Monday, December 30, 2019

Nationalism and internationalism

In 1964, a special Gallup survey asked people for their reactions to the following statement:  "We shouldn't think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems and building up our strength and prosperity here at home."  55% agreed and 34% disagreed (11% had no answer).  But there were large differences by education and age--the chance of disagreeing was less than 10% for people in their 80s with a grade school education, but about 2/3 for college graduates in their 20s--so it would have been reasonable to expect a gradual move away from agreement.  The question has been asked a number of times since then; the figure shows the percent who disagree:

There's a lot of short-term variation, but if there is any trend it is towards agreeing that we should  "concentrate more on our own national problems."  In the most recent surveys, the educational differences are still there (and about as strong as they were in 1964), but the age differences have disappeared. 

The same survey contained a question about immigration, which I've written about before.  In 1964, only seven percent said that immigration should be increased and 42 percent said it should be reduced; in the most recent survey, 28% said increased and 29% should be reduced.

What I think this shows is that a growth in "cosmopolitanism" doesn't necessarily mean a decline in nationalism, in the sense of a belief that you have stronger obligations to members of your own nation than to humanity in general.  A few days ago Pico Iyer had a piece in the New York Times in which he said "I’m delighted to return to a newly open and creative London where the average person was born in another country. My four grandparents, all born in India, came of age in a richly multicultured society, but one in which they had little chance of encountering neighbors from Cambodia or Haiti or Ethiopia, as so many New Yorkers or Angelenos can today."  That's the sentiment that has grown--that ethnic diversity is one of the good things about your nation, or that more ethnic diversity would make it better.   Of course, not everyone feels that way--there are people who liked London the way it used to be and are sorry to see changes--but that is a difference between two kinds of nationalism.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and Pew Research Center]

Friday, December 27, 2019

The New Age

David Brooks made an interesting observation in his column:  "We’ve seen gigantic events like impeachment, the Kavanaugh hearings, the Mueller investigation and the 'Access Hollywood' tapes They come and go and barely leave a trace on the polls, the political landscape or evaluations of Donald Trump."  According to the records kept by the Roper Center, Trump's lowest approval rating has been 32% and his highest has been 49%, and those are individual polls which are subject to sampling error--the averages of polls taken at about the same time have only ranged from about 35% to 45%.  That's a lot less variation than any of his predecessors (starting with Roosevelt).   But if you look more closely, it seems that the decline in volatility began with Obama.  He started with very high approval ratings, around 70%.  Those declined pretty steadily and by Fall 2009 he was at a little over 50%.  After that, they only ranged from the low 40s to the low 50s--about the same range of variation as Trump, at a higher level of approval.  All presidents from Roosevelt through GW Bush had more substantial ups and downs during their whole time in office. 

So what changed with Obama?   In a previous post, I suggested that the Republican strategy of complete opposition meant that he couldn't have any real political successes--even when he got his way, as with the Affordable Care Act, it looked ugly.  In contrast, all previous presidents had some achievements that got bipartisan support.  Trump has been like Obama in this respect--Democrats have been united in opposition and he hasn't made much effort to get anyone to break ranks. 

This reminded me of a piece by John Sides in the Washington Post a few days ago.   He had a figure showing that from Kennedy to GW Bush, presidential approval was related to "consumer sentiment" (ratings of economic conditions)--with Obama and Bush, the connection has disappeared. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Old news

Sometimes I start on a post but abandon it, usually because it no longer seems interesting or gets too complicated.  One of these times was in August, about an article that was part of the New York Times 1619 project.  I was reminded of it by a letter to the Times criticizing some aspects of the project, and after digging up my analysis, I decided it was worth writing about, although it is kind of complicated.

The article, by Linda Villarosa, was called "How false beliefs in physical racial differences still live in medicine today."  Specifically, it was about the belief that blacks don't feel as much pain as whites.  It started with an account of a 19th century physician who believed that blacks had thicker skin and conducted brutal experiments to try to find evidence for his hypothesis.  Then it moved to the present and cited a review of studies that concluded that "black and Hispanic people .... received inadequate pain management compared with white counterparts."

Then came the part that caught my attention.  It said that a 2016 survey found that "when asked to imagine how much pain white or black patients experienced in hypothetical situations, the medical students and residents insisted that black people felt less pain."  I was curious about how big the differences were, so I read the paper.  It described a study that gave each medical student a pair of hypothetical cases, one black and one white, and asked them to rate how much pain the patient was likely to be feeling and how it should be treated (opioids vs. something weaker).   There were several scenarios, and they were rotated so that each respondent got a different one for his or her cases but the total number in each was the same for the black and white examples.

It didn't report the mean pain ratings for hypothetical black and white cases, but showed this figure:

Figure A shows the average pain rating for the black and white case by number of false beliefs about physical differences between the races.  Medical students who had a high number of false beliefs rated the white cases as experiencing more pain; medical students who had a low number of false beliefs rated the black cases as experiencing more.  High and low were defined relative to the mean, so that implied that medical students with average numbers of false beliefs rated the black and white cases about the same.  

The authors included their data as a supplement to the article, so I downloaded it and calculated the means.  The average rating for the black cases was 7.622, on a scale of 1-10, while the average rating for the white cases was 7.626--that is, almost identical.  The study also asked how the different cases should be treated--135 gave the same recommendation for both of their cases, 40 recommended stronger medication for their white case, and 28 for their black case.  Since the total distribution of conditions was the same for the black and white cases, this means that in this sample, treatment recommendations were different for black and whites.  However, the difference was not statistically significant at conventional levels (p is about .14)--that is, the sample difference could easily have come up by chance. 

