Thursday, February 21, 2013

Was our children learning?

One of my first posts on this blog (and the most viewed, according to Google) was about how knowledge of important historical figures grew between 1952 and 1975.  I recently discovered that the same questions had been asked in a British survey in 1955.  The percentages who could identify the figures were:

               US     UK          US
             1952   1955        1975
Beethoven     63     84          84
Raphael       30     39          35
Tolstoy       23     36          29
Freud         21     19          47
Aristotle     33     35          44
Rubens        15     37          24
Shakespeare   80     93          89
Karl Marx     32     43          41
Napoleon      66     76          58
Columbus      89     83          92

Avg           44     55          54
Avg*          30     42          43

*excluding Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Columbus

The average Briton in 1955 did considerably better than the average American in 1952, and slightly better than the average American in 1975, even though Americans had a lot more formal education.  According to estimates by Robert Barro and Jong-Hwa Lee, American adults averaged 8.5 years of schooling in 1955 and 11.4 in 1975, while British adults in 1955 averaged only 5.9 years.

If you omit people who had a direct connection with British or American history, 1975 Americans move in front, but just barely.  Compared to the British, the 1975 Americans were more likely to recognize Freud and Aristotle, but  less likely to recognize Rubens, Tolstoy, or Raphael. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Postal Service

For some people, the Postal Service is a byword for inefficiency.  In a year-end appeal for funding, the conservative magazine Commentary said that Obamacare would create "giant new bureaucracies that will function with all the efficiency of your local post office." That struck me as odd:  I think my local post office functions pretty well, and that getting the average doctor's office to that level would be an immense improvement.   But what does everyone else think?  I looked for questions about general views of the post office--there weren't many, but I found two with very similar wording, asked in 1978 and 2010.

(1978) What kind of a job do you think the United States postal service is doing? Do you think it is doing an excellent job, a good job, only a fair job, or a poor job? Dec 1978

(2010) Would you say...the Postal Service is doing an excellent, good, only fair, or a poor job?
March 2010

In 1978, 9% said excellent, 32% good, 32% fair, and 26% poor; in 2010, it was 20% excellent, 50% good, 21% fair, and only 7% poor.   So public opinion has become a lot more favorable (which I think is justified by the facts--service at the post office seems to be a lot better than it was 20 or 30 years ago).  However, opinions differ by ideology.  On a scale of 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent), the averages are:

Very Conservative   2.63
Conservative        2.66
Moderate            2.96
Liberal             2.96
Very Liberal        2.97
Don't Know          2.81

Age also makes a substantial difference--older people have more negative views, maybe because they are more influenced by memories of how things used to be. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The very rich are correlated with you and me

The Federal Election Commission keeps records of donations of $250 or more.  An organization called Splunk4Good has organized the data into a "Campaign Contribution Explorer" (thanks to Gordon Weakliem for the reference).  I wondered how closely the Democratic and Republican shares of contributions from each state would correspond to the Democratic and Republican shares of the vote.   Of course, not everyone who contributes $250 or more is rich, but the total volume of contributions basically represents the preferences of rich people in the state, not the whole population.

One possibility is that there's some general state-wide tendency that affects everyone--rich people in New York will be more Democratic than rich people in Wyoming, and poor people in New York will be more Democratic than poor people in Wyoming.  Another is that there's something distinctive about the preferences rich people in each state--for example, maybe they consider which party will be best for the particular business from which they get their money.

It turns out that there is a pretty close relationship (the correlation is .81).  There are two clear exceptions:  Nevada, where the Democrats won a little more than half the vote but received only about 6% of the money, and Washington, DC, where the Democrats got 90% of the vote but only about 65% of the contributions. The contribution shares covered a wide range:  there were 26 states in which one of the parties got more than 70% of the dollar contributed and only three in which one of the parties got over 70% of the votes.  However, Republicans had a clear advantage:  most of the "swing states" in contributions were those in which the Democrats got about 60% of the vote. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Racial Resentment

Thomas Edsall had a column entitled "The Persistence of Racial Resentment," in which he reported on research suggesting that party support has become more polarized by racial attitudes since 2008.  The research, by Michael Tesler and David O. Sears, uses what they call a "racial resentment scale" based on responses to four questions:

  1. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they
   2. Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame
prejudice and worked their way up.  Blacks should do the same
without any special favors.
   3. It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if
blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as
   4. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created
conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out
of the lower class.
This scale certainly measures something of interest, but "resentment" doesn't seem like the right term.  Resentment isn't a belief that everyone can make it if they try--it's a belief that someone else is getting an unfair advantage.   I looked for questions that seemed to measure racial resentment and found one:  "For each of the following groups, please tell me whether you feel that they are receiving too many special advantages, receiving fair treatment, or are being discriminated against" (with some very minor variations in wording).  The figure shows changes in what people say about blacks ("African Americans" in 2008).

Oddly, the question hasn't been asked since 2008.  Between 1990 and 2008, there was no clear change in the percent saying that blacks received special advantages (what I would call "resentment"), but there seems to have been a shift away from saying that they are discriminated against and towards saying that they receive fair treatment.

Another expression of racial resentment is the idea that whites are the ones who really face discrimination.  The 1992 and 1997, the surveys asked about whites:  both times, about 15 percent said whites got special advantages, and about 20% said they were discriminated against.  Putting the figures together, "racial resentment" seems to be a minority view.  "Racial complacency" is more common and may be on the rise.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

More liberal/conservative asymmetry

In a recent post, I discussed a survey that found that liberals were a little more likely to say that conservatives shared their values and goals than conservatives were to say that about li erals.  However, the difference wasn't statistically significant.  It turns out that that same question was asked in a survey a month later.  In this survey, the differences were stronger and significant.  44% of conservatives said that most liberals shared their values, while 56% of liberals said most conservatives shared their values.  (The difference is a little bigger--42% to 61%--if you use the sampling weights). 

The survey also asked about patriotism.  Only 4% of conservatives thought that liberals were usually more patriotic than conservatives, while 29% said they were less patriotic (61% said the same, ad the rest said they didn't know).  Liberals overwhelmingly (81%) said there was no difference:  10% of liberals said that conservatives were more patriotic, 6% said liberals were more patriotic.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

People today

A few weeks ago, I had a post about a series of questions on whether "young people today" had as strong a sense of right and wrong today as they used to.  There has also been a question on  "people in general":  specifically "Do you think people in general today lead as good lives--honest and moral--as they used to?"  The responses, as percent saying yes minus percent saying no:

 Views have become much more negative:  from evenly split (47% yes, 46% no) in 1952 to 21% yes and 74% no in 2005.  I'm not surprised that opinions became more negative between the 1950s and the 1970s, but it's interesting that they've continued to become more negative since the 1970s.  Even by most traditional standards of morality (crime, divorce, drug use), Americans have generally improved since the 1970s.