Thursday, September 25, 2014


As I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago, I have looked for data on perceived corruption in the different states of the US, but have found very little.  One of the few is an ABC News/Washington Post Poll from 2006, which asked "if you think it occurs at all, do you think corruption in *** is limited to a few corrupt individuals or is widespread?"  There were two questions, one in which *** was "the local government in your area" and the other in which it was "your state government."  I added them together to get an index of perceived corruption.*  The rankings, from most to least perceived corruption:

New Jersey


New Hampshire
N. Dakota
S. Dakota

The samples for many of the individual states are small, so there's a lot of random error, but the differences are statistically significant (p=.005) and the general pattern seems reasonable.  My earlier post looked at rankings on a question of how large a part politics played in the handling of relief in your community from the late 1930s, raising the question of whether the two rankings are correlated.

*There was a category for "neither/none (volunteered)", but it was very small.  I treated it as missing, because I wasn't sure if "neither" should be interpreted as "none are corrupt" or "don't know."

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Libertarian Populism?

In 1986, an NBC.News/Wall St. Journal poll asked "Do you think Congress should pass legislation limiting the amount of interest credit card companies can charge, even if that means it would be much harder for people like you to get credit?"  73% said yes, 20% said no, and 6% didn't know.

I looked at the relation of opinions to a number of demographic factors.  The only ones that made a significant difference were education and age:  more educated people and younger people were more likely to oppose a limit.*

Why am I writing about a forgotten issue from almost 30 years ago?  A number of conservatives, notably Ross Douthat, have been making a case for "libertarian populism."  The idea is that programs that are supposed to help the working and middle class usually get "captured" by well-connected interest groups.  As a result, they wind up helping the rich, or maybe a minority the middle class (e. g., those notorious unionized public sector workers), while reducing opportunity for most of the working and middle classes.  So the best way to help the working and middle classes is to rely on competition and markets.  Setting aside the merits of the idea, I have been interested in whether it can be populist and have been looking for potentially relevant questions.  There aren't many, but this one is of interest as a good measure of belief in the market.

There are a lot of issues on which you can make arguments for regulation based on bilateral monopoly or asymmetric information, but this isn't one of them.  There are a lot of credit cards offering different terms (and there were even in 1986), there's no long-term commitment, and the idea of a higher interest rate is pretty easy to grasp.  So the only justifications for government action are paternalism--the idea that some people won't be able to make good decisions--or just not believing that markets work.

But even though the question has a clear statement of the argument against regulation, the great majority of the public supports it.  Also, the people who are least likely to favor limits are not those who are at greatest risk of losing access to credit, but those who have been exposed to the influence of higher education.

Things may have changed since 1986, but I doubt it.  The free-market argument rests on a paradox, so it's most likely to appeal to intellectuals, or at least those who've been exposed to the influence of intellectuals.  (See this previous post for more information pointing in that direction).

*The survey also asked people if they had a credit card.  Among those who did, education influenced opinions but age didn't seem to matter; among those who didn't, age influenced opinions but education didn't seem to matter.  I can't think of a good explanation for this pattern.

[Data Source:  Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Benign neglect?

Between 1976 and 1978, a question whether "the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities" was asked eight times.  Then there was a long gap, before a question whether "over the past couple of decades, the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities" appeared once in 2010 and twice in 2012.  The average results:

                     Agree            Disagree          DK
1970s              43%                47%              10%
2010s              36%                61%                6%

The difference is highly significant, with a t-ratio of over 5.

[Source:  iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Not getting it

Do whites think they they face more discrimination than blacks do, as Nicholas Kristof says?  Since the late 1970s, there have been a number of questions by different survey organizations about what would be likely to happen if there were equally qualified black and white applicants for the same job.

"Suppose a black and white person of equal intelligence and skill apply for the same kind of job here in this area.  Which one do you think would have a better chance of being hired, or do you think they would both have an equal chance?"

            Black     White     Same   Depends  
1978    29%         29%       27%      9%
1983    20%         35%       29%    12%

"Suppose a black and a white were competing for the same job and both were equally qualified.  Generally, do you think the black applicant will be more or less likely to be hired?"
             More    Less   No diff.
1988     33%      47%      14%

"Suppose a black and a white were competing for the same job and both were equally qualified.  Generally, do you think the black applicant will be more or less likely to be hired?"

           More       Less          No diff.
1991    32%         50%          9%

"If a black person and a white person were competing for the same job, and both were equally qualified, who do you think would be more likely to be hired?"

            Black   White       No opinion
1996      22%        46%         32%

"In the average US company when a black person and a white person compete for the same job and they both have the exact same qualifications--the only difference is their race--what do you think usually happens?  Do you think the black person gets hired, or do you think the white person gets hired?"

             Black   White       Same    Depends
1997      19%        47%        5%      16%

After 1997, remarkably, there were no more questions.  Despite the changes in question wording, there seems to be a clear trend.  In 1978, 29% said that the black applicant had a better chance and 29% said the white applicant had a better chance. After that, opinion shifted steadily towards thinking the white applicant had a better chance.  These figures include both blacks and whites, but given the relative numbers in the population and the likely distribution of black opinions, almost all of the change must have been due to change of opinions among whites.

It's possible that opinions have swung in the other direction since 1997, but I don't see any evidence of that.  So whites may not recognize racial discrimination to the extent that Nicholas Kristof would like, but they are becoming more aware of it.  Paul Krugman has often noted (correctly, I think) that when talking about economics, conservatives seem to think that it's still the 1970s.   There seems to be a parallel among liberals when talking about white views of race:  they don't realize that quite a bit has changed.

[data from iPOLL, Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

More things I've written about before

In June, I wrote about the minimum wage, and mentioned that I'd found only one survey that offered people the option of saying it should be reduced.  I recently found another, very recent, example:  a survey sponsored by United Technologies and the Congressional Journal in December 2013 asked:  "the federal minimum wage is now $7.25.  Do you think the federal minimum wage should be raised, lowered, or should it stay the same?"   71% said raised, 2% said lowered, and 25% said stay the same.   The report also broke responses down by a number of characteristics.  Who was more likely to say that it should be reduced?  More affluent people, men, and people with more education.  Independents were the most likely to say that it should be reduced (4%, compared to 2% of Republicans and 1% of Democrats).  The difference I find most interesting is education.   The people who are most likely to take a consistent laissez-faire position are the "intellectuals"--the very people that supporters of laissez-faire like to see as their enemy.  This is just one survey question, but I've seen the same pattern often enough to be pretty sure that it's real.

The other day, Nicholas Kristof had a column about racial inequality.  It was mostly about objective differences, but he started by saying that "a 2011 study by scholars at Harvard and Tufts found that whites, on average, believed that anti-white racism was a bigger problem than anti-black racism."  A note in the study says that the sample was "randomly selected from a panel of 2.5 million respondents." That raises the question of whether the panel is representative of the American population--there are many groups of 2.5 million that aren't.    One survey of the whole American population is discussed in this post.  People were asked about how much discrimination there was against seventeen groups:  whites ranked last (least discrimination against) while blacks ranked fourth.  There are other questions on the topic, which I'll consider in a future post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]