Saturday, July 14, 2018

Education and redistribution

  As a general rule, more educated people are more liberal than less educated people on most "social" issues and more conservative on most economic issues. I wondered if this pattern has changed, so I looked at a question the General Social Survey has asked since 1978:  "Some people think that the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor, perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor. Others think the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor." People are shown a card with numbers from 1 (should do something) to 7 (should not concern itself) and pick the number that best represents their views.  If we limit things to people who are not black and compare those who graduated from college to everyone else, here are the means:

There's little or no trend among people without college degrees, but a downward trend--that is, more support for redistribution--among college graduates.  There are some year-to-year ups and downs that apply to both groups (partly related to the party of the president), so if you look at the difference the trend is even clearer:

The drop in 2016 is unusually large--if you fit a trend from 1978-2014 and extrapolate to 2016, the standardized residual is -2.63--but the trend is clear even without it.  That is, there has been a gradual decline in the the difference between the opinions of more and less educated people.  Why?  One possibility is that it has to do with economic trends--the income gap between college graduates and other people has been growing since the mid-1970s, so educated people feel more generous or more guilty, and more inclined to do something.  Another is that it's about politics--more educated people have been shifting towards the Democrats over the same period.  Regardless of the original reason for the shift, once you start voting for a party, you'll tend to have more trust in its leaders, and adopt more of the positions usually associated with that party.  I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that occur to me.  

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The turning point?

On the 4th of July, the New York Times had a quiz about American history.  One of the questions was "What question, posed to Senator Joseph McCarthy by the Army lawyer Joseph Welch in 1954, is often cited as the unraveling point of McCarthy’s anti-Communist campaign?"  The correct answer was "have you no sense of decency?"  They add, "McCarthy’s national popularity disappeared overnight, and he died three years later" and link to the official website of the Senate, which says almost the same thing:  "Overnight, McCarthy's immense national popularity evaporated." 

The Gallup Poll had a number of questions about whether people had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of McCarthy.  This figure shows the percent favorable minus percent unfavorable (there were two different versions of the question, which I indicate by different colored dots):

The third vertical line is the date of the Welch/McCarthy exchange.  There's not much sign that it made any difference.  Moreover, McCarthy's popularity was not "immense" before it happened--in the last survey before it happened (late May), 33% were favorable and 43% unfavorable. 

Just looking at the numbers, it seems that there is one event that might have caused a lasting drop in McCarthy's popularity--a critical TV documentary by Edward R. Murrow that ran on March 9.  There seems to have been a downward trend even before that, but there was a large decline between March 2 (+10) and March 24 (-8 and -15) and support for McCarthy never bounced back. 

Why is the idea that "have you no sense of decency" was decisive so popular (I have heard it before)?  It's a satisfying story--people saw the exchange and recognized McCarthy for what he was.  If you say that public opinion was influenced by elites, like Murrow or the Senators who decided to have hearings on accusations against McCarthy, that raises questions.  What if Senate Republicans had stuck together behind McCarthy?  What if Murrow hadn't decided to do the program, or if the network executives had refused to let him run it?  Should journalists express a point of view rather than just report the facts?  It's more comforting to believe that people spontaneously saw the truth than to think about those kinds of things.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Been down so long

A book review in the New York Times started off with a discussion of how discontented people are today.  It cited a Gallup question on "In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time?" Answers to this question don't actually show a clear trend since it started in the late 1970s.   But maybe the comparison shouldn't be now vs. a few years ago, but the 1970s and after vs. the 1960s and before?  In fact, the book in question refers to " America’s Fifty-Year Fail " in its subtitle, and the 1970s was a turning point in terms of economics--from a long decline in economic inequality to a long rise.

Public opinion surveys were not as common before the 1970s as they are today, so it's hard to address the possibility that there was a lasting drop after the 1960s.  In 1952, Gallup asked "As you look to the future, do you think life for people generally will get better, or will it get worse?"  That question was repeated in 1962, 1979, 1989, and 2009.  As discussed in this post, answers don't show a decline in optimism.  However, the 2009 survey was taken in January, and there might have been a short-lived spell of optimism accompanying the inauguration of Barack Obama.  Unfortunately, that question has not been repeated since 2009, so I looked for other possibilities.

In 1964, a special survey by the Gallup poll asked "Here is a ladder symbolic of the 'ladder of life'. Let's suppose the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you, and the bottom represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time?" and this has been repeated a number of times since then.  The means:

The last three times the question was asked were 2009, 2011, and 2014.  The mean was low in 2009 and 2011, but much higher in 2014.  That suggests that assessments might respond to economic conditions and in fact the mean has a substantial correlation (-0.73) with the unemployment rate.  There is no apparent trend or lasting one-time drop.

I've had several posts (e. g., this one) arguing that people are not all that discontented with general economic and social conditions--they are discontented with politics.  I think these figures give further support for that position.  In fact, you might wonder why people haven't become more discontented, given the slow growth (some would say absence of growth) in average family incomes over the last 40 or 50 years.  I would say that it's because people mostly compare themselves to people around them and to their own past--whether they are better off than they were and are keeping up with other people they know.  Whether average income growth was faster for your parents' generation, or whether rich people are getting bigger gains, are too remote to have much impact on how people rate their own lives.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, June 29, 2018

Vacation from facts, 3

I am back from vacation, but in my previous post I proposed that "a pure two-party system promotes ideological politics" and said that my next post would consider the question of why ideological differences between American parties were small until about 50 years ago.  My answer is "tribalism"---at one time, many people voted purely on the basis of ethnic, religious, or regional loyalties, without paying much attention to ideology.  As more people started to think in ideological terms, the tendency towards divergence started to take effect. 

For comparative purposes, the key facts are that "tribalism" was an unusually strong force in the United States because of size, ethnic diversity, and other historical factors, and that we have an unusually strong two-party system, probably because of political institutions.   That combination produced a unique path in the ideological differences between parties. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Vacation from facts, 2

  My last post finished by asking why ideological politics has grown in the United States, in contrast to almost all other countries.  A distinctive feature of American political institutions is the dominance of two parties.  There have only been a handful of members of Congress who belonged to other parties; some third-party candidates for President have received a significant share of the vote, but none of those parties have lasted.

In a two-party system, ideological competition drives parties to the center, as Anthony Downs argued.  But there's another way to compete:  if you convince people that the other side is totally unacceptable, then they have no choice but to vote for you.  It seems to be easier to motivate people by fear rather than by a positive vision, so focusing on the negative may be a more attractive strategy than moving to the center.*  I have mentioned in several posts that negative feelings about both parties have grown.  In 2016, many people who weren't enthusiastic about Donald Trump voted for him anyway because they couldn't bear the idea of Hillary Clinton as President.  Some never-Trumpers voted for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or wrote someone in.  Others voted for Clinton but didn't publicly support her.   In contrast, if the British Conservatives chose someone like Trump as a leader, party members who were unhappy could turn to the Liberal Democrats.  Those votes wouldn't be wasted--by winning a small number of seats, they could produce a hung parliament, which has happened several times.  So people who strongly objected to the leader would not just vote for the Liberal Democrats, but publicly advocate voting for them, further strengthening the movement away from the Conservatives.

