Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Learning from Trump

It's often said that Donald Trump did well among less educated voters because he seemed to care about them.  As Arthur Brooks put it, "like him or hate him, learn from him. Learn from him that there should be nobody who’s left behind. And that everybody should be treated with a sense of their own dignity."  Of course, Trump didn't treat "everybody" with dignity.  But if you take Brooks seriously but not literally, maybe Trump gave a large number of voters the sense that he was concerned about them.

A number of surveys have asked if various political figures "care about people like you."  Here are the figures for presidential candidates.  When possible, they are taken from surveys shortly before the election:

                   Cares        Doesn't
Trump               46%          54%    Nov 2016 (post-election)
H. Clinton          47%          51%    Aug 2016
Trump               37%          60%    Aug 2016
H. Clinton          46%          51%    May 2016
Trump               42%          55%    May 2016
H. Clinton          47%          52%    May 2015
Obama               61%          35%    Jan 2012
Obama               57%          41%    Oct 2011
Obama               66%          33%    Oct-Nov 2008
McCain              54%          44%    Oct-Nov 2008
GW Bush             50%          46%    Oct 2004
Kerry               54%          40%    Oct 2004
Dick Cheney         40%          50%    July 2004
GW Bush             51%          41%    Oct-Nov 2000
Gore                58%          34%    Oct-Nov 2000
GHW Bush            51%          39%    May 1991
Dukakis             55%          33%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            42%          48%    Nov 1988
GHW Bush            52%          37%    Sept 1988
Reagan              56%          37%    Oct 1984
Mondale             70%          22%    Oct 1984
Carter              55%          32%    Nov 1979
Ford                47%          35%    July 1976
Carter              48%          22%    July 1976

Trump did not do well in terms of being seen as caring about "people like you"--in fact, he did worse that anyone else on the list, despite tough competition from Dick Cheney (it's not comprehensive, so I can't say it was the worst ever).   So what we can learn from Trump is that it's possible to win even if most voters think you don't care about people like them.

There are a couple of interesting patterns,  First, Democrats consistently are more likely to be seen as caring about "people like you."  Someone (I think Butler and Stokes, Political Change in Britain) observed that in Britain, Labour was seen as more concerned about ordinary people and the Conservatives as more effective.  Second, Hillary Clinton did poorly for a Democrat.  This seems to be specific to her rather than a downward trend for Democratic candidates.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Forgotten but not gone, part 2

Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting Democratic vs. Republican in presidential elections, 1936-2012.

The black line is from the data described in my last post; the red line is from the cumulative GSS.  The two sets of estimates for 1972-1992 should be exactly the same, since they both use GSS data (1968 was a combination of GSS and Gallup data).  They are not quite identical, so there must have been small differences in how I coded education or what I counted as missing data, but the differences are very small.  Over the whole period, there is a definite tendency for college education to shift in a pro-Democratic direction, but also a good deal of variation from one election the the next.
Here is the estimated effect of college education on the chance of voting.

The discrepancies are larger, but the trend is clear:  college education makes more difference as time goes on, and there isn't much variation from one election to the next.  Since voter turnout among people with college degrees is high, in practice this means declining turnout among people who didn't attend college.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Forgotten but not gone

In 1996, I compiled information on education, occupation, and vote in American presidential elections from 1936 to 1992.  The 1936-68 data was from Gallup polls.  In the early 1970s, Gallup stopped asking about occupation, but the General Social Survey appeared, so it was possible to continue the series.  I never published anything from this, and had forgotten about it until during this election campaign.  Remarkably, I not only still had the data, but had it in a form that could be read.  So here, at long last, is the estimated effect of higher education (college graduate=2, some college=1, high school or less=0) on Democratic vs. Republican voting, 1936-92:

The black line includes a control for race (and its interaction with election), but not occupation; the red includes a control for occupation (and its interaction with election).  The estimates with and without controls for occupation are not very different:  in both cases, the effect of education moves in a generally pro-Democratic direction over time.  At the beginning of the period, people with more education were more likely to Republican; by the end, there was little difference.  The 1972 election (Nixon vs. McGovern) stands out as the only one in which more educated people were substantially more likely to vote Democratic than less educated people.  We can take the history on from 1992 using exit polls (see this post).  In 1996-2012 the effect of education didn't change much, but in 2016 in moved in a pro-Democratic direction again.  The scales aren't really comparable, but the 2016 gap was much bigger than 1972.  In 1972, about 40 percent of whites with college degrees supported McGovern, against 33% of whites without college degrees, for a percentage difference of 7; in 2016, the percentage difference was about 18.
         The data I compiled also included non-voters.  Here is the estimated effect of college education on non-voting (vs. voting for any candidate):  again, black is without controls for occupation and red is with controls.