So you could conclude that, in this sample, there is no evidence that medical students rate the pain of blacks and whites differently, but perhaps some evidence that they treat white pain more aggressively.  (If you just went by statistical significance, you would accept the hypothesis that they treat hypothetical black and white cases the same, but a more sensible conclusion would that you should collect more data).  The paper, however, didn't do this.  They used pain ratings to predict treatment recommendations for black and white cases, and then looked at the predicted treatment differences for students with high and low numbers of false beliefs:  "participants who endorsed more false beliefs (+1 SD) were less accurate in their treatment recommendations for the black target compared with the white target [β = 0.15, SE = 0.06, t(192) = 2.47, P = 0.014].  Conversely, participants who endorsed fewer false beliefs (−1 SD) did not differ in their treatment recommendation accuracy [β = −0.06, SE = 0.06, t(192) = −1.05, P > 0.250]."

The problem with this analysis is that, to quote the title of an article by Andrew Gelman and Hal Stern "The difference between 'significant' and 'not significant' is not itself statistically significant." That is, if you tested the hypothesis that β had equal magnitude and opposite signs for black and white cases--that treatment recommendations were affected by ratings of pain but not by race--you would not be able to reject it.

So to summarize, the statement that "the medical students and residents insisted that black people felt less pain" is false:  they rated black and white pain as virtually equal.  I don't blame Villarosa for that--the way it was written, I could see how someone would interpret the results that way.  I don't really blame the authors either--interaction effects can be confusing.  I would blame the journal (PNAS) for (1) not asking the authors to show means for the black and white examples as standard procedure and (2) not getting reviewers who understand interaction effects. 

On the more general 1619 project, my thoughts are:
1.  Most of the articles I read weren't very convincing
2.  but it's a perspective that deserves to be heard
3.  and it was published in the NY Times Magazine, which doesn't claim to be a straight news section, but to give perspectives and interpretations

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Over there

I was looking at the final Ipsos/Mori poll before last week's British election, and saw a remarkable table.  The key figures:

Age        Conservative    Labour
18-24          19%                56%
25-34          28%                49%
35-44          36%                34%
45-54          47%                29%
55-64          53%                26%
65-74          58%                21%
75+             57%                23%

I knew there would be some age differences, but these are extremely large--bigger then education or region.  Usually age differences in party choice represent generation, not age itself--that is, people don't change as they get over.  My rough calculation is that if these generational differences hold, the Conservative lead would disappear in 10 years (other things equal). 

A few other things:

1.  I discovered that Ipsos/Mori has a useful collection of polling trend data.

2.  Many accounts of the election said that it was Labour's worst showing since 1935.  That is true in terms of seats, but not in terms of vote share.  In terms of votes, Labour did worse in 2010 and 2015 (among others) than in 2019.  Labour jumped from 30.4% to 40% in 2017, and fell back to 32.1% in 2019.  Since Jeremy Corbyn was party leader in both 2017 and 2019, this counts against the claim that Labour's defeat in 2019 was because of Corbyn's left-wing policies. 

3.  So should the story be about Boris Johnson?  The Conservatives were up by 1.2% over 2017, while the Liberal Democrats were up by 4.2%, and the Green party was up by 1.1%.  The Scottish National Party was up by 0.9%, which is impressive considering that they run candidates only in Scotland, which has about 1/10 of the population.    So a large part of the story seems to have been a fragmentation of the left of center vote.  With single member constituencies, that meant that the Conservatives picked up seats at Labour's expense in England and the SNP picked up seats at Labour's expense in Scotland.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Lying m************

A week or two ago, an article accusing Pete Buttigieg of being "a lying motherf*****" went viral on  Twitter.  Buttigieg's offense was that he was "more willing to perpetuate the fantastic narrative of negro neighborhoods needing more role models and briefcase-carriers than make the people in power stare into the sun and see the blinding light of racism."   Another way to put it was that his offense was to have shown more more concern with advancing racial equality than with denouncing the "people in power" as racist. 

Twitter has moved on to other things, but this reminded me of an  earlier post on beliefs about the reasons for racial inequality.  The questions were whether racial differences were "mainly due to discrimination," "because most [negroes/blacks/African-Americans] have less in-born ability to learn," "because most [N/B/A-A] don't have the chance for education that it takes to rise out of poverty," and "because most [N/B/A-A] just don't have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty."  Among whites, there had been large declines in the number saying they were because of less in-born ability and less motivation, and little change (maybe a slight decline) in the number saying they were because of the other two.  That is, whites were less likely to choose the two answers that could be seen as disparaging.  The pattern among blacks is different:  declines for discrimination and education, and increases for ability and motivation.  The figures for blacks and whites as a whole can be found in the previous post:  what I'll do here is break it down by education for the "early" (1985-9) and "contemporary" (2010-18) periods.  First, in-born ability:

 Next, motivation or will power:

In the early period there were substantial differences in opinion by race and education.  In the contemporary period, the educational differences remain, but the racial differences have essentially disappeared.  That is, large majorities educated people of both races reject explanations that "blame the victim," but many less educated people (of both races) accept them. 

I also thought of another post, about the reasons that people are poor:  lack of effort or circumstances beyond their control.  The percent saying "lack of effort" minus  the percent saying "circumstances":

 A definite trend towards "circumstances."   

Taken together, I think that these changes support an idea I proposed a couple of years ago:  there is a shift towards social egalitarianism.  One aspect of this shift is that that advantaged people are less likely to say that the problems of disadvantaged people are their own fault. 