So my suggestion is that a pure two-party system promotes ideological politics.  If true, that raises the question of why the ideological differences between the American parties were small until about 50 years ago.  I will consider that in my next post.

*Why not do both--move to the center and promote negative feelings about the other party?  For example, you could try to convince people that they are incompetent or corrupt.  However, it seems to be easier to create strong negative feelings when the charges have some ideological content--the other party will take us down the slippery slope to a Soviet-style planned economy, or a Handmaid's Tale society.  In order to make those kind of charges seem sincere, you have to stake out an extreme position yourself--no compromise on X.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Vacation from facts, 1

I will be on vacation when this post appears, so it seems appropriate to take a break from facts and engage in speculation.

"Tribalism" has become a favorite word in writing about contemporary politics.  It seems like the wrong word to me--the key thing about a tribe is that you don't choose it, you are born into it.  A second feature is that tribal leaders have a good deal of freedom in conducting relations with other tribes (see this paper, p. 141)--if they say that we've traditionally been allied with group A, but now it's in our interests to make an alliance with group B, the members will go along.  Tribal politics can involve intense conflict, but it can also involve toleration and coexistence--you can't blame someone for being born a member of a different tribe, and there's a chance of winning them over by making a deal with their leaders.

What we have now is ideological politics.  where people choose a side because it represents the right principles.  Ideological politics necessarily involves conflict.  You can definitely blame someone for choosing the wrong principles; also, leaders have less freedom, because the members may revolt if they seem to betray those principles.  It's sometimes said that Republicans have abandoned their principles to follow Trump, but when those principles are specified they turn out to be things like free trade, concern about budget deficits, and the rule of law, which aren't traditional Republican or conservative principles--they cut across party and ideological lines, and are probably strongest in the "good government" center.  If Trump did something that really went against conservative principles--e.g., proposed a program of infrastructure spending financed by closing tax loopholes that benefit high earners--there would be a revolt.  Of course, I can't give evidence of that, because Trump has conformed to conservative orthodoxy on everything that's important to conservatives--you don't have to take my word for it, you can take Mitch McConnell's. 

That raises a question of why ideological politics grew in the United States.   In almost all other affluent democracies, it has been declining for a long time, and the decline seems to be continuing.  I will turn to that in my next post. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Measuring racial resentment

My last post discussed a scale that is usually referred to as "racial resentment."  The questions (all with responses going from strongly agree to strongly disagree) are:
  1. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
   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 whites.
  4. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

I'd say that the first question simply measures perceptions of how much racial inequality there is. It showed a strong trend towards "disagree" between 1986 (when it was first asked) and 2012.  Even with the move towards "agree" in 2016 the correlation is about 0.8.  That is, people see less racial inequality than they used to, which is reasonable given actual changes in society. 

With the other three, the end that is scored as "resentment" can include two kinds of people--those who think that things are reasonably fair, and that blacks haven't taken advantage of opportunities, and those who think that blacks are getting some kind of unfair advantage.  In terms of the last question:   people who think that blacks have gotten about what they deserve and those who think they've gotten more than they deserve.  So they are basically just measures of general liberalism versus conservatism on the causes of racial inequality.  None of those showed a strong trend through 2012. 

In 2013, I had a post about a question that seemed like a pretty good measure of resentment "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?" The groups included blacks/African Americans.  I remarked then that unfortunately the question hadn't been asked since 2008, and it still hasn't.  It also goes back only to 1990, so I took another look for questions that might be regarded as measuring racial resentment. 

There is one question that was asked several times in the 1970s, and then reappeared in a very similar form in the 2010s.  The 1970s version asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement "the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities."  The 2010s version:  "Over the past couple of decades, the government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities," with "completely agree," "mostly agree," "mostly disagree," and "completely disagree" as possible responses.  If we collapse the 2010 categories into agree and disagree, the percent agreeing minus disagree is:

The figures for 1976, 1978, and 2012 are averages of multiple surveys (5, 2, and 3). Although the question wording differs, I don't think that could plausibly account for the difference in responses. It's reasonable to conclude that there's less racial resentment now than there was in the 1970s. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Era of Good Feelings?

The paper I discussed in my last post showed changes in an index of "racial resentment" from the American National Election Studies, which rose in 2008 and 2012.  The authors interpreted this as evidence that whites felt the presidency of Barack Obama as a threat to their status.  That reminded me that I had a post mentioning the index several years ago.  The index is the sum of responses (strongly agree .... strongly disagree, reverse coded for #2 and #3) to the following statements:

   1. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
   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 whites.
  4. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.

At the time, I said "this scale certainly measures something of interest, but 'resentment' doesn't seem like the right term."  That was just my feeling based on reading the questions--does the data shed any light on the issue?   Let's start with looking at changes (among whites) over the entire period covered by the ANES:

So either racial resentment fell dramatically among whites in 2016, or the index doesn't really measure racial resentment.  The first interpretation doesn't seem very plausible, but the ANES survey has two parts, one of which takes place after the election, and that's the part in which these questions were asked.  So you could say that perhaps white fears of threats to their status fell after Trump was elected.  If we break it down by the party that people voted for (non-Hispanic whites only):

From 1988 through 2012, the means for Republican voters gradually rose and the means for Democrats fell, which is to be expected given general ideological polarization over the period.  The elections of 2008 and 2012 don't stand out as unusual.  Then in 2016, the mean fell a little among Republican voters, and a lot among Democratic voters.  The first change is consistent with the idea that people who would otherwise have felt threatened were reassured because they had a president who would look after them, but the second is puzzling from that point of view.  You would have to say that Democratic voters were the ones who were secretly yearning for a protector, and felt most reassured by Trump's win. 

So I stand by my earlier thought that this index doesn't measure resentment.  My next post will offer some thoughts on what it does measure.   

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Explaining too much

In the last few days, I have seen several stories saying that "a new study ... found that opposition to welfare ... has grown among white Americans."  The study (by Rachel Wetts and Robb Willer) didn't actually show any figures on opposition to welfare--it focused on changes in the gap between white and non-white opinions--but I can see how journalists would have that interpretation.  The abstract says:  "we find that whites’ racial resentment increased beginning in 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s successful presidential candidacy and a major economic downturn, the latter a factor previously shown to amplify racial threat effects. . . . These findings suggest that whites’ perceptions that minorities’ standing is rising can produce periods of 'welfare backlash' in which adoption of policies restricting or curtailing welfare programs is more likely."

