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.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The wrong question

Thomas Edsall had a piece in the New York Times asking "why democracy has failed to stem the growth of inequality."  Building on work by Thomas Piketty, he proposes that the answer can be found in the changing composition of Democratic and Republican voters.  In this account, educated people have shifted towards the Democrats because of their position on various "social issues."  Since educated people tend to have high incomes, they are not very interested in programs to help the poor:   "the highly educated constituency currently controlling the party has been ineffective in protecting the material interests of the less well off."  That means that people with low incomes have less reason to vote for the Democrats, so some of them shift to the Republicans, increasing the influence of educated voters in the Democratic party, and further weakening its support for equality.

In fact, spending to help people with low incomes has increased substantially during the period of rising inequality, as I discussed in a post in July.   The American state doesn't do as much for people with low incomes as many European states do, or as much as some people (including me) think it should, but it has "stemmed the growth of inequality" if you focus on the gap between the poor and the middle class.

The question we should be asking is why the government hasn't done much to limit the gains of those at the top.  The shift of college educated voters towards the Democrats doesn't help to answer this question.  Edsall notes that between "1988 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted income of college graduates increased by 16 percent and for those with advanced degrees by 42 percent."  However, almost all of these gains occurred before 2000--since then, average incomes at all educational levels have been flat, and only people at the very top of the income distribution have made substantial gains.  So the majority of both more and less educated people seem to have a material interest in redistributing the wealth at the top.  There has been very little discussion of why this hasn't happened, but I have considered it here and here.  One important factor is that people are not very aware of how high incomes are at the top end:  when people are asked how much the chief executive of a national corporation makes, the average estimate is only about $500,000.  The high incomes of celebrities and sports figures get a lot of publicity, but those of CEOs and people on Wall Street generally do not.  Another factor seems to be that people just don't like the idea of very high taxes on anyone (see my second paper for further discussion).  As a result, public opinion doesn't put much pressure on the government to redistribute income away from the top.  On the other side, politicians seem to be less concerned with bringing attention to business misconduct or excess than they used to--this may be because of the increased importance of corporate contributions and the chance of making a good living as a lobbyist if you lose office.  I was struck by how quickly the Equifax security breach dropped out of sight as an issue--in the 1970s or 1980s I think there would have been congressional hearings, pointed comments about the generous salaries of the people in charge and questions about what they did to justify those salaries, and calls for new regulations.  Instead it was in the news for a few days, and then everyone moved on (and Equifax stock started rising again).    This lack of publicity means companies don't face much pressure to limit the growth of top incomes.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Poor us

I July, I wrote about a question from 1999 about whether "other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States."  Agreement was substantially higher among the less educated, although it was high at all educational levels.  I have looked for later questions on the same issue and haven't found any, but I did find an earlier example, from a 1946 NORC survey.  People were asked "Do you think that this country's interests abroad are being well taken care of by the President and other government officials, or do you think other countries are taking advantage of us?"  The results by educational level:

                             care     Taken advantage    DK
Not HS grad         29%       53%                    18%
HS grad                32%       58%                    10%
Some college        40%       50%                    11%
College grad         51%       38%                    11%

Less educated people were substantially more likely to think we were being taken advantage of.  This wasn't a reflection of party loyalty:  the president in 1946 was a Democrat (Truman), and at that time less educated people were more likely to be Democrats. 

There was an open-ended question about which countries were taking advantage of us.  The most popular answers were the Soviet Union and Great Britain--for those countries, and most of the others, there was no clear difference by education.  They coded some answers as "all of them, that can--all of Europe,"  and less educated people were substantially more likely to give that answer.  You could say that a substantial number of less educated  people thought that someone was taking advantage of us, but weren't sure who it was.