In my view, this change in outlook is basically a good thing, even though it sometimes leads people to focus on pinning the blame on "privileged" people rather than reducing inequality.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Just remembered

I had a post earlier this month on a question about whether people can get ahead by hard work.  What I originally intended to write about was another question that was contained in one of the surveys:  "Do you think that there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States, or don't you think so?"   That question had previously been asked (with "rich men" instead of "rich people") in a Gallup Poll from April 1941.   A comparison:

               Yes (too much power)      No
1941             60%                            26%
2011             77%                            19%

It seems possible that in 1941 the war* had created a sense of national unity (or shifted the focus to ethnic rather than economic divisions), so 60% may have been lower than if the question had been asked a few years before.  Still, the shift towards the "cynical" answer is substantial.  I wanted to break opinions down by social class, but the two measures in 1941 (occupation and interviewer's estimate of "economic standing") were not in the 2011 survey, and the two in 2011 (income and education) were not in the 1941 survey.   So I couldn't do much with the question, but the marginals are still of interest. 

*Of course, the United States didn't declare war until December, but people already saw Germany and Japan as threats. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]  

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Work vs. family

A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released a survey that found only about 16% thought that being married was essential in order for someone to lead a fulfilling life, while over 50% thought that "having a job or career they enjoy" was necessary.  I learned about this from a newsletter written by David French, who interpreted it as evidence of "workism"--people putting work at the center of their lives.  I had a different interpretation:   that most people regard marriage as a matter of individual choice, not an obligation--if someone doesn't get married, that's their business--but do regard work as an obligation.   Large majorities disapprove of "able-bodied" people getting public assistance, and although I haven't seen any survey questions, I suspect that many people would disapprove of someone who inherited enough money to live on and never looked for a job. So the frequency of "job or career" as an answer was because the question asked what was "essential," rather than what was most important to them, or even what they thought was most important to most other people. 

I've had a couple of posts suggesting that work is less central to people   than it used to be, but neither had data after 2001.  I looked a bit more, and was unable to find anything more recent, but did find a survey from 1999 that asked "what aspect of your life is most fulfilling or satisfying?"  They grouped  the answers into fourteen categories, which I reduced to six plus "don't know."  The overall distribution:

                                  original categories
Family         51%      "family, children"; "marriage"
Other           10%
Social            9%      "social life, friends"; "helping others"
Don't Know  9%
Work             8%        "work"
Religion        7%       "church"; "faith"
Leisure          6%        "hobbies, leisure activities"; "retirement"; "vacation"

Family was by far the most popular choice.  College graduates were a little less likely to say family (49%) and more likely to say work (12%) or social life (12%).    People aged 18-29 and 65+ were somewhat less likely to say family, presumably because they were less likely to be married or have minor children, but they were more likely to say social life--work was below 10% in all age grops.  I looked at a number of other group differences, and the lowest percent picking family was 34% among blacks (who were relatively high in religion and "other"), and the highest for work was 14% among divorced people.  As of 1999, family was far ahead of work as a source of fulfillment.  That was 20 years ago, but the lack of strong age or educational differences suggests it probably hasn't changed much.


Friday, November 15, 2019

Hard work

In 1992, a survey asked people to choose which statement came closer to the way they felt:  "A--Most people who want to get ahead can make it if they're willing to work hard. Or, B--Hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people."  Since then, the question has been repeated in a number of surveys, mostly by the Pew Research Center.  The percent choosing statement A:

There seems to be an increase from 1992 until about 1999, although there are only a few surveys, and there is clearly a decline since then.  I've had a number of posts saying that people aren't especially discontented today (this is one), but they were about people's own lives.  These results suggest that people have less confidence in "the system."

What difference do these feelings make for politics?  I compared the surveys from August 2000 and August 2016.  The August 2000 survey asked people how they would vote "if the election were held today."  The 2016 survey didn't ask that, but asked people if they "would consider voting for" or "would definitely not vote for" Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I combined those questions, with consider voting for A and definitely not vote for B taken as equivalent to saying that you would vote for A if the election were held today.  The results:

                                     2000                                    2016
                            D                R                            D                R
Can get ahead     39%           44%                      41%              38%
no guarantee       52%           26%                      44%              33%

In both years, the people who took the "optimistic" position were more likely to vote Republican, but the gap was considerably smaller in 2016.  That is, Trump appealed more to people who thought "the system was rigged" than GW Bush had (or Hillary Clinton appealed less than Al Gore had, although general knowledge of the two campaigns suggests that more of the difference was on the Republican side). 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Liking what they saw

I was looking for polls on Trump's popularity early in his campaign, and found several by the Monmouth Poll that reported the figures for Republicans separately (including leaners).  The figure shows the percent favorable minus the percent unfavorable:

The first two (blue dots) were before his official announcement; the next two (red) after his announcement but before the debates; the last three (green) after the first debate.  I didn't expect to see much change:  I thought he had come into the race with a pretty strong base of support and maintained it.  But in fact, opinions were mostly negative before he announced (20 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable on June 14, 2015), and then became favorable (59 favorable and 29 unfavorable by September 2). 

What led to the change?  The timing suggests that the very early days of his campaign were the decisive period.  I don't have time for a detailed examination, but I looked at the text of his announcement speech.  Some points that struck me:
1.  There was very little discussion of "culture war" issues:  nothing about abortion, same-sex marriage, political correctness, the mistreatment of Christians, the condescension of cultural elites......  The only thing I noticed was a call to "Protect the Second Amendment."
2.  There was nothing that seemed to be an appeal to "white nationalism," even in the broad sense of declining relative numbers and power.  Of course, there was the passage that is most remembered today, about how immigrants from Mexico are "bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're rapists."  But this was framed as a criticism of foreign governments--"when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best." 
3.  There was a lot about economics, mostly standard stuff about the dangers of deficits and the evils of Obamacare.  There was a promise of rebuilding infrastructure, but the implication was that it could be done without more taxes or spending, because he was a businessman who could do things efficiently. 
4.  The idea that America was being "beaten" in competition with other nations was a big theme.  "When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let's say, China in a trade deal? They kill us. I beat China all the time. All the time.
When did we beat Japan at anything? ...  They beat us all the time. When do we beat Mexico at the border?  They laugh at us all the time, at our stupidity.  And now they are beating us economically. The U. S. has become a dumping ground for everyone else's problems. [This was followed by the passage about the people Mexico was "sending"]." As this passage suggests, his major explanation for this state of affairs was the "stupidity" of American leaders.  A secondary one was that the leaders were beholden to donors, and he wouldn't be, because he was rich and didn't need their money.  