Has opposition to welfare grown?  Here are the means for whites and blacks in a question from the General Social Survey about whether we are spending too much [3], too little [1], or about the right amount [2] on welfare.

White opinion moved in the "too much" direction after Obama's election, but so did black opinion.  Looking over a longer period, white opinion has moved up and down, and is more favorable to welfare spending than in the 1970s and most of the 1990s.  Black opinion has also gone up and down, but there seems to be a gradual shift towards "too much."

If you look more closely, it seems that the ups and downs are related to the party of the president:  people tend to say "too much" when a Democrat is president, "too little" when a Republican is.  Presumably this is because, rightly or wrongly, they perceive the government as doing more when a Democrat is in office.  This is a well-known pattern that has been documented in research on a variety of issues.  So what mattered was Obama's party, not his race (see this post for another example).

If you regress average opinions on party in power and a time trend, you get the following predicted values:

There is a clear trend towards less opposition among whites and more opposition among blacks, so the racial gap in opinions is gradually declining.  The effects of party control are almost the same among blacks and whites.  I didn't investigate systematically, but it doesn't appear that general economic conditions have any effect among either blacks or whites.

The paper proposed that whites would also regard the rising share of non-whites in the population as a threat.  Since this changes gradually from year to year, that would lead to gradually rising opposition to welfare among whites.  The actual trend is in the opposite direction from the predicted one.

The hypothesis that underlies the paper is that when "relative advantage in the racial status hierarchy" is threatened, whites turn against programs that are seen as helping minorities.  I think the general hypothesis is probably right--the other part of their paper provides pretty convincing experimental evidence that whites express more negative views on welfare when they are made to think about the prospect of America as a "majority minority" nation.  But although perceived threat may help to explain differences among people at a given point in time (e. g., between different places), when looking at historical change it is overwhelmed by the effect of a general decline of racial prejudice. 

Technical note:
1.  Wetts and Willer use a question on welfare spending from the American National Election Studies.  I used a very similar question from the General Social Survey, mostly because the question has been asked for a longer period of time and the GSS has a convenient cumulative file.
2.  My "white" category includes people who also report that they are Hispanic.  That probably accounts for some of the trend among whites.  If I were writing a paper, I would distinguish between Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites and maybe add some other controls, but since I am writing a blog post I will just say that I don't think it accounts for much of the trend.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Democracy and public support for democracy

A recent piece by Thomas Edsall in the New York Times discusses research by Steven Miller and Nicholas Davis.  They find that "outgroup intolerance" is associated with lower support for democracy.  Edsall also says that intolerance is on the rise:  "The percentage of whites who qualified as socially intolerant doubled from 12.6 percent in 1995 to 24.9 percent in 2011."  I'm sure that his claim about a dramatic rise in social intolerance is a mistake:  it doesn't appear in the Miller/Davis paper and is inconsistent with data from their source, the World Values Survey.  But rather than trying to figure out where it came from, I want to pursue a more general point.  He quotes Miller and Davis as saying until now, there had been little "serious inquiry" into American attitudes towards democracy, but that "a recent and growing scholarly literature raises questions regarding the depths of citizens’ support for democracy."  Although the recent literature undoubtedly adds something, I think there has been a good deal of serious inquiry starting in the 1950s, and it yields a pretty clear picture.

1.  Tolerance and egalitarianism (in the sense of support for equal rights) have grown pretty steadily, and continues to grow.  This is happening among all major segments of the population, even the fabled white working class.  That's the good news. 
2.  However, popular support for democracy has always been pretty shallow.  Or maybe something like "unsteady" would be better--people may be strongly attached to the general idea of democracy, but they don't necessarily support the things it needs to work.  For example, in 2001 a survey asked people how they felt about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to endorse candidates for public office":  39% disagreed, and the proportion who strongly disagreed (28%) was almost equal to the propotion who strongly agreed (30%).  In 2007, people were asked about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to freely criticize the US (United States) military about its strategy and performance:  37% disagreed.  In 2002, people were asked about the statement "Newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story":  27% disagreed.  That is, a substantial number of people don't support some of the most basic activities of a free press.
3.   Most of the time, political elites have not appealed to anti-democratic sentiments, and have (eventually) united against anyone who does.  I've talked about the case of Joe McCarthy in this post:  the Senate censured him by a vote of 67-22 even though he still had substantial support in the public (45% favorable, 35% unfavorable).

Why had Donald Trump been successful so far?  I think it's not because of a rise in anti-democratic sentiments among the public, but because of changes in political elites.  One important difference from the situation with McCarthy is that Trump is President, and the costs of going against a President are greater than the costs of going against a Senator.  That reflects a change in political institutions: before the 1970s, someone like Trump could not have become the nominee of a major party, because most of the convention delegates were selected by party leaders, not in primaries.  A second difference is that political elites are more reluctant to join with the other party against one of their own.  A third difference is that the public has less trust in political elites--as a result, Republicans in Congress might reasonably suspect that Trump's supporters in the public would stick with him regardless of what they do.   So Trump has appealed to a current of opinion that has always been there, but which until now politicians of both parties have neglected rather than encouraged.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Elites or Masses?

One popular view of the 2016 election is that liberal elites drove voters away by lack of respect--here is a recent story .  This is not a new idea--back in the infancy of this blog (October 2010) I had a post inspired by a New York Times story entitled "Elitism:  the Charge Obama Can't Shake."  At that time, I found very few survey questions that mentioned elites or elitism.  Despite the amount of discussion of the subject, few additional ones have appeared, and I haven't found any from the 2016 election (although there was one on respect for various kinds of people, which I discuss in this post). 

However, I recently discovered one from a Fox News poll from October 2008:  "Thinking about your friends and neighbors, would they consider themselves to be part of the top elite in this country or are they part of a group that the elites in America look down upon?"  17% said part of the elite, 41% part of the group that the elites look down on, 22% gave answers that were described as "mix/depends" and 20% said they didn't know.  I found a report  that breaks it down by party identification:

                                    Elite            Despised      Depends/DK           
Democrat                     18%             44%              38%
Republican                   19%             37%             44%
Independent                 13%             44%              43%

In the sample, Republicans were most likely to think their friends were in the "top elite," and least likely to think they were in the group that elites looked down on, although none of the differences were statistically significant.  This does not fit with the usual story about Republican resentment of what liberal elitism.  The number of don't know and other answers is also noteworthy--it's unusual for 40% of people to say they don't know or volunteer another response, and suggests that the question didn't make sense to a lot of people.  (Maybe this is why they never repeated the it). 

