Friday, August 31, 2018

Who's the problem (part 2)

Here are graphs showing changes in the average rating of the "honesty and ethical standards" in various occupations.  There were a lot of them, so I divided them into groups.  First, politics:

Until 200, there was little or no trend for any of them.  Since 2000, Senators and members of Congress have dropped substantially, governors and state officials have dropped by a more moderate amount, and local officeholders have stayed about the same. 

Then there are occupations that I classed as "related to politics":  lobbyists and several different types of journalists. 

For the journalists, it seems to be a pretty steady downward trend since the 1970s.  Lobbyists are rated much lower, and there is no change over the decade for which the question has been asked. 

Then some business occupations:

Bankers and stockbrokers declined in 2008 and have not recovered.  Business executives have a more steady downward trend.  But people in advertising, HMO managers, and nursing home operators show no change or maybe an increase.  Around 1980, stockbrokers were rated much higher than people in advertising--now they are about the same. 

Then justice and the military: 

They have only asked about judges and the military since about 2000--judges have declined a bit, while military officers have stayed about the same.  For police, there is an upward trend until about 2000 and little change since then.  Two individual years stand out--one is 2001, when a number of occupations had a jump, which was probably a consequence of 9/11 (the survey was taken in December).  The other is 2014, which was when the Michael Brown shooting and protests in Ferguson, Mo. took place. 

That's a lot of data, but there's more, so I will save the rest of it for my next post. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Who's the problem? (part 1)

Some people argue that people are unhappy with the state of American economy and society because of things like slow economic growth and rising inequality.  I have had several posts arguing against that idea--this is the most recent and this is another one.  People are not especially discontented with their economic situation, or the state of the nation, or life in general.  However, confidence in most American institutions has declined since the 1970s.  Is that because people have become more negative about elites, or certain elites, or people in general?

Since the 1970s, the Gallup Poll has asked "Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields -- very high, high, average, low or very low? How about.."  The list of occupations changes--forty-three different ones have been included, some only once but others as many as 35 times.  They include some true elites (e. g., Senators), some professions that cover a wide range (e. g., lawyers, clergy), and some ordinary jobs (e. g., auto mechanics).  There's a lot of information there, so I'll break my discussion into several parts.  One of the first thing I did was to fit a time trend to each occupation.  27 were positive (that is, in the direction of higher honesty and ethics), and 10 of those were statistically significant at the 5% level.  Fourteen were negative, and ten of those were statistically significant.  (Two of them were asked just once, so no trend could be estimated).  The biggest statistically significant upward trends were:  nursing home operators, auto mechanics, funeral home operators, labor union leaders, and medical doctors.  That's a diverse group--I can't think of anything that they have in common.  The largest statistically significant declines were state governors, stockbrokers, members of Congress, TV reporters, and bankers.  Those could all be regarded as elite occupations.   

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ideology and morality

About a week ago, Donald Trump advised people to "study the late Senator Joseph McCarthy."  It turns out that I have been thinking about Joe McCarthy, although not quite for the reasons Trump says we should.  I was looking at an essay by Daniel Bell, originally published in 1953 and reprinted in The End of Ideology (1960).  In it, he said "the tendency to convert concrete issues into ideological problems, to invest them with moral color and high emotional charge, is to invite conflicts which can only damage a society.  ... It has been one of the glories of the United States that politics has always been a pragmatic give-and-take rather than a series of wars-to-the-death."  The second sentence reflects a conventional view of American politics, but on reflection it doesn't seem convincing.  Of course, there has been a lot of pragmatic give and take, but compared to other countries Americans seem to have had a tendency to invest issues with "moral color and high emotional charge."  For example, alcohol had been widely used in American society for centuries, but was completely banned in 1920.  I don't think anything like this happened elsewhere--there was a strong temperance movement in Britain, but it never came close to achieving prohibition, even thought that would just have taken an ordinary act of parliament, while in the United States it required a constitutional amendment.  A lot of people must have felt very strongly to devote that much effort to the cause and not to be satisfied with anything less than complete prohibition. 

