices of the Democratic/Republican party as too extreme, or as generally mainstream."  The results:

        R extr  R main  D extr  D main  R overall  D overall
08/2000      33 58 25 66          25     41
07/2004      40 55 34 62          15     28
09/2004      34 62 33 62          28     29
07/2010      39 56 43 54          17 11
09/2010      36   58 42 53          22     11
12/2012      53 43 37 57         -10 20
03/2013   48 47  42   53          -1     11

The "overall" is the percent seeing the party as mainstream minus the percentage seeing it as extreme, so the higher the score the better.  The perception of both parties as "too extreme" has increased, but the timing has been different.  The perception of Republicans was pretty steady through September 2010, but between 2010 and 2012 there was a big shift towards seeing them as extreme.   There was a shift towards seeing the Democrats as more extreme between 2000 and 2004, and another shift between 2004 and 2010.  

Over the whole period, the shift towards seeing the Democrats as extreme has been just about as large as the shift towards seeing the Republicans as extreme.  That seems surprising, given the absence of anything like the Tea Party movement among the Democrats.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

What do they know?

The other day, Paul Krugman referred to a poll from 2009 that found 39% of Americans thought that the government should "stay out of Medicare" (citing this source).  The link to the original release is broken, although the information may still be present somewhere on the site of Public Policy Polling, which did the survey.  However, there was a survey from 2003 sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health which asked:   "To the best of your knowledge, is Medicare primarily a federal government program, a state government program, or a private insurance program?"  74% said federal, 16% state, 2% private and 7% didn't know.  Republicans were no more likely to say that it was private (and were somewhat more likely to know that it's a federal program).  Education was the biggest influence, although even among people with less than a high school diploma, only 4% thought it was private and 16% didn't know.

So this question (which was also asked in 1995 and 2000 with similar results) suggests that almost everyone knows that Medicare is a government program.  As far as the PPP poll, my guess is that most of the people who said the government should "stay out" meant something along the lines of "don't change anything."  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Which is to blame if a person is poor?

Since 1964, a number of surveys have asked “In your opinion, which is generally more often to blame if a person is poor: lack of effort on his own part or circumstances beyond his control?” (Since the 1980s, most have substituted "their" or "his or her" for "his").  The graph shows the difference between the percent saying "effort" and the percent saying "circumstances."  For example, the first time it was asked (February 1964), 34% said effort and 29% said circumstances, for a difference of +5%.  (Most of the others volunteered the opinion that it was some of both).  There are some short term changes--the most striking one is a strong move towards "circumstances" between 1988 and 1992 and a strong move back to "lack of effort" in 1994.  However, there is also a long-term trend towards "circumstances."  If you do a regression on time, the t-ratio is highly significant (3.62) and it remains significant even if you remove the outliers.  Many people believe that Americans have become more conservative on economic issues since the 1970s; others (including me) believe that they've stayed about the same.  From either point of view, the shift is surprising.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Exercising their rights

One of the more unpopular aspects of "Obamacare" has been its requirement that people buy health care insurance.  I always assumed that, even among people who fervently support the right to go without health coverage, few want to exercise that right.   But I've never seen any estimates of the number of voluntary uninsured, so I used the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System data to explore the issue.  I defined a group who (a) rated their health as excellent or very good, (b) earned at least $35,000 per year and (c) said "no" when asked if there was "a time in the past 12 months when you needed to see a doctor but could not because of cost."  These are people who presumably don't have substantial regular health care costs and have the resources to pay for the care that they need.

In the BRFSS sample, about 10% are uninsured and 10% of the uninsured have this combination of characteristics.  So the "potentially voluntary" uninsured make up about 1% of the total population.  Who are they?  Compared to the rest of the population, they are more likely to be self-employed, younger, male, and single.  These patterns aren't surprising.  But they are also more likely to be unemployed (10.7% were unemployed compared to 5.6% among everyone else).  They were also quite a bit more likely to have children under 18 (43% vs. 28%). Putting these together, it seems that at least half of this 1% would like to have health insurance but can't afford it.