So I would say #3 reassured Republicans, and  #4 added a new thing that other candidates weren't emphasizing, but fit with a view that is popular among the public, especially Republicans. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, November 1, 2019

Trump and tolerance

Since the 1930s, the Gallup poll has asked people if they would vote for certain kinds of people for president:  specifically, "If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be [type], would you vote for that person?"  In June 2015 and April 2019, they asked about hypothetical candidates who were black, Catholic, Jewish, a Muslim, gay or lesbian, a woman, an evangelical Christian, and a socialist.  The table below shows the change in the percent of Democrats, Republicans, and independents who say they would vote for the candidate.

                    Rep  Ind  Dem
Evangelical  8       6       5
Jewish         -1       5       2
Catholic       4        2       1
Hispanic      1        9       3
Black           4        7       3
Woman       -1        5       0
Gay              0        9      -2

Atheist        -3        5       7
Muslim       -7      15      13
Socialist      -7       0       15

For the first group (evangelical, Jewish, Catholic, Hispanic, Black, woman, gay), there is no clear evidence of partisan difference in the changes (of course, there is sampling error, especially for independents, who are the smallest group).  By and large, tolerance has increased--a total of 16 positive changes, three negative, and two no change.

For the other three, there has been polarization--Democrats are more likely to say they would vote for the person, Republicans less likely.  Socialist is different from the others in principle--it's a political position, not an ethnic or religious group.  Presumably the difference is because socialism has become more prominent after the strong showing of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and the high profile of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In the contemporary United States there is a pretty strong norm of saying that you don't pay attention to race, color, or creed.  Even Donald Trump has made some effort to appeal to (or at least say he doesn't have any animosity towards) groups like blacks, Latinos, and gays and lesbians.  However, there is always an implicit restriction to groups that are inside a circle of those that are accepted as parts of American society.  I think the partisan divergence for atheists and Muslims shows that they haven't made it in that circle.  In contrast, although you might expect that the support given to Trump by many prominent evangelical leaders might cause a reaction among Democrats, willingness to support an evangelical Christian has increased among Democrats as well as Republicans (and Independents).

However, for atheists and Muslims, the increase among Democrats is larger than the decline among Republicans (and the increases among Independents are about as large among Democrats).  You could say that the reaction against intolerance among Democrats and Independents is stronger than the increase among Republicans.  So ironically, Trump may be contributing to the growth in tolerance. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

What's wrong with them?

A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released a survey about views of the parties and partisanship (I got the reference from a piece by Philip Bump in the Washington Post).  The survey contained questions asking them to rate members of the other party against other Americans on the following traits:  open-minded/closed-minded, patriotic/unpatriotic, moral/immoral,  hard-working/lazy, and intelligent/unintelligent.  Democrats were somewhat more likely to see Republicans as closed-minded than vice-versa; Republicans were substantially more likely to see Democrats as unpatriotic and somewhat more likely to see them as immoral.  In the sample, Democrats were slightly more likely to see Republicans as unintelligent, although the differences are probably not statistically significant.  This all fits with what seem to be the general images of the parties. 

The more surprising thing is that there is a big difference in hard-working/lazy.  46% of Republicans see Democrats as lazier than other Americans, while only 20% of Democrats see Republicans as lazier than other Americans.  This is the biggest gap except for "patriotic."  I would have expected that relatively few people would rate the other party as "lazy"--it seems like admitting that your opponents are just as hard-working as everyone else is an easy concession to make.  That may be the case for Democrats, but apparently not for Republicans.  I've had a few posts suggesting that conservatives are more likely to rate hard work as a more important factor in getting ahead, and maybe this is part of the answer--Republicans tend to think that Democrats want the government to help them with problems that they could solve themselves if they tried. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How many Democrats?

A Fox News poll last week found that 51% of the respondents said that Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office and another 4% said he should be impeached but not removed.  On Sunday, Donald Trump tweeted "The Fox Impeachment poll has turned out to be incorrect. This was announced on Friday. Despite this, the Corrupt New York Times used this poll in one of its stories, no mention...of the correction which they knew about full well!"

He cited a story in the New York Post with the title  “Fox News Pollster Braun Research Misrepresented Impeachment Poll: Analysis”  The problem, according to the Post, was that 48% of the Fox sample said they were Democrats, "but the actual breakdown of party affiliation is 31% Democrat, 29% Republican and 38% independent, according to Gallup."  If you weighted by the "actual" distribution of party affiliation, support for impeachment was only about 45%. 

So how many Democrats are there?  The figure the Post gives is from the question, "In politics, as of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an independent?"  However, most survey organizations follow up on the initial question by asking people who don't choose Democrat or Republican whether they lean towards one of the parties, and when they report the opinions of Democrats or Republicans they include the "leaners".  That was what the Fox News poll did.  Their first round got 40% Democrats, 33% Republicans, 27% independents.  On the follow up, 8% of the total sample said they leaned to the Democrats, 7% to the Republicans.  

The 40/33/27 distribution in the first round of the Fox poll is still pretty different from the 31/29/38 in Gallup.  Unfortunately Fox didn't report the party question they used, but in the most recent Fox News survey in the Roper Center, it was "When you think about politics, do you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican?"  That is, it didn't offer "independent" as an option--people had to volunteer it.  It makes sense that the number of reported independents would be lower with that question.