This example shows a problem with Bell's first sentence.  An issue can have moral and emotional charge without being part of an ideology:  that is, "an all-inclusive system of comprehensive reality" (quoting Bell again, this time "The End of Ideology in the West").  Prohibition wasn't an ideology like socialism--it was a position on one issue.  I happened to run across a 1974 article by Samuel Huntington which made this distinction, observing that "highly systematized ideologies . . . have been notably absent from the American scene.  But it is a mistake to move from this truth to the assumption that political ideals have played a less important role in the United States than in Europe. . . . American politics has been characterized by less sophisticated political theory and more intense political beliefs than most other societies."

Bell concluded his essay on McCarthy by suggesting that the conflict would pass pretty quickly.  He was right about that.  In contrast, for at least the last decade the United States has been repeating the same conflicts, like those over immigration and health care, without coming closer to a resolution.   I wonder if what has made recent conflicts so enduring is that the traditional "moral color" of American politics has come to be combined with ideology. 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

It's the rich wot gets the gravy

"If ______ is elected President, do you think the policies of his/her administration will favor the rich, favor the middle class, favor the poor, or will they treat all groups the same?"

                                                   Rich          Middle         Poor      Same      DK
Aug 2007   John Edwards            30%          24%            9%         18%      19%
Mar 2008   Hillary Clinton           23%          29%          13%         28%       7%
Mar 2008   Barack Obama           13%          30%           18%        33%        6%
Mar 2008   John McCain              53%          16%           0             23%        8%
Oct  2008   McCain                       59%          11%            3%        21%         6%
Oct  2008   Obama                          8%          38%           22%       24%         8%
Jul   2012   Mitt Romney               53%          11%             2%       30%         4%
Sep  2012  Obama                          12%          26%          22%        30%       10%
Sep  2012  Romney                        53%            8%            1%        33%          6%
Sep  2012  Obama                            9%           27%          31%       26%          7%
Oct  2016   Donald Trump             57%           14%            1%       27%          1%
Oct  2016   Clinton                         37%           24%          14%       22%          3%

The figures for the Republicans--McCain, Romney, and Trump--are just about the same, with between 53 and 59 percent saying their policies would favor the rich, but there are substantial differences among the Democrats.  With Obama, between 9 and 13 percent said his policies would favor the rich; with Hillary Clinton, it was 23% in 2008 and 37% in 2016.  I had a post about a similar question that was asked in 2008 and June-July 2016, which also showed that McCain and Trump were just about the same but that Clinton was substantially different from Obama.  I said "One possibility is that it's a fixed part of her image--maybe people are thinking of the well-compensated speeches she's made to Wall Street firms.  Another possibility is that the contrast with Bernie Sanders made people think of her as more favorable to rich, and that as people start focusing on the contrast with Trump perceptions will change...."  We can rule the second one out given the results of the October 2016 survey (it was taken less than two weeks before the election).  However, it wasn't completely fixed--it was there in 2008 and stronger in 2016. 

The pattern doesn't fit the way that the different candidates have usually been depicted in the media.   In 2008, Clinton was usually presented as down-to-earth and Obama as a bit of an elitist (sometimes even "professorial".  And there have been many stories contrasting the conventional businessman Romney with the "populist" Trump, who sometimes talked about an infrastructure program or closing tax loopholes that benefited "the hedge fund guys." 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research] 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


I had a post a few weeks ago about satisfaction with life in general, specifically:  "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?"  That showed data from 1964 to 2014, and no trend was apparent.  But since the late 1960s is sometimes seen as a turning point, that means there wasn't much information on the "before" state (only surveys from 1964 and 1966).  I found that there was an earlier example of the same question, in 1959.  The results including that survey:

Again, no sign of a trend.  The average for 1959 is pretty much in the middle, higher than the figures for 2009 and 2001, but lower than 2005, 2006, and 2014.  There is a popular (and plausible) story which holds that after growth in average incomes slowed down in the 1970s, people became more discontented, which made them less generous and more inclined to look for someone to blame, and the longer it went on, the more discontented people became, making them even less generous and more punitive.  If this is true, the only way to change the public mood is to return to faster and more broadly based economic growth, which no one has any idea how to accomplish.  So in a way, the absence of a trend in perceived position on the "ladder of life" is encouraging.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research] 

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Love him or hate him

Only about 40-45% of people say they approve of the job Donald Trump is doing as President, but it's often said that his supporters are especially enthusiastic.  Some surveys that ask the question about approval follow with one about whether you approve/disapprove "strongly" or just "somewhat."  I looked at those for presidents back to Jimmy Carter.  To limit the amount of data, I picked the first time when the President in question had roughly the same overall approval as Trump does now.  The figure shows the percent who strongly approved and strongly disapproved, along with the predicted values from simple time trend.  