I have a hypothesis:  that resentment about the lack of respect from liberal elites is strong not in the general public, or in the working class, but in conservative elites.  Most people don't know about the story in the latest issue of the New Yorker, or the recent incident at the University of ******, and wouldn't care very much if they did.  Conservative elites know and care.  The question is whether this sentiment is limited to a small group--a real elite--or whether some of it has filtered down to the larger group of college-educated conservatives.  Unfortunately, the original data don't seem to be available.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fully, accurately, and fairly

In 1972, a survey conducted by the Gallup Poll asked "how much trust and confidence do you have in the mass media--such as newspapers, TV and radio--when it comes to reporting the news fully, accurately, and fairly--a great deal, a fair amount, not very much, or none at all?"  The question was asked again in 1974 and 1976.  Then there was a long gap until it was asked again in 1997, but since that time it has been asked pretty regularly.  The means, with a great deal=4 .... none at all=1:

There were a few surveys which asked about the "news media" rather than the "mass media":  they are shown in red.

In December 2016, I wrote about other Gallup questions about confidence in various institutions, include newspapers and TV news.  Both showed a downward trend, so it's not surprising that confidence in the "mass media" does too.  However, the  question that I just discovered helps to shed light on the nature of the trend.  The following graph shows them all together (the mean is adjusted so it'a on a comparable scale):

With newspapers, there is an unusually high figure in one year (1979).  If you exclude that, there is very little trend from the 1970s until the early 2000s.  Similarly, TV has one unusually high year, which happens to be the first year it was asked, and then no trend until to the early 2000s.  When you add the question on the media, it's pretty clear that there was a decline from the 1970s to the 1990s, but that confidence then held up for several years before starting to decline again.

Another interesting point is that confidence in the media rose from 2016 to 2017 (September in both years).  This also happened with confidence in newspapers and TV news.  An obvious possibility is that the gain was a result of reporting on Donald Trump.  That might have pleased some liberals who in 2016 thought that the media was too hard on Hillary Clinton and/or Bernie Sanders.  I think there may also be a general tendency for it to be lower in election years:  it rose between 2012 and 2013, 2008 and 2009, and 2004 and 2005 (it was the same in 2000 and 2001).  That could be because people get tired of "horse race" coverage.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What's the alternative?

I saw one more article on culture vs. economics in the 2016 election and thought I should say more about my own position.  One popular view, which is advocated in the article by Diana Mutz that I have mentioned in previous posts, it that support for Donald Trump was not driven by economic distress.  Mutz pointed out that economic conditions were considerably better in 2016 than they had been in 2012 or 2008.   Another popular view, which is advocated in the latest article (by Dave Leonhardt) is that the lack of economic progress for less educated people over the last 40 years produced a gradual buildup of anger and frustration--Trump appealed to that feeling, and turned it against immigrants and racial minorities.  So they agree about the immediate motivations of Trump voters--racial and ethnic fears, and they agree that those fears stemmed from distress about the way things were going in the country; where they differ is on their ultimate source.

I don't agree with either of these analyses.  First, there is no evidence that people were particularly discontented with the way things were going in the country (see this post).  Second, opinions are not becoming more hostile to immigrants or racial minorities (see this post, among others).  Of course, race and ethnicity played an important role in this election, but they always do.  What was different about 2016?  I think it was the very low level of confidence in government.  That made people more interested in outsiders.  Also, there are a number of issues on which public opinion consistently diverges from policy.  An important example is immigration--people always think that more should be done to prevent illegal immigration.  Another important example is trade--people always are suspicious of trade agreements, and suspect that other countries are taking advantage of us.  However, when confidence in government is high, people are willing to give it some slack, and accept assurances that this particular trade agreement is good, or that the government is doing all that it reasonably can to stop illegal immigration.  When confidence is low, they'll credit claims that government officials are selling us out. 

I have calculated a measure of confidence in government which indicates that it fell to low levels in the early 1990s and then rebounded before falling to even lower levels in 2016.  A paper by J. Eric Oliver and Wendy Rahn calculates a measure of confidence which uses different data sources, but shows the same pattern.  While 2016 had Donald Trump, 1992 had another outsider candidate, Ross Perot.  Although he didn't have much lasting impact, Perot's electoral performance was arguably more impressive than Trump's.  He got almost 19% of the vote, which was the most by any third-party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.  Unlike the other third party candidates who cleared 10% (Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette, and George Wallace) Perot had no political experience and lacked a regional base.  He was not particularly charismatic, and was much less well-known than Trump when he started his race.  The most plausible explanation for his strong performance is that voters were looking for an outsider.

Although Perot appealed to the same nationalist sentiments that Trump did, he drew about evenly from all educational levels.  On that point, I think that the difference is style.  Perot was kind of eccentric, but basically conducted himself as a "respectable" candidate; Trump didn't.   

I think this account makes sense of a lot of things, but there is one aspect still puzzles me.  It's easy to understand why people lacked confidence in government in 2016, but not why they did in the early 1990s. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Other cultures

Last week I had a post on the idea that Donald Trump's gains among "working-class" (less educated) white voters were because of their anxiety about maintaining social dominance.  I mentioned that I wasn't convinced by the paper by Diana Mutz  that has been cited in support of this claim, but I didn't go into detail.  Yesterday I saw a piece by Andrew Cherlin in the New York Times, which said that "these conclusions, faithful as they may be to the survey data that underlie them, exemplify a misguided debate about whether culture or economics was the driving force in Mr. Trump’s win."  I agree that the debate is misguided--I've had a number of posts arguing that public opinion about economics includes a large dose of moral considerations.  However, I don't agree that the conclusions about social dominance are faithful to the survey data.

Mutz had a panel survey--the same people were asked the same questions in 2012 and 2016.  She found that "switches" (Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016 or Romney in 2012 and Clinton in 2016) could be explained by position on three issues:  free trade, deportation vs. path to citizenship, and view of China as a threat or economic opportunity.  For each one, people were asked what they thought the position of the Democratic and Republican candidate was, as well as about their own position. 

Between 2012 and 2016, voters moved away from support for free trade and towards support for a path to citizenship.  The first shift helped Trump, while the second helped Clinton.  The overall effects of those two shifts almost exactly offset each other.  On China, there was no change in average public opinion, but the perceived position of the Republican candidate moved in the direction of average public opinion.  That is, Trump took the popular position on China, which helped him. 

That's the data--now on to the interpretation.  Mutz says that anxiety about social dominance should make people turn against "outsiders"--that is, against trade, against illegal immigrants, and against China.  People did turn against trade agreements, but became more sympathetic to illegal immigrants and didn't change on China.  So in terms of the hypothesis, one change was in the expected direction, one was in the "wrong" direction, and one didn't change.  In other words, what actually happened didn't match what should have happened if people were defending social dominance.   