So the NY Post "analysis" just reflected ignorance about how surveys measure party affiliation.   The ratio of Democrats to Republicans is somewhat different in the Fox and Gallup polls, but the difference is small enough to easily be the result of chance in a sample of the usual size.  Gallup's most recent estimate, based on averages of surveys in July-Sept 2019, is 47% Democrats and 42% Republicans (including "leaners"), not much different from the 48% and 40% in the Fox poll. Gallup reports that "the current Democratic advantage is among the larger ones for the party over the past two decades."

So 48% Democrats, and by implication, 51% support for impeaching and removing Trump from office sound about right. 

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Education, redistribution, and markets

I have had several posts (this, this, and this) about change in the effect of education on opinions about redistribution and government obligation to help the poor:  after controlling for income, education used to go opposition to redistribution, but now it makes little difference. But education still seems to make a difference in general attitudes about markets.  Educated people are more likely to support free trade rather than the protection of domestic industry.  More generally, they are less sympathetic to at least some kinds of direct regulation. 

In July 2008, a Gallup/USA Today poll asked "Thinking now about some of the solutions offered to address the energy situation in the United States, please say whether you would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who supported...establishing price controls on gasoline?"   "More likely" got 75% among people with no college, 55% among those with some college, 50 percent among those with a college degree, and 43% among those with graduate education.  Education still made a difference after controlling for income, and in fact made more difference than income, if you go by the standardized regression coefficients.  The same survey asked about a number of other possible actions--the education effect for this item was the strongest of all. 

Why would more educated people be less in favor of price controls?  One possibility is the direct influence of what they studied.  However, my guess is that most college graduates didn't take a course in economics, and most don't recall many specific points from their courses.  So I think it's more likely to reflect a general way of thinking--more educated people are less likely to believe that simply forbidding people to do something will be effective. 

So even if more and less educated people are now similar in their general support for redistribution, there are some differences in the types of policies they support to achieve it, and that difference may create problems for parties of the left. 

Since it's been a relatively long gap between posts, I'll add a bonus to this one.  In most surveys, the highest income category is something like $100,000 and up,  so you can't make fine distinctions at the high end.  But this one included more detailed categories, of which the highest was $500,000+.  When asked about who they thought they would vote for in November 2008, people in the top group went for McCain by 9-2. The income groups below that were pretty evenly split.  The difference could have been just the result of chance (the p-value for the hypothesis of no difference among the highest income groups was something like .07), but it is intriguing.  If other Gallup/USA Today surveys from the same time used the same income groups, you could combined them to see if it holds up.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, October 3, 2019

I had some dreams

Many analyses of the 2016 election hold that Trump voters, at least the working class ones, were motivated by dissatisfaction with their lives stemming from declining standards of living, the disdain of coastal elites, or some combination.   On the other hand, a traditional view is that general dissatisfaction leads people to support the left, since conservatism is associated with the status quo and liberalism with change. 

This issue was brought to mind by an essay entitled "The spiritual crisis of the modern economy", which was published in December 2016, but which I just saw today.  When reading it, I recalled that there was a survey question asked in 1999:    "Think about what you expected for the future when you were of high school age. Generally, have you accomplished more than you expected to by now, less than you expected, or about as much as you expected?"  41% said more, 24% less, and 34% about as much.    Here are some associations:


Gender--no clear difference
Ethnicity--blacks less satisfied, Latinos and whites about the same
Age--older people substantially more satisfied
Education--little or no difference through college degree; grad degrees maybe a little more satisfied
Income--higher income people more satisfied
Marital status--married and widowed people more satisfied; never married least satisfied
Urban vs. rural--little or no difference

Self-rated ideology:  conservatives more satisfied
Vote:  Dole voters more satisfied than Clinton voters, Perot voters in the middle; non-voters substantially less satisfied

I find it interesting that education doesn't make much difference (and to the extent it does, it's just because it leads to higher income).  Critiques of "meritocracy," like the one I mentioned above, often suggest that a focus on education makes people without a college degree (or in some accounts, people without an "elite" college degree) feel like failures.  Of course, things can change over 20 years, but as of 1999 that apparently wasn't the case.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Has anything changed?

The General Social Survey has a question beginning "Some people think that the government in Washington should do everything possible to improve the standard of living of all poor Americans; they are at point 1 on this card. Other people think it is not the government's responsibility, and that each person should take care of himself; they are at point 5," and asking them to place themselves.  The figure shows the estimated effects of  (log) income and education on opinions for each year that the question was asked. 

Positive numbers mean that the effects are in a conservative direction--"not the government's responsibility."  The effects of income are consistently in a conservative direction, and don't show any trend.  The effects of education are initially in a conservative direction, but go towards zero and negative in 2014, 2016, and 2018.  That is, more educated people are more liberal on this question than people with the same income but less education. 

I've had a number of other posts about changes in the effects of education on opinions about redistribution, most recently this and this.  They all suggest education used to go with opposition to egalitarian redistribution, but no longer does.  (Income still does, and the magnitude of the difference after controlling for education hasn't changed much). 

This point doesn't seem to be widely recognized--most observers seem to assume that "elites" of all kinds are opposed to redistribution.  An example is a paper that appeared in Science by Raymond Fisman, Pamela Jakiela, Shachar Kariv, and Daniel Markovits called "The Distributional Preferences of an Elite."  The elite was Yale Law students, and according to the abstract, they displayed "selfishness" and were "less fair-minded" than the average person.  The paper began by speaking of the "sense of entitlement" of "the American elite," with a footnote that spoke of "the phenomenon of growing elite entitlement."  The research itself was interesting, but the packaging was misleading.  It didn't deal with preferences involving the overall distribution of income and wealth, but with behavior in a low-stakes online exercise where you chose how to divide a sum between yourself and an anonymous "partner."  Basically, they found that the Yale Law students played the game differently than average people--they had more concern with their own gains and less with an even split between participants.  OK, but that's pretty far from issues like whether to raise taxes on people with high incomes.    A recent survey of technology entrepreneurs found that they were about as favorable to redistribution as Democrats in the general population (e. g. 76% favored raising taxes on people who earned over $250,000 per year), and from my experience of universities, I think that if Fisman et al. had asked similar questions of their participants, they would have found a lot of support for redistribution. 