There is an upward trend for both, and it's about the same size for approval and disapproval.  That is, there's more strong approval and disapproval, and fewer "somewhat" answers.  Relative to the trend, Trump doesn't stand out in terms of either strong approval or strong disapproval.  Two who did stand out to some extent were George W. Bush, with more strong reactions, and Bill Clinton, with fewer.  I noticed that the date I had picked for Bush was early September 2005, just after hurricane Katrina, and thought that might have temporarily boosted his strong disapproves, so I added one from July 2005.  His overall approval rating was a bit better then, with fewer strong disapproves and about the same number of strong approves--he was still above the trend for both.

I was expecting more differences among individual presidents, but seem to have found one more example of the gradual growth of partisan polarization since the 1970s.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

By popular demand

I had a post a couple of years ago about the effect of height and weight on earnings for men and women.  Basically, the pattern seemed to be that for women, being thinner meant higher earnings; for men, earnings were highest in a middle range.  That is, for the purposes of earnings, women couldn't be too thin, but men could.  Recently, someone asked in a comment "What happens if you superimpose the plots for men and women?"  The literal answer is that it would be pretty much unreadable, since I had lines for the height/weight relationship at four different heights for each gender.  Another issue is that I have since decided that the way I constructed the lines (as a function of height, weight, and weight squared) was misleading.  So I went back and computed average earnings of men and women by BMI (rounded to whole numbers).  The numbers are small for some categories, so I show smoothed curves as well the the means.

My previous conclusions about the relationship among women need to be revised:  now it appears that weight doesn't make much difference up to a BMI of about 25 (which is where the official "overweight" range starts); after that it goes with lower earnings.  For men, my previous conclusions were about right--men who are in the official "overweight" range (25-30) earn more than men in the "normal" range (18-25).  Men earn more than women over most of the range, but the difference disappears and is even reversed at the low end.  That is, skinny men appear to earn low incomes, compared with men who weigh more and also to women. 

There are not many men in the lower ranges of BMI--for example, for someone who is 70 inches tall, a BMI of 20 means a weight of 139 pounds.  Still, it is interesting that deviating from the "ideal" weight seems to matter more for men than for women, and that for men being in the "normal" weight range is worse than being in the "overweight" range. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Tough enough?

In September 2017, an ABC News/Washington Post poll asked "Before (Donald) Trump became president, do you think the US was too tough in enforcing immigration laws, not tough enough or was enforcement about right?"  and then "How about now, under (Donald) Trump, do you think the US is too tough in enforcing immigration laws, not tough enough or is enforcement about right?"  The results:

                                      Before                    Now
Too tough                         6%                        45%
About right                     44%                        30%
Not enough                     49%                        22%
People clearly saw Trump as having made enforcement tougher, and appear to have been about equally divided on whether that was a good thing:  slightly over half (52%) said that things were either about right or still not tough enough; 50% said that things had been about right or too tough.  Of course, the assessment of "before Trump" might have been influenced by experience under Trump.  In 2004, there was a very similar question:  " How do you rate the federal government on immigration? Is it too tough, not tough enough, or about right?" 10% said too tough, 61% not tough enough, and 26% about right.  That's considerably less favorable than the 2017 "before Trump" assessment, but opinions could have changed quite a bit in the 10+ years before Trump was elected.  The most similar question I could find in those years was in 2013, when another ABC News/Washington Post Poll asked "Overall, do you support or oppose...stricter border control to try to reduce illegal immigration? Do you feel that way strongly or somewhat?"  63% said support strongly, 17% support somewhat, and 10% oppose somewhat and 7% oppose strongly.  Despite the difference in the questions, it seems reasonable to take the "strongly support stricter controls" as roughly equivalent to "not tough enough."  So as I suggested in my last post, a solid majority supported tougher enforcement in principle before the rise of Trump; after getting it, support fell, either because of what people saw and heard about the effects of the policy, or because the policy was associated with Trump.  But with about 50% support, it was (as of Sept 2017) still more popular than Trump was overall. A lot has happened since that time, but I can't find any comparable survey questions.  My guess is that opinions have not changed much, since general opinions about Trump have been very stable.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]