What's my interpretation?  Social scientists are always attracted to the idea of having an interpretation that ties different things together, but I don't think that's possible here.  For immigration, the move continues a long-term shift towards more "liberal" views (the opposite of what the social dominance hypothesis predicts).  For trade, I think it was a short-term change resulting from the combination of criticism from Trump and Bernie Sanders, and the lack of a strong defense from Clinton.  And on China, there's an enduring gap between public opinion, which is tends to be sympathetic towards "America First" positions, and elite opinion, which tends to be more internationalist.  Trump seized an opportunity that previous candidates (except Ross Perot) had ignored. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Moral Economy of the American Crowd

I've had a number of posts observing that people are not very enthusiastic about free trade.  Why not?  One view is that it reflects fear--this New York Times article, summarizing research by Diana Mutz, mentions isolationism, nationalism (a belief that "the United States is culturally superior to other nations"), and ethnocentrism.  A recent article, also by Diana Mutz, has gotten a good deal of attention in the media. It offers a refinement of the earlier work:  opposition to free trade is about white men's fears of threats to their dominance in American society.  Basically, my view is that she provides some valuable information, but it doesn't support her interpretation.  However, rather than expanding on my criticism, I decided to suggest an alternative.  The alternative is that people see international trade as a form of competition, in which being in first place is important.

A 1990 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll had the following question:

"Here are two situations that might occur.  Which would you prefer?

Situation A, in which the U. S. economy grows at a high rate, but the Japanese economy grows even faster, and over a period of several years, Japan becomes the world's leading economic power.

Situation B, in which the U. S. economy grows at a slower rate than in 'Situation A,' but faster than the Japanese economy, and the U. S. continues to be the world's leading economic power."

9% favored A, 86% favored B, and 5% weren't sure.  That is, 86% favored a lower standard of living for themselves just so that the United States could stay ahead of Japan.  Moreover, preference for Situation B was overwhelming among all kinds of people (84% among non-whites, 82% among people with graduate degrees, 82% among people who reported voting for Michael Dukakis in 1988).  That is, it wasn't just whites, or less-educated whites, that felt that way, it was people in general.

The point of my title is that suspicion of free trade isn't just a reflection of prejudice, but is part of the way that ordinary people think about economics.    In fact, it's pretty much the way that even sophisticated people thought about economics until well into the 20th century.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, April 27, 2018

Them vs. us

In 2013, the ISSP survey on National Identity asked people how they felt about the statement:  "International organizations are taking away too much power from the [name of nation] government" (1-5, higher numbers indicating disagreement).  I regressed responses on education separately for each nation and computed predicted values for lowest and highest levels of education (no formal schooling and graduate degree).  A plot of the predicted values for the highest level vs. GDP shows a strong relationship:  the higher the GDP, the more likely people are to disagree:

 For the opinions of people at the lowest educational level vs. GDP, there is no clear relationship:  the correlation is negative (about -.3) but not statistically significant.  Controlling for GDP, there is a national effect that applies to both levels.  General disagreement is highest in the Philippines, Iceland, United States, Germany, and Japan; general agreement is highest in Spain, Portugal, Latvia, the Czech Republic, India, and Denmark.  Although it's not possible to measure exactly, the rankings seem to have some connection to the actual power of international organizations over the nation in question.  For example, economic policy in Spain and Portugal was strongly constrained by the EU after the recession of 2008. 

However, the main conclusion is that there is a common pattern in which educated people are more likely to disagree (that is the case in all 33 nations), but the size of the gap increases with GDP (a correlation of over 0.7). 

Note:  I used GDP from 1995, on the grounds that general national vs. international orientation is likely to be set early in life, and 1995 is roughly the youth of the average voter. 

Note 2:  In an article published in 2003, I found that for many opinions, education had the same direction of effect in almost all nations, but that the magnitude grew with GDP.  This is another case of that kind of pattern. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Confidence in Government, 1952-2016

This was the post I was going to do last week--an update of a overall measure of confidence in government that I wrote about in 2013.  I found that in addition to the six variables I used last time, there was one that asks "How much do you feel that having elections makes the government pay attention to what the people think, a good deal, some or not much?"  I included that and added the 2016 data, giving this general index:

I don't think many people will be surprised that it reached its lowest level in 2016; the intriguing thing is that it was almost as low in 1994 and then rebounded.  I wanted to update this partly to see how well it tracked the growth negative feelings about the parties that I wrote about last month.  Not that closely:  there is a correlation, but that's almost entirely because of the influence of 2012 and 2016.  

While looking back at the 2013 post, I see that it was inspired by claims that Mitt Romney's loss in 2012 was because of low turnout among "downscale, Northern, rural whites."  Some people have suggested that in 2016, Trump appealed to those voters and they turned out in large numbers.  According to the ANES, among non-Hispanic whites who said they voted in 2012, Trump got 53.4% and Clinton got 39.9%; among non-Hispanic whites who said they didn't vote in 2012, Trump got 53.5% and Clinton got 37.4%.  That difference is not statistically significant, or even close.  Given the small numbers of reported non-voters, there's a lot of uncertainty, but the data doesn't suggest that Trump had a particularly strong appeal to "alienated" white voters.  There was one interesting difference:  Clinton did substantially worse among blacks who didn't vote in 2012 than among those who did (68.5% vs. 92.5%); Trump, Johnson, and Stein all did substantially better.  Although the numbers are very small, the difference is statistically significant.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

All the lonely people

A couple of days ago, David Brooks had a column in which he wrote "In the 1980s, 20 percent of Americans said they were often lonely. Now it’s 40 percent."    I've seen research on changes in the number and type of ties among people, but I didn't know of anything on feelings of loneliness, so I tried to investigate further.  Brooks didn't provide a link to his source, but a Google search showed other articles making the same claim.  The source of the 40% figure seems to be a survey of people aged 45 and over sponsored by the AARP in 2010.  However, the report of that survey didn't say anything about changes in loneliness.

There is a question that has been asked in a number of surveys asking people if they had felt "very lonely or remote from other people" in the past few weeks.  The percent saying they had:

Nov 1963    28%
June 1965   26%
Jan 1981     17%
May 1990   19%
Sept 2001   26%
Dec 2001    24%

That doesn't look like any kind of trend.  The numbers in the 1981 and 1990 are lower, but they were in surveys taken by Gallup, and the others were by NORC, so that may be a factor.  Unfortunately, the question hasn't been asked since 2001.

I searched Google scholar for papers about trends in loneliness, and found one from 2014 entitled "Declining Loneliness Over Time:  Evidence From American Colleges and High Schools" .  It was based on surveys at various colleges and universities and on the Monitoring the Future Survey, a representative survey of high school students that has been conducted since the 1970.  It mentioned that other literature claimed that loneliness had increased, but I checked the sources they cited and they didn't provide any evidence--they just said it had, or cited research that wasn't really relevant.

