Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Another random observation

This is something I noticed a while ago, but didn't post on because it isn't one of my usual topics.  I was reminded of it because of discussion of the Electoral College and whether there might be another result that goes against the popular vote.  That did not happen between 1888 (Benjamin Harrison vs. Grover Cleveland) and 2000.  However, it came close to happening in 1916, when a shift of 2,000 votes in California would have given the election to Charles Evans Hughes, who got 46.1% against Woodrow Wilson's 49.2%.  The electorate was much smaller then, so in proportional terms that would be equal to about 15,000 votes today, which is still not many.  There was also the election of 1948, when Strom Thurmond ran.  He had no chance of winning--his goal was to prevent either Truman or Dewey from winning a majority, so that the election would go to the House of Representatives and the south could make the candidates renounce any civil rights proposals as the condition of a deal.   As it happened, Truman won both the popular and electoral vote by solid margins (49.6% to 46.1% and 303 to 189), but California and Ohio were very close.  A shift of 9,000 votes in California and 4,000 in Ohio would have given Dewey both states, and would have left Truman with 253 electoral votes, short of the 266 then needed to win.   That would be equal to about 36,000 votes in today's terms.

So part of the reason that the Electoral College matched the popular vote for over a century was just luck.  And as these examples (and Trump vs. Clinton) show, there is a significant chance of discrepancy even when the popular vote is not all that close.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

America first?

At one of his recent rallies, Donald Trump said that he was a nationalist:  "Really, we’re not supposed to use that word.  You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!"  A New York Times story said that "Mr. Trump has enthusiastically embraced words and ideas that his predecessors shied away from," also mentioning "America First," which he has used repeatedly. 

Trump clearly thinks that the terms are popular among the general public, which seems plausible, but is it true?  I looked for survey questions about "nationalist" or "nationalism" but didn't find anything useful (most of the mentions involved references to "Nationalist China").  Then I tried "America first."  I didn't find anything that asked for reactions to that as a slogan, but there was an interesting pair of questions from September 1946 (a couple of months after Trump was born).  The first was:

"Which of these statements do you think best describes what the men who have been in charge of our relations with foreign countries in the past ten years have been trying to do?...
1. They have nearly always tried to help the rest of the world even if what they did wasn't always the best thing for America.
2. They have tried to help the rest of the world and America at the same time, believing that what was the best thing for the world was the best thing for America.
3. They have looked out for America first but at the same time have tried not to do anything that hurt the rest of the world too much.
4. They have tried to look out for America first, last, and all the time, and have not cared too much what happened to the rest of the world."

The second was:  "Which of these statements best describes what you think we should try to do now and in the future," choosing from the same answers.

                                        Have tried                  Should
Help world                         20%                         4%
Both                                    35%                       33%
America first                       25%                       44%
America always                     4%                         9%
DK                                      15%                        11%

There was a pretty substantial difference between what people thought that leaders had been doing and what they thought they should have done.  Broken down by education, there was not much difference in beliefs about what had been done, but a pretty substantial difference in beliefs about what should be done.
                     World            Both            First         Always          DK
No HS            3%                21%             41%         12%             22%
HS                  4%                35%             48%           7%               6%
College           5%                47%             40%           5%               2%

The two extreme positions were not very popular among any group, and the "America first, but" position was about equally popular among all of them.  Support for "best for the world is best for America" increased substantially with education.

Although the question has never been repeated, I think it has implication for today.  The idea that the government should look after America first has a lot of popular appeal, especially among less educated people.  In 1946, a lot of people would have remembered pre-war isolationism and its "America First" slogan, and the experience of the war might have made them feel positive about international cooperation.  Nevertheless, there was more support for "America first," than "what's best for the world is best for America."

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Random observation

One of the questions in the General Social Survey is:  "If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?"  While looking for something else in the GSS the other day, I noticed this question and wondered if there was any trend.   One thing led to another, and here are trends by educational level (college graduate or not):

The likely reason that more educated people would be less likely to stop working is that they have more satisfying jobs.   Job satisfaction has stayed about the same in both groups over the whole period, so that doesn't account for the difference in trends.  On the other side, more educated people presumably have more interests outside of work--maybe that gap has grown, although I'm not sure why it would.  Or maybe it reflects changes in the sense of moral obligation to work?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The fault is not in other democracies, but in ourselves

I had a post almost two years ago about the idea that support for democracy was declining.  That started as an example for a class I was teaching, and I'm teaching the same class now, so I was going to reuse it.  But on looking back it didn't seem very clear, so hear is a new version. 

I looked at seven well-established democracies.  The basic question is:  "Various types of political systems are described below. Please think about each choice in terms of governing this country and indicate if you think that it would be a very good, fairly good, fairly bad or very bad way of governing [your nation]:"

Here are the average ratings for "having a democratic political system"

There is no general pattern:  ratings increase in Spain and Australia, but decline in Japan and the United States.  At the beginning, Americans are third out of seven nations in their rating of democracy; at the end, we are eighth out of eight. 

Here are the average ratings for "having the army rule": 

The United States stands out here:  there has been a pretty steady increase.  In 1996, we were part of a group of three nations in the middle; in 2012, we had the most positive rating.  Having the army rule still gets a much lower rating than a democratic political system, but the gap has clearly narrowed.  This is unique to the United States--there is no clear trend in any of the other countries. 

[Data from the World Values Survey]

Friday, October 12, 2018

A new identity?