If some elites, especially educational elites, have become more sympathetic to redistribution, why hasn't the change received more attention?  One reason is the natural appeal of the principle that opinions reflect straightforward self-interest.  Another possibility is what I have called an "anti-elitist mood," in which people are reluctant to say anything positive about "elites." This mood seems to be especially strong among people who are part of an elite themselves.   

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Twenty-four more years

In a previous post, I mentioned that I had once compiled data on education, occupation, and vote in American presidential elections from 1936 to 1992, using a combination of Gallup polls (1936-68) and the GSS (1968-92).  I showed changes in the relationship between college education and major party presidential vote.  I have finally gotten around to updating this with the GSS data through 2016.  Here is the estimated effect of college education (0=no college; 1=some college; 2=college degree) on Democratic vs. Republican voting among non-blacks, 1936-2016.

There is some variation from one election to the next--the pro-Democratic effect in 2016 election was higher than expected, but the most exceptional election was 1972, which set a record that was not broken until 2016.  However, the dominant thing is a trend that seems to have started at the beginning (the correlation with a time trend is about .85).  I would have guessed that the trend began or at least accelerated in the 1960s, but there's no sign of that.  That is, the relative shift of educated people towards the Democrats is a gradual process that was underway long before people started noticing it, and shows no signs of stopping. 

How big are the effects?  If you fit a linear trend for the education effect to smooth out the short-term variations, in an election where 50% of high school graduates voted Democratic, the predicted Democratic vote among college graduates goes from 34% in 1936 to 61% in 2016. 

The numbers above are not a contrast with all people without college education--they control for the changing effects of primary/secondary education (no formal education, elementary, grades 7-8, attended high school, high school diploma).  Those estimates are shown in the next figure.  Note that they are consistently in a pro-Republican direction, and have become more pro-Republican since the 1960s.  (This might be because the people with less than a high school diploma are increasingly likely to be immigrants, who tend to vote Democratic).

So what needs to be explained is apparently not a change in the effects of education, but a change in the effects of higher education.  Why has this happened?  In a paper published in 2002, I offered an idea: "growth in affluence and the division of labor has produced occupational niches for educated people who are critical of the status quo."  Previously, people might have developed "radical" ideas in college, but tended to abandon them after they had to earn a living.  Now, such people can find occupations where their ideas are accepted or even dominant.   I don't know if my explanation is the whole story, or even part of the story, but I was at least looking in the right direction:  the change in the effect of higher education seems to be a gradual shift, not closely tied to specific political events.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and the General Social Survey]

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Before I forget

I saw a reference to a survey question asked by the Gallup Poll in 1963:  "On the whole, would you say that you are satisfied or dissatisfied with the honesty and standards of behavior of people in this country today?"  34% were satisfied, 58% dissatisfied.  The question was repeated a number of times, most recently in 1999.  I think that I've seen that question before.  What I hadn't known was that it was asked in several other nations.  The percent dissatisfied:

Norway          20%
France            39%
UK                 47%
W. Germany   51%
USA               58%

[Source:  Robert Lane, Political Thinking and Consciousness, p. 216]

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Changes, part 2

My last post took changes in the effects of education and income on economic opinions (or at least one important economic opinion) back to 1978.  However, given the upheavals of the 1960s, it seemed possible that there had already been substantial changes even before that starting date, so I wanted to see if I could get anything from the 1950s or before.  Between 1945 and 1947, several survey firms asked "Which of these statements do you most agree with?...The most important job for the government is to make certain that there are good opportunities for each person to get ahead on his own, the most important job for the government is to guarantee every person a decent and steady job and standard of living."  Unfortunately, that question has never been repeated, but there has been a similar one,  "Should the federal government see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living, or should the government stay out of it and let every person get ahead on their own?" which was asked a few times in the 1970s and 1980s and most recently in 1999.*  I took one of the 1946 surveys and the 1999 surveys and did logistic regressions with education (coded into four categories from not a high school graduate to college graduate) and log income (using the midpoints of the original categories) as independent variables.  The results:

                 1946       1999
Log inc     .155       .388
                (.061)     (.091)

Educ        .565         .102
                (.049)      (.065)

The positive sign means that higher values of the independent variables were associated with the "get ahead on their own" option.  The effect of education was substantially smaller in 1999 than it had been in 1946, and the effect of income was larger (although there's a good deal of uncertainty about changes in the effect of income--the standard error of the difference is .110). 

Putting this together with the question from my last post, I think that it's not just the relative importance of economic and social issues that has changed since the middle of the 20th century--another factor is that education used to have a substantial "conservatising" effect on economic opinions, but no longer does.   

*There was also one that asked people to place themselves on a 7 point scale running from "The government in Washington should see to it that every person has a job and a good standard of living." to "The government should just let each person get ahead on their own," which was included in the ANES in the 1980s and 1990s and revived in a PRRI survey in 2013. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, September 6, 2019

Changes, part 1

In the 1950s, people with higher "social standing" were more likely to vote Republican.  That was true if you measured social standing by income, education, or some combination of the two factors.  Today, higher income continues to be associated with Republican voting, but college education is associated with a greater chance of voting Democratic.  One potential explanation for this change is that it reflects an increase in the importance of "social issues." More educated people have always been more liberal on social  issues, but the consensus in the middle of the 20th century was that they didn't matter very much--they would sometimes become prominent, but then would fade pretty quickly.  Basically, politics was about economic issues, and on these more educated people were more conservative.  But since the 1960s, "social issues"--e. g., abortion, affirmative action, gun control---have come to be consistently important.  So now income and education are pulling in different directions rather than reinforcing each other. 