Although 1946 was a long time ago, this attitude still seems to be common.  It's certainly a major element in Donald Trump's world-view.  I recently discovered the Trump Twitter Archive, which includes almost all of Trump's tweets since 2009.  There are a large number along these lines:

"Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect—and much worse.”  (2012)

"When will our nation's sacrifices  be respectfully appreciated? Iraq and Libya should reimburse us in oil." (2011)

"Boycott Mexico until they release our Marine. With all the money they get from the U.S., this should be an easy one. NO RESPECT!" (2014)  He was referring to an ex-Marine who had been convicted of bringing loaded guns into Mexico, a violation of their laws).

"Now a small country like Sudan tells Obama he can't send any more Marines.  We are a laughing stock."  (2012)

It's possible that the belief that your country is being taken advantage of is a general part of nationalism, but I believe that it's especially strong in the United States.  Our self-image is of being generous--helping to rebuild Germany and Japan after the Second World War, welcoming immigrants, trying to promote democracy.  The flip side of that is a feeling that other nations don't appreciate our sacrifices or are taking advantage of our good nature.  I think Trump's appeal to this sentiment helps to explain his support in the "working class" (ie less educated people). 

PS:  The Trump Twitter Archive also helps to show why his "economic populism" faded so quickly--it didn't exist until he started running for office.  Up through 2014, his tweets on economic issues were standard conservative stuff--government spending is too high, deficits "will turn America into Greece," the " Fed's recklessness is going to lead to record inflation."  Even after that, he didn't have that many tweets about departures from orthodoxy.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, February 2, 2018

The moment of truth

When journalists write stories about "working class whites" they may talk to factory or construction workers, but it they mention any survey data, it involves differences between more and less educated people.  That's because very few surveys now ask about occupation.  The American National Election Study still does, but it's an academic survey, so things take time.  The data for 2016 was released in May, but it didn't include the occupation variable.  But the occupation data has now been released, so now it is possible to distinguish between the effects of occupation and education. 

It's known that the gap between more and less educated (white) voters was substantially bigger in 2016 than it was in previous elections.  What about the gap between blue and white collar workers?  The ANES has a detailed classification, with about 90 different occupations.  I reduced this to six categories:  managers, professionals, other white collar or technical, protective services, supervisors, and manual workers.  "Protective services" is not usually distinguished as a separate class, but they are hard to place and Donald Trump often boasts about getting their support, so I made them a separate category.  Limiting the sample to non-Hispanic whites, here is support for Republicans in 2012 and 2016 relative to manual workers.

                         2012    2016
Managers          -.18     -.49
Professionals    -.34     -.78
White collar     -.12      -16
Protective          .49      .23
Supervisors       .24      .10
Manual                 0         0

To approximately translate these into percentage differences, multiply by 25.  For example, the Republican vote among supervisors was about 6% higher than among manual workers in 2012.  One thing to notice that the "New Deal" pattern, where Democratic support was higher among manual workers than among the middle classes, is pretty much gone; Democratic support is now highest among professionals.  The other is that there seems to have been a change between 2012 and 2016:  manual workers moved towards the Republicans relative to all other classes (or all others moved towards the Democrats relative to manual workers).  

These comparisons do not control for education.  If you do that, the effect of having a college degree is about -.23 in 2012 and -.72 in 2016--that is, about three times as large (these are close the gaps shown in the exit polls).  What about occupation after talking account of  education?  The estimated shift of manual workers is less than half as large as it was before including the control, and not anywhere close to statistical significance (a t-ratio of about 0.8).  That is, the major change in voting patterns involved education, not occupation.  Or in everyday terms, the big change was not that working-class whites turned to Trump, but that less educated whites turned to Trump.  You could say that this is just an academic distinction, because working class voters tend to be less educated.  But education and occupation are different things--of course they are correlated, but a lot of people without college degrees have white collar occupations (see this post).  I have argued that the changes had more to do with Trump's (and maybe Clinton's) styles and with views of the nation than with appeals to economic interests, and the fact that the change in voting patterns primarily involved education and not occupation supports this interpretation.