It's possible that I missed something, but I doubt that there is any actual evidence that feelings of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s.  My guess is that the claim is based on a widely cited paper published in 2006, "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades," which found that the percentage of people saying that in the last six months they had not "discussed matters important to you" with anyone went from 10% in 1985 to 25% in 2004.  They called this "social isolation," which sounds more or less equivalent to "loneliness," so you can see how one would turn into the other.  The change in discussion networks for "important matters" is interesting, if it happened (as the authors acknowledge, it might be at least partly an artifact of survey procedures), but it's not necessarily the same as a change in feelings of loneliness.

Two observations:
1.  It's remarkable that online editions of newspapers and magazines haven't developed reasonable conventions about when to include links to a source.  I checked five or six articles, all in well-regarded publications, which included the claim that levels of loneliness had doubled.  Only one provided a link:  that was to the AARP survey report, which didn't support the claim.
2.  There are cases when you can't say much about trends because there are recent survey questions, but no older ones.  This isn't one of them:  in addition to the "very lonely or remote," there was a 1964 survey asking people to agree or disagree with the statement "I often feel quite lonely" (27% did), and a 1990 Gallup Poll asking "How often do you ever feel lonely?" (10% frequently, 26% sometimes, 40% seldom, and 23% never) and a number of related questions.  There is also a Gallup question from 1950:  "When you have personal problems, do you like to discuss them with anyone to help clear them up, or not?" and a follow-up about who you discuss them with.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Is 80% a lot?

I was going to post on another subject, but things turned out to be more complicated than I thought, so here is a stopgap.  The Washington Post has a story about how Republican senate candidates are emphasizing their closeness to Donald Trump.  Although it offers some qualifications, it says that a major reason is that "Trump enjoys enormous popularity among Republican primary voters."  According to the most recent Gallup Polls, 85% of Republicans approve of the job Trump is doing.  How impressive is that?  Between June 1, 2017 and today, Trump's approval rating among Republicans has ranged from 79% to 87%.  Between June 1, 2009 and April 2010, Obama's approval ratings among Democrats ranged from 81% to 92%; between June 1, 2005 and April 2006, George Bush's approval rating among Republicans ranged from 75% to 89%.  That is, it's normal for a President to have "enormous" approval among people who identify with his own party. 

Only 7% of Democrats say that they approve of the job Trump is doing as President, but that's also normal.  Things get more interesting among Independents:  Trump has ranged from 30% to 33% approval (currently at 33%).  Obama ranged from 43% to 60% (in early April 2010 he was at 43%), and Bush from 23% to 45% (26% in early April 2006)

Overall, 41% approve of Trump's performance in the latest Gallup Polls, 47% approved of Obama at the equivalent time in his first term, and 37% approved of Bush at the equivalent in his second term.  The difference in overall popularity was concentrated among Independents.  Probably some of that is people switching from saying that they support a party to saying that they are independent.  It could be my memory, but I don't recall that Democrats were making efforts to tie themselves to Obama in spring 2010 or Republicans making efforts to tie themselves to Bush in 2006--in fact, they seemed to be going the other way and emphasizing their independence and commitment to do what's best for their state, which is a sensible strategy when your president is not especially popular. 

Why are candidates trying to move closer to an unpopular president?  I think that they are buying into the story that Trump has a particularly strong connection to "the base."  In my view, what actually happened was that once Trump got the nomination he benefited from party loyalty (and even more important, from dislike of the Democrats).    I've had several posts (especially this one) noting that there is no evidence that Trump voters were unusually enthusiastic. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


In my last post, I wrote about a piece by Thomas Edsall reviewing research that shows a large and increasing connection between "authoritarianism" and Republican voting.  Authoritarianism is measured by "a long-established authoritarian scale — based on four survey questions about which childhood traits parents would like to see in their offspring ..... Those respondents who choose respect for elders, good manners, obedience and being well-behaved are rated more authoritarian."  This scale measures something meaningful, but why call it "authoritarianism" rather than "traditionalism" or maybe even "conservativism"?  The basic idea of the "authoritarian personality," as proposed by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford, was that it was different from ordinary conservatism, and that an authoritarian conservative could appeal to people who didn't normally support conservatives (and repel some people who normally did)*.  Their idea of authoritarianism was complicated, but I would say that the essence is a tendency to say that every problem is the result of evil or contemptible behavior that ought to be punished (and sometimes to imagine problems so that you have an opportunity to blame someone).  This idea seems very relevant to Donald Trump--as Andrew Gelman said "Political scientists used to worry about authoritarianism within the electorate. Mainstream politicians, ranging from Republicans on the far right to lefties such as Sanders, tend not to go there. Trump did." 

The Authoritarian Personality team came up with questions that they thought measured the concept, some of which were used in surveys in the 1950s and 1960s.  One by the National Opinion Research Center included the following agree/disagree items:
"The most important thing to teach children is absolute obedience to their parents"
"Any good leader should be strict with people under him in order to gain their respect"
"Prison is too good for sex criminals.  They should be publicly whipped or worse"
"There are two kinds of people in the world:  the weak and the strong"
"No decent man can respect a woman who has had sex relations before marriage"

The survey also had a question asking if various kinds of people "are taking advantage of present conditions to make money."  The Korean War had started that summer, so I guess that was the "present conditions" they were talking about.  For ten of the twelve groups they asked about, people who said a good leader should be strict were more likely to say that they were taking advantage of conditions; for seven of those ten, the difference was statistically significant.  Those seven were Negroes, grocery store keepers, doctors, Puerto Ricans in the United States, Jews, bankers, and Catholics.  The three on which there was a non-significant difference in that direction were Labor union members, Protestants, and car dealers.  The two for which the difference was in the other direction (in both cases very small and nowhere near statistical significance) were farmers and steel companies.  The "authoritarian" answer was more common among less educated people, but controlling for education didn't change this the basic pattern--in most cases, it increased the t-ratios. 

So it does seem that an "authoritarian" answer on this question went along with a tendency to blame.  Of course, in some cases, it was plausible to say that a group was trying to make money--maybe grocery stores had raised prices.  But it's hard to imagine a reasonable argument that groups like Catholics or blacks were  doing that. 

The other questions had approximately the same pattern of correlations, but it was weaker and generally not statistically significant.  Some of those questions are dated or just don't seem very good in principle.  But maybe the "leader should be strict" question deserves to be revived.  It's not enough by itself, but it seems to be getting at something. 