In this account, the effects of education and income on opinions are constant--only the relative importance of different types of opinions changes.  What makes this appealing is that there are straightforward arguments for why education should be associated with more liberal opinions on social issues and more conservative opinions on economic issues,  and for why social issues should have  grown in importance.  So it rests on three points that are all clear and easy to understand.  I was reminded of this issue by  a recent column by Thomas Edsall, which points to a paper by Herbert Kitschelt and Phillipp Rehm, who argue that it explains changes in voting patterns through 2016.  They consider the possibility of change in the effects of education on opinions about economic issues, and find no evidence of it, but their data don't cover a long period of time.  In a previous post, I considered a question on redistribution from the General Social Survey that goes back to 1978.  It seemed that educational differences were declining, but I just considered education.  Suppose we take account of both income and education:

Positive numbers mean that higher values of income or education go with more conservative opinions on redistribution (the government should stay out of it).  The effects of income have stayed about the same, maybe declining a little, but the effects of education clearly have declined and are now near zero.  That is, it's apparently not just the relative importance of economic and social issues that has changed, but also the relationship between education and opinions on economic issues.  Why?  There's no obvious explanation.  In terms of material interests, if there was any change in the effect of education it should have been in the opposite direction, since the payoff to education has increased--that is, when you compare two people with the same income but different levels of education, the gap in expected lifetime earnings is bigger. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

More immigrants

The changes in responses to the question discussed in my last post seemed to show that attitudes towards immigrants became more negative between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, and then became more favorable.  I was looking for other questions that might shed light on the issue, and found this, from the Los Angeles Times poll:  "Generally speaking, do you think that immigrants to the United States take more from the U.S. economy through social services and unemployment than they contribute through taxes and productivity or do they contribute more through taxes and productivity than they take through social services and unemployment, or haven't you heard enough about that yet to say?"  The percent who say "contribute more" minus the percent who say "take more":

  4/1985   -27
12/1989  -34
12/1990  -26
 8/1996   -45

Unfortunately, it hasn't been asked since then, but there was a similar question in November 2010:  "Some people think that immigrants contribute more in taxes than they benefit from health and welfare services.  Other people think that immigrants benefit more from health and welfare services than they contribute in taxes.  Which of these comes closer to your point of view?"  21% said contribute more, and 67% benefit more, which would come to -46 in my summary measure:  no change from 1996, and more negative than 1985-90.  Maybe people understood "benefit" as weaker than "take," or maybe the mention of "productivity" as a potential contribution in the first question made a difference.  However, I think it would at least be safe to say that opinions about the economic contributions of immigrants have not become more favorable.  At the same time, the question I discussed last time showed a favorable trend in opinions about the general contributions of migrants.   The difference could reflect a decline in prejudice--people becoming less likely to blame immigrants for crime and social disorder ("cause problems") but still regarding them as an economic cost.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, August 22, 2019


In 1986, a CBS News/NY Times poll asked "Overall, would you say most recent immigrants to the United States contribute to this country or do most of them cause problems?"  The question has been repeated a number of times, most recently in 2015.  The percent who said "contribute" minus the percent who said "cause problems" (usually 5-10% volunteered "some of both" or "depends"): 

That suggests that opinions became somewhat less favorable from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and have become pretty steadily more favorable since then.  The pattern resembles that for opinions on whether the number of immigrants should be increased or reduced (see this post)

It occurred to me that some opinions shift depending on the party that controls the presidency--usually against the policies associated with that party.  If you look at the figures that way:*

A model of a linear trend plus a party control effect provides a very good fit.  Even though the sample is tiny, the party contol estimate is statistically significant (t=7.4, P=.002).  In principle, I find it implausible that the party of the president makes a big difference for opinions on this issue, so I'm still inclined to favor the idea of a shift in opinion against immigrants until the 1990s and then a shift in favor.  Either way, it points to the paradox of Donald Trump's success coming at a time when public opinion about immigrants and immigration was more favorable than it had been before. 

*Times when a Democrat was president are in red and times when a Republican was president are in blue. That's the opposite of the way people usually do it now, but historically red is associated with the left and blue with the right.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research] 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Something completely different

A few weeks ago, there was discussion of the latest of Donald Trump's dubiously qualified nominees for the Federal Reserve Board, who has advocated a return to the gold standard.  That led me to look for questions about public opinion on the gold standard.  I found one, from sometime around 1980, but while looking, I found a totally different question that seemed more interesting.

In 2012, a poll sponsored by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair magazine asked "Which of the following awards would you most want on your mantle--an Oscar, a Tony, a Grammy, a Pulitzer, or an Olympic gold medal?"    The Oscar, Tony, and Grammy awards combined for 15%, 36% chose a Pulitzer, and 40% chose a gold medal.

There were some differences by age, with younger people more likely to choose an Oscar, Tony, or Grammy (which I'll call the "popular culture" awards) and older people a Pulitzer.  There were also educational differences, in the same direction.  For self-rated ideology:

                                    Popular                 Pulitzer       Gold
Liberal                           13%                      43%            37%
Moderate                       18%                      42%            33%
Conservative                 15%                      26%            50%

There are a lot of Pulitzer prizes, but I think that the ones for journalism are best known, so these differences could reflect conservative suspicion of the media.  It could also be a general orientation to "intellectualism" (see this post) or maybe a conservative attraction to the idea of representing the nation.  Conservative politicians and media figures also criticize popular culture and "Hollywood," but there are no clear ideological differences in preference for the popular culture awards.  My impression is that the criticism of popular culture is big among conservative elites, but hasn't really trickled down to the general public. 