In 1936, college graduates were only slightly more likely to vote than people with no college, but the difference grew steadily.  Of course, you can't learn about non-voting from exit polls, but I believe that the difference has grown since then.  I may update the data using the GSS and see.

PS:  I just show the effect of higher education--the effect of differences in education up through high school graduate hardly changed at all over the period.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research; I should also acknowledge the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where I was a fellow when I compiled the data.]

Saturday, January 21, 2017

American carnage

According to Donald Trump's inaugural address yesterday, "the crime and gangs and drugs" are running rampant in America.  Does the public see it this way?  A couple of years ago, I had a post about perceived changes in the crime rate in "your area."  But perceived changes in the national crime rate are probably more relevant here.  Since 1989, the Gallup poll has frequently asked about whether crime in the United States is higher or lower than it was a year ago.  The figure shows a summary of responses (logarithm of the ratio of "higher" to "lower") to questions about the United States and "your area."
 Over the whole period, more people see crime as up in the nation than in their own area.  That's a common pattern--people generally see things close to them as being better than things far away.  But there has been very little change in perceptions at either level over the last ten years or so.  There are several things that seem like they might have led to a perception of increased crime in the nation--well-publicized terrorist incidents, protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, a real increase in the murder rate in 2015 and 2016--but there's no sign that they made much difference.

This is more evidence for something I said in a recent post:  Americans are not particularly angry or fearful now.  In my view, Trump won because of a combination of partisanship, popular positions on some issues [economic nationalism], and plain luck, not because he was particularly in tune with the "spirit of the age."

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

What difference would it make?

In 1995, a survey sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Kaiser Foundation, and the Washington Post asked a series of questions about changes in "the quality of the air we breathe," "the share of Americans over 65 who live in poverty," "the difference in income between wealthy and middle-class Americans," the number of children who "grow up in singe-parent families," and "the rate of violent crime" over the last 20 years.  It then asked a randomly selected half of the sample about whether "federal programs helped to make things better, made things worse, or have they not had much effect either way"; the other half was asked about the effect "more effort and spending by the federal government would have" on each of the conditions.  The results are summarized below:

                 Change    Effect of gov't   Effect of more gov't
Air Quality
    Better        20%         47%             49%
    Worse         53%         13%              7%
    Same          25%         37%             42%

    Summary                  +34%            +42%

Poverty over 65
    Better       15%          23%             53%
    Worse        57%          32%             11%
    Same         24%          41%             33%

    Summary                   -9%            +42%

Income Differences
    Better       10%          10%             25%
    Worse        66%          50%             18%
    Same         22%          36%             53%

    Summary                  -40%             +7%

Single parent families
    Better        3%           10%            21%
    Worse        89%           39%            15%
    Same          7%           48%            59%

    Summary                   -29%            +6%

Violent Crime
    Better        2%            8%            43%
    Worse        91%           33%             9%
    Same          7%           56%            44%

    Summary                    -25%          +34% 

For each condition, the number who thought things had become worse was substantially larger than the number who thought things had improved.  It would be interesting to explore that further--is it something about people in general, or about Americans in particular--but I'll focus on the questions about government action.  For air quality, poverty among people over 65, and violent crime, the number who say that more government action would improve things is substantially larger than the number who say it would make things worse.  For the other two, difference between the rich and the poor and single-parent families, opinion is almost equally divided.  Air quality is the one issue on which more people see the government as having done good rather than harm.  The gap between rich and middle class is the one one which the balance of opinion is most negative.

   This relates to the evergreen question of why many low and moderate income people vote against their apparent interest in redistribution.  The most popular explanations among social scientists seem to be first, that people exaggerate the chances that they or their children will be rich someday, and second, that people are diverted by something else like "social issues" or ethnic loyalties.  I don't think that there's much truth in the first--most people seem to be pretty realistic about their chances of upward mobility (see this paper).  The second is a factor, and often an important factor.  But there's also another potential explanation, which hasn't gotten the attention it deserves--lack of confidence in what the government could or would do.  The puzzling thing is the big difference between reducing poverty among people over 65 and reducing differences between the rich and the poor--both of them involve redistributing income, but public opinion about the effect of trying to do that are very different.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How are things?