In my last post, I talked about perceptions of discrimination against blacks and whites.  I combined the two questions to get the numbers who said that there was more discrimination against whites, more against blacks, and equal amounts.   If you go back to the individual questions, which were asked in 2015:

Against blacks:

                    A lot       some    only a little   none at all
Whites             28%       45%      19%            6%
Blacks              63%      28%         7%           1%

Against whites:

Whites              9%       37%         32%       21%
Blacks              6%       27%         32%       30%

There is a big difference between blacks and whites in how much discrimination they see against blacks.  The difference in how much discrimination they see about whites is much smaller--whites see a little more, but not much.  For example, almost 80% of whites think that there is some discrimination against whites--but 70% of blacks think that there is some discrimination against whites.

The same question was asked in 2005.  At that time, the results were:

Against blacks:

                    A lot       some    only a little   none at all
Whites             22%       54%      14%            8%
Blacks              52%      34%         7%           5%

Against whites:

Whites              6%       39%         24%       27%
Blacks              7%       34%         20%       33%

The same pattern held then.  Between 2005 and 2015, perceptions changed a little.  Whites shfted from seeing "none at all" to "only a little" against themselves and and more saw "some" discrimination against blacks, with a decline in all other categories.  The number of blacks seeing "a lot" of discrimination against themselves grew from 52 to 63%.  However, nothing very dramatic.

I read a piece in the New York Times the other day (published a couple of months ago, but I missed it then), which said that there was "growing self-recognition among white people, prodded into being by demographic change and broader conversations about how racial identity works," which "could certainly lead toward self-acceptance and harmony . . . But we’re also staring at copious evidence of this self-recognition swinging in the other direction. . . . Some of us fixate on maintaining racial dominance, conjuring ethnonationalist states or a magical immigration formula that somehow imports half of Scandinavia. A majority of white Americans currently believe that their own race is discriminated against. News accounts fill with white resentment and torch-lit white-power marches. ...."  That would mean that white opinion was polarizing--there is no sign that is happening.  As I ,said last time, only a small minority of whites think there's more discrimination against whites than blacks--I haven't seen any survey results that would give an estimate of the number of "white nationalists," but I'm confident that it's even smaller.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, October 6, 2018

What's the problem?

I saw a story in the New York Times the other day which reported on polls finding relatively tolerant attitudes towards immigrants and then quoted one of their reporters as saying she "had not expected voters to be quite so tolerant. . . since polls had previously found 'much higher support for people saying discrimination against whites had become as big of a problem as that against blacks and other minorities.'"  That reminded me that I had seen a number of stories mentioning that question .  The usual interpretation is summed up in this title "Why white people think they're the real victims of racism."  I had also noticed something that seemed to cast doubt on that interpretation.    In a 2012 survey, 53% of whites agreed with the statement that "today discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities," but so did 27% of blacks.  So if we say that most white people think they are the real victims of racism, we have to say that 27% of blacks think so too.   That doesn't seem credible.

My interpretation is that the "yes" answers combined two kinds of people--those who think that whites are the real victims and those who think that there's a lot of discrimination against all kinds of people.  The second view could represent general cynicism or a kind of racial solidarity.  I couldn't think of any way to test the interpretations, so I looked for a survey that asked separately about discrimination against blacks and whites.  I found a recent one I had not seen before, from 2015.  The exact question was "now please tell me how much discrimination there is against each of these groups in our society today. How about ****? Would you say there is a lot of discrimination, some, only a little, or none at all?"  They asked about "African Americans" and "White Americans," so you can compare the responses to see how many people said there was more against African Americans, how many said it was equal, and how many said whites.  The results:
                     More vs. W        Equal       More vs.  AA
Whites                11%                39%           48%
Blacks                  2%                21%            72%

So not many whites think that they face more discrimination than blacks do.  There are a lot of people who think discrimination against blacks and whites is about equal--more among whites, but a significant number even among blacks.  Is that because they think that neither is discriminated against, or both are?  And does it matter?  I will discuss that in my next post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


For a long time, going back to at least the 1950s, there seemed to be a growth in tolerance of people with unpopular opinions.  Recently there have been some claims that things are moving in the other direction.  Often these are about particular kinds of people, like liberals, millenials, or college students, but I'll start with people in general.  The General Social Survey has a series of questions going back to the 1970s about whether various kinds of people should be allowed to "make a speech in your community," "teach in a college or university," and if their books should be removed from your public library.   It asks about five types of people:  a Communist, "a man who admits that he is a homosexual," "a person who advocates doing away with elections and letting the military run the country" (or militarist for short), "a person who believes that blacks are genetically inferior" (racist),  and "a person who is against all churches and religion" (atheist).   I computed a score of tolerance for each one by adding the three items (which were all yes/no).  The means:

Support for the rights of a type of person depends on two things:  how you feel about what they say or do and how committed you are to the general principle of tolerance.  The more rapid increase for the "man who admits that he is a homosexual" can plausibly be explained by a trend towards acceptance of gays and lesbians.  On the other side, the lack of an increase for the racist can be explained by a trend toward stronger disapproval of those views.  The other three all have very similar upward trends.  Apart from the difference in trends, the year-to-year changes are very similar.  I thought there might be some distinctive movements at least for the Communist, as people might have seen it as less of a threat after the breakup of the Soviet Union, but there's no evidence of that.  The period 2004-10 saw a plateau or slight decline in tolerance, but then it started up again through 2016.  So unless you think that people happen to have become more sympathetic to Communists, militarists, and opponents of religion, it seems that there has been and still is a fairly steady growth in support for the principle of toleration.