There are also large racial differences, with blacks much more likely to choose a popular culture award.

                                 Popular           Pulitzer      Gold
Black                          39%                 27%          25%
White                          11%                 39%          41%

I expected that there would be some racial differences, but not such large ones. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Use that word!

There has been a lot of discussion of the conference on "national conservatism" that was held last month.  Many of the commentators have said that nationalism is something that has existed in other nations, but not in the United States.  Part of the idea behind this is that America has been open to immigration, so we don't have a common ethnic heritage, and most Americans don't have many generations of family attachment to a particular place ("blood and soil"). One of the strongest statements of this kind came from Bret Stephens.  Among other things, he said "conservatives used to believe in the overwhelming benefits of immigration. Most nationalists want to restrict even legal immigration."  Since 2004, the General Social Survey has had a question about "Do you think the number of immigrants to America nowadays should be increased a lot, increased a little, remain the same as it is, reduced a little, or reduced a lot."  It also has a question asking people to place their political views.   The figure shows the percent saying the number of immigrants should be increased minus the percent saying it should be reduced (I didn't distinguish between "a little" or "a lot") for liberals, moderates, and conservatives.

Conservative opinions stayed almost the same for the whole period:  overwhelmingly in favor of reducing the number of immigrants.  Liberal opinions moved in favor immigration:  in 2016 and 2018, more liberals thought that the number should be increased than reduced.  It seems like the rate of change in opinions increased after Trump (the vertical dotted line is 2015, when he began his campaign).  Up through 2016, moderates didn't change much, but in 2018 they moved in favor of immigration.  So on immigration, Trump did not change conservatives:  he gave them what they had been wanting to hear.

OK, maybe "used to" didn't mean immediately before Trump, but at some more distant point in the past.  In 1964, the Gallup Poll did a survey on "Hopes and Fears of the American People."  This was when the United States was operating under the restrictive immigration laws passed in the early 1920s (they were changed in 1965).  There was a question on immigration:  "Do you think the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. each year should be increased somewhat,
decreased somewhat, or kept at about the present level?"  About 10% of people didn't have an opinion.  Of those who did, 7% said it should be increased, 51% stay the same, and 42% that it should be reduced.

I could have looked at differences between conservatives and liberals, but the survey also had some less common questions, so I decided to consider those instead.  One was how many of your grandparents were born in the United States. Views on immigration for people with different numbers:

gp born outside US      Increased            Same      Decreased
0                                       4%                 47%         49%
1                                       7%                 57%         36%
2                                       9%                 51%         40%
3                                       5%                 60%         36%
4                                      14%                58%         28%

People with more foreign-born grandparents were more likely to support immigration, but even among people whose grandparents were all born abroad, only 14% thought the number of immigrants should be increased and 28% thought it should be decreased.

The survey contained the usual questions on race and religion, and also asked people where their mother's and father's ancestors came from and classified the answers into different groups.  This makes it possible to compare opinions by ethnicity.  Opinions were just about the same among blacks and whites (there were too few people of other races to say much about them).  Jews were considerably more favorable to immigration:  44% said the number should be increased and only 8% that it should be reduced.

Turning to regional background, and limiting it to non-Jewish whites, here are the figures for some groups (they aren't mutually exclusive):

Ancestry            Increased       Same     Decreased

British                  6%          51%        43%
German                   6%          52%        42%
Irish (Protestant)       3%          41%        56%
Irish (Catholic)        12%          61%        27%
Scandinavian             8%          53%        39%
Polish                   8%          60%        32%
East & Central Eur.     10%          52%        38%
Italian                 11%          62%        27%
"Latin"*                 7%          68%        24%

*Spain and Portugal, Latin America, and Puerto Rico.

 There are some differences:  the "old" immigrant groups (Britain, Germany, Scandinavia) were more likely to say that immigration should be reduced than the "new" ones.  But "reduced" outnumbered "increased" by more than 2:1 in every group.

That is, it apparently didn't take long for people from diverse backgrounds to start thinking that they were part of something that needed to protect itself against "outsiders."  The larger question can't be settled by data alone, but in my view nationalism has been strong in the United States from the moment that the United States began. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, July 26, 2019

Life is unfair

I have had a couple of posts about a question that asked people whether "other countries generally treat the United States about as fairly as we treat them" or "other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States."   When I wrote those, the last time that the question had been asked was in 1999.  Since then, it has been asked again (in September 2018).  There was a substantial change.  In 1995, 78% chose "unfair advantage"; in 1999 it was 70%, and in 2018 it was down to 51%.  Most of that change involved Democrats--about 80% of Republicans chose "unfair advantage" in all three years, but for Democrats it fell from 68% in 1999 to 28% in 2018.  Although a lot of things happened between 1999 and 2018, I would guess that the major cause of the change is Donald Trump--it's a view that Trump has expressed, so Democrats have turned away from it.  However, Republicans are more united than Democrats (82%-15% vs. 25%-67%), and independents favor the "unfair advantage" by 52%-32%.  As a result, public opinion still leans towards "unfair advantage" (51%-42%), even though Trump's overall approval rating is unfavorable (in this survey, 38% approved of the job he was doing and 55% disapproved).  That is, it seems like this issue is helping Trump, and presumably helped him in the past as well.

I think this sentiment--indignation that other countries don't appreciate our generosity--has been underestimated.  It's something that we haven't seen before in a president, or in anyone with significant influence on foreign policy, but it is a core principle of Trump's world-view.  For example, a couple of tweets from the past few days:

"Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM. We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around."  [According to the figures in , the United States gave $0 in aid to Sweden in 2017, the last year for which statistics are available]

 "Guatemala, which has been forming Caravans and sending large numbers of people, some with criminal records, to the United States, has decided to break the deal they had with us on signing a necessary Safe Third