*There has been some controversy about whether left-wing authoritarians exist; my view is that they do.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, April 6, 2018

Social science repeats itself

Thomas Edsall has a piece in which he cites a variety of work saying that Democratic and Republican voters are increasingly divided by values.  He's particularly concerned with "authoritarianism," which is an interesting issue, but one I'll save for another post.  What I want to talk about here is the idea that the recent rise in political polarization is the result of a rise of "cultural and lifestyle politics" at the expense of economic issues.  The reasoning is that it's easier to compromise on economics, on which you can split the difference, than on cultural issues, which involve principles of right and wrong.  The idea that culture has been displacing economics as the main axis of political conflict been around for about fifty years--it was first proposed in response to the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  I think it has value (although with some qualifications which I discuss in this paper), but I don't see how it can explain the rising polarization of the last decade or so.  In that time, the single most divisive issue in American politics has probably been the Affordable Care Act.  This is basically an economic policy, and a very complicated one involving a lot of technical issues--that is, exactly the kind of issue where it seems you could make deals, offering a concession here in return for getting something  there.  The second most divisive issue has probably been the combination of bailouts, tax changes, and stimulus spending that gave birth to the Tea Party:  another complicated set of economic policies that seemed to offer lots of room for compromise.  Meanwhile, some leading cultural issues have faded.  For example, same-sex marriage is widely accepted--even people who aren't enthusiastic about it have mostly given up the fight.  Another example involves drugs:  a consensus seems to be developing in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana, and the rise in opioid abuse has been treated as a public health problem rather than producing a "moral panic." 

What I think these examples show is that both economic and cultural issues can be more or less "moralized."  There was a period in the middle of the 20th century when leading politicians of both left and right accepted the basic principles of the welfare state and government intervention to maintain high employment.  But that consensus had not been around before then, and it isn't around now.  Now issues that were once part of what Seymour Martin Lipset called "the politics of collective bargaining" are part of the "culture wars."

Saturday, March 31, 2018

You've got questions

A comment on my previous post asked about the percent of people rating the parties at 100.  Here is the figure:

There is no clear trend for either.  Although it may not be evident from the figure, there is a positive correlation (about 0.25) between the percent rating each party at 100.  If you add them together to get an index of positive feelings about the parties, you get:

This tracks general confidence in government reasonably well.  It rose in the 1980s, then declined until 1994, then rose into the early 21st century, and then declined.  It was relatively high in 2008, presumably because Obama's nomination increased good feelings about the Democrats.

If you calculate the difference between percent rating the parties at 100 and 0, you get:

So the kind of partisan polarization that has grown isn't a matter of enthusiastic support for one's own party, but dislike or fear of the other party.

1.  For this post and the previous post, I used the online data analysis system SDA, which lets anyone do basic analysis of the GSS and ANES.  I have a link to it in the data sources section.
2.  In 2012, Shanto Iyengar, Gaurav Sood, Yphtach Lelkes  published an article entitled "Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization," which argued that contemporary partisan polarization was based primarily on feelings of dislike rather than ideology.  I thought it was pretty convincing when I first read it and this analysis has made me more convinced.

Friday, March 30, 2018

We have met the enemy and they are you

Since 1978, the American National Election Studies has asked people to rate the Democratic and Republican parties on a scale of 0-100 ("When I read the name of a group, we'd like you to rate it with what we call a feeling thermometer.  Ratings between 50 degrees-100 degrees mean that you feel favorably and warm toward the group; ratings between 0 and 50 degrees mean that you don't feel favorably towards the group and that you don't care too much for that group.  If you don't feel particularly warm or cold toward a group you would rate them at 50 degrees").  Here is a figure showing the percentage who give each party the lowest possible rating:

It has risen for both parties.  For example, in 1979, 1.7% of people rated the Democrats at zero and 4.2% rated the Republicans at zero; in 2016 the corresponding figures were 11.2% and 11.4%.  I also calculated the individual-level correlation between ratings of the Democratic and Republican parties--that is, the extent to which people who felt favorably towards one party felt unfavorably towards the other. 

The correlations are negative, so the downward slope means that the relationship is getting stronger.

You can combine the three measures (with a principal components analysis) to get a general measure of partisan polarization.

There is an upward trend, and it seems to have become stronger in the 21st century.  An interesting thing is that it doesn't track trust in government (discussed in this post) all that closely.  However, confidence in many institutions has followed a general downward trend (this post).   Of course, a lot of things have followed a trend since the 1970s, but it seems plausible in principle that polarization could cause or reflect declining confidence in institutions. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What if he couldn't?

About a week ago, Richard Kahlenberg had a piece in the New York Times in which he held up Robert Kennedy as a model of "inclusive populism."  He concluded by saying "If Robert Kennedy, the civil rights champion, could attract Wallace voters at a time of national chaos, surely the right progressive candidate with the right message could bring a significant portion of the Obama-Trump voters back home."  I had a recent post where I talked about the idea that Kennedy had a special appeal to Wallace's supporters, but in looking back at it I realized I downplayed the basic point.  This table shows it:

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                36.2%      39.7%     39.1%
Democrat          39.0%      35.4%     35.0%
Wallace            16.2%       16.7%     16.0%
Undecided         8.5%         8.3%       9.9%

Wallace got 16.2% in a hypothetical three-way contest with Humphrey as the Democratic nominee, 16.7% with Kennedy, and 16.0% with McCarthy.  That is, support for Wallace was essentially the same with all of the hypothetical Democratic nominees (actually a little higher with Kennedy). 

What if we set the South aside?

                       Humphrey  RFK     McCarthy
Nixon                41.1%      44.4%     42.8%
Democrat          39.9%      37.4%     37.9%
Wallace             10.5%       10.5%     10.3%
Undecided         8.3%         7.7%       9.0%

Once again, Wallace's support was just about equal in all of the hypothetical races.

So there's no evidence that Kennedy actually could attract Wallace supporters any more than Humphrey or even Eugene McCarthy could.  What did seem to matter was the Republican candidate.  In this survey, when they asked about hypothetical races involving Nelson Rockefeller, Wallace consistently did less well than in races involving Nixon.  In a survey taken a couple of weeks before, Wallace consistently did better in contests involving Rockefeller than in those involving Nixon.  I have no idea why there would be a change involving Nixon and Rockefeller in those few weeks, but the pattern suggests that Wallace supporters had become disenchanted with the Democrats, and the only question was whether they would vote for the Republican or for Wallace. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The people, maybe

In 1964, a survey conducted by the Gallup Poll asked "In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions--a very great deal, a good deal, not very much, or none at all?"  Starting in 1997, the question has occasionally been included in Pew surveys, most recently in March 2016.    A similar question, "How much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making choices on Election Day?" has appeared several times between 1998 and 2016.  The figure below shows average responses (higher numbers mean more trust and confidence), with different colors indicating the different forms:

Confidence in the wisdom of the people was only slightly lower through 2006 than it had been in the 1964, but fell sharply between 2006 and 2015.  This pattern is in contrast with confidence in most institutions, which has declined pretty steadily since the 1970s, as discussed in this post (maybe with a bigger drop from the 1960s to the 1970s, as discussed in this one).  It would be tempting to say the decline was a response to the rise of Trump, but the average in a survey from September 2015, when the campaign for the Republican nomination was just getting started, and March 2016, when he was moving toward the nomination, were almost exactly the same.  So in terms of this question, he seems to have been a symptom more than a cause.