During and after the  2016 election campaign, many observers said that  there was widespread discontent with the way things were going.  For example, a Reuters story in late September said "Polls show an electorate hungry for change, with a majority believing the country is on the wrong track."  Donald Trump himself mentioned those polls:  "Seventy-five percent of the American people, based on all polls, think our country is headed on the wrong track."   He was exaggerating a bit, but it was a definite majority--about 60-65%.  

The question, "do you feel that things in this country are generally going in the right direction today, or do you feel that things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track?" was first asked in 1971, and repeated a number of times in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Sometime in the middle of the 1980s, a lot of survey organizations adopted it, and since then it's been asked very frequently, probably over a thousand times.  (There have been some variations in question wording, but they don't seem to make much difference.)  I don't have time to transcribe that much data, so starting in 1982, I just considered the last poll before each Presidential or midterm election, plus polls from early September and late October 2001 in order to see the effect of the 9/11 attacks (which was a substantial increase in "right direction" answers).   The figure shows the difference between percent choosing "right direction" and percent choosing "wrong track" (usually between 5-10% aren't sure).

By historical standards, opinions in 2016 were not unusual.  In the last survey taken before the election, 31% chose "right direction" and 62% chose "wrong track," for a score of -31.  That was nowhere near the low of October 2008 (14% to 79% for -65).  There were obvious reasons for alarm then, but in October 1990, 19% chose "right direction" and 79% chose "wrong track."  It would be interesting to try to figure out what causes change in answers to the "right direction/wrong track" question, but at this point I just want to observe that in 2016 the American public was not especially discontented about how things were going in the country.

Since Trump is so different from previous presidents, it's natural to think that his election must result from some profound discontent in the public.  But for a lot of voters, as I've said in a number of previous posts, I think it was just another election between a Republican and a Democrat (and a Democrat who was strongly identified with the party, making it hard for her to pick up Republican votes).  The basic circumstances were favorable to the Republicans--the economy was OK but not great, and the Democrats had been in office for two terms.  Trump got only 45.95% of the vote, less than what Mitt Romney got in 2012 and only 0.3% more than what John McCain got in 2008, suggesting that he cost the party a significant number of votes.

The fact that Trump got the Republican nomination may indicate that there was profound discontent among Republicans, at least those who vote in the primaries.  But Americans in general weren't especially discontented--it's normal for a majority to say that things are on the wrong track.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Stay in school?

In December 2013, a Gallup News Service Poll asked "How important is a college education today -- very important, fairly important, or not too important?" 69% said very important, 24% fairly important, and 7% said not important.  While idly looking at a few crosstabulations, I noticed that there were differences by party:  among Democrats, it was 78%-19%-2%; among Republicans, 62%, 28%, and 9%.  Looking at other political questions, a definite pattern appeared.  For example, there were questions about whether you had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Tea Party movement

                                                                     Percent with favorable opinion of
                                             Obama            Democrats       Republicans      Tea Party
Very important                        51                     44                     32                  28
Fairly important                      37                     30                     33                  37
not too important                    16                      13                     31                  55

People who thought education was less important were considerably less favorable towards Obama and the Democratic Party, and more favorable to the Tea Party movement, but not to the Republican Party.

There were also questions about whether people were satisfied with how things were going in the country and in their personal lives.  22% of the people who said very important, 20% of those who said fairly important, and 3% (yes, 3%) of those who said not too important were satisfied with how things were going in the country.  With personal life, they distinguished degrees of satisfaction, and the results were :

                           Very Satisfied    Somewhat satisfied    S. dissatisfied   V. dissatisfied
Very Important            54%                      28%                              6%                    11%
Fairly important          50%                      31%                              5%                    13%
Not too important        26%                      44%                            18%                    12%

So people who think that college is less important tend to be disgruntled conservatives--they don't like the Democrats, but aren't especially keen on the Republicans, and think that things in general are going badly.  The one thing that they like is the outside political movement--the Tea Party.

This is starting to sound like the standard image of Trump voters, and in fact demographically there are parallels with Trump supporters--less educated, mostly men, and more likely to be white.  (There was no clear difference by income).  So something interesting is going on.    If the question asked about how important education should be, I could offer an explanation for a connection:  people who resented the importance of educational credentials, and thought that willingness to work hard or practical experience should be more important would be dissatisfied and attracted to a populist movement like the Tea Party.  But it asks about how important education is, which seems more neutral.  Maybe some people are answering in terms of "ought" rather than "is," despite the wording.  But a few years ago, I noted that people who said that hard work or saving and spending decisions were the most important factors for getting ahead were more conservative than people who said education was most important.  That suggests that views of the way that things actually work makes a difference.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]