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Everyone is right, sort of

In the last couple of months, Donald Trump has been boasting that "Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!"  At the same time, a report from the Economic Policy Institute says that black unemployment is higher than it was fifty years ago.  The figures for black unemployment, which I got via FRED, start in January 1972.  The 6.8% in December 2017 is indeed the lowest since those records began (the previous low was 7.0% in April 2000). 

The EPI numbers refer to unemployment for "black and other," and were 6.7% in 1968 and 6.4% in 1969 (they give a link to the table).  Like the figures on unemployment among blacks, they are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the question is how much difference including "other" makes.  They report both "black and other" and "black" for 1972, and "black" is 0.4% higher (10.4% vs. 10%).  If you estimate unemployment among blacks in 1968 and 1969 by adding 0.3 or 0.4, it was about the same as it is today.

Of course, white unemployment is low now and was low in the late 1960s, so if you are interested in racial differences, the thing to look at is the ratio of black unemployment rate to white unemployment rate.

The ratio bounces around from one month to the next, presumably mostly because of sampling error, so I also show a 23-month moving average in red (chosen because it seemed to give a reasonable balance between simplicity and detail).  It seems like the ratio increased somewhat through the late 1980s and then fell, leaving it just slightly lower at the end than the beginning.  Things are a bit more complicated than that, because the ratio tends to be higher when general unemployment is low, as it is now--if you adjust for that, there is more of a downward trend in the ratio.  Still, the trend is not as large as I would have expected given the narrowing of racial differences in education. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Protestant, Catholic, Jew .... and beyond?

Since the 1930s, the Gallup Poll has asked questions of the form "IF YOUR PARTY NOMINATED A GENERALLY WELL-QUALIFIED MAN FOR PRESIDENT AND HE HAPPENED TO BE _____, WOULD YOU VOTE FOR HIM?"  (Later they changed it to "person" and "that person.")  The figure shows the percent who said they would vote for a Catholic and a Jew:

Starting in the late 1990s, they have asked about "a generally well-qualified person who happened to be Jewish"--over 90% have said that they would.  In the late 1950s, the percent saying that they would vote for a Catholic was only a little higher than the percent saying they would vote for a Jew.  Since Catholics were about 25% of the population and Jews were about 3%, that suggests that among Protestants, willingness to vote for a Catholic was lower than willingness to vote for a Jew. 

In April 1960, the Gallup poll had a survey asking about hypothetical contests for President, including Kennedy vs. Nixon.  In that match, 46% said they would vote for Kennedy and 44% said Nixon.  Then they asked "As you may know, Kennedy is a Catholic in his religion.  Supposing Kennedy were NOT a Catholic—which man would you like to see win—Nixon or Kennedy?"  51% said Kennedy and 40% said Nixon.  In October 1960, they asked "AS YOU KNOW, SENATOR KENNEDY IS A CATHOLIC. HAS THIS FACT MADE YOU MORE IN FAVOR OF HIM, LESS IN FAVOR OF HIM, OR HASN'T IT MADE ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL? (Oct 1960)"  5% said more in favor and 19% said less in favor.  That is, Catholicism made a difference to voters in 1960, and it didn't take subtle techniques to detect it.

Starting in the late 1950s, Gallup also asked about voting for an atheist:

Willingness has grown, and it's now a little below willingness to vote for a Catholic or a Jew in the late 1950s.  I also show two from Time/CNN/Yankelovich surveys in the 1990s, which asked "Would you vote for a candidate for President who did not believe in God?" Those showed much lower support, although by a dictionary definition "did not believe in God" is weaker than "atheist," since it could be interpreted to include agnostics.  Unfortunately, those questions have not been repeated.  

In 2003, the question was asked about a Muslim for the first time--56% said they would.  In 2012, it was 58% and in 2015 it was 60%.  Given the short span of time and the sample sizes, it's hard to say if that's an upward trend.  In 2015, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll asked "Would you vote for a qualified Muslim for president?":  49% said they would, 40% said they would not.  

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, March 3, 2018


A lot of the coverage of Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum has talked about how this is a departure from the traditional Republican position.  For example, this story in the New York Times says  "Mr. Trump has strayed from the party’s traditional orthodoxy of embracing free and open markets," quotes Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Ben Sasse with critical remarks, and then Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) with a positive comment.  I've said it before, but it's worth saying again:  support for free trade is not a traditional Republican or conservative position.  For example, a 2008 Fortune/Abt SRBI poll asked people how they felt about a proposal to "Place high tariffs on goods coming from countries that produce low-priced goods so that American companies can compete with them."  60% of conservatives, 64% of moderates, and 57% of liberals said they were strongly or somewhat in favor.  The breakdown by party ID:  64% of Republicans, 59% of Democrats, and 66% of independents in favor.  That is, partisanship and ideology made little if any difference.

Education mattered:  68% of people with no college were in favor, compared to 52% of college graduates.  So did gender:  68% of women and 54% of men were in favor.   However, as I observed in my previous post, tariffs are pretty popular with all segments of the general public.  The groups that are strongly against them are elites, or more exactly professional and diplomatic elites, and people who listen to those elit

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another chance?

A Pew survey finding that 58% of Republicans say that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going has been getting a good deal of attention.  However, according to a Pew survey from 2016, there was no partisan difference among college graduates in views of of how useful their college education had been in giving them job opportunities and workplace skills (there was some difference in views about how useful it was for personal growth).  That reminded me of a post I had a few years ago about a survey that asked how important various factors were in getting ahead.  Liberals were more likely to rate "a good education" as important, while conservatives were more likely to choose hard work or saving and spending decisions.

I looked for more questions about the individual value of education, and found a CBS News survey from 2011 that asked "Would you go back to school to further your education if you could
do it for free?"  65% of those who had voted for Obama said yes, compared to 51% of those who had voted for McCain, and 79% of those who had not voted.  I thought that people who had less education would have more interest in going back to school, but there was no clear difference by educational level.  However, opinions were related to age gender, and race (older people, men, and non-Hispanic whites were less likely to say yes).  The Obama/McCain difference was still there, and just about as large, after controlling for those factors.*

So it seems like there is some ideological difference in views about the individual value of education.  That value is both economic and non-economic, but the strong negative association between age and interest in further education suggests that people were focusing on the economic benefit.  Like the survey I wrote about in my earlier post, this one suggests that people on the left are more likely to see education as important for success.  Combined with the results of the Pew survey, it seems that this is not because they think that educational institutions are more effective in teaching job skills, but presumably because they think you can make up for lack of education by other qualities.  (This happens to be something that Piketty speculated about in the talk mentioned in my previous post.)

*The Obama/non-voter difference was reduced and was not statistically significant--there's a lot of uncertainty because the number of reported nonvoters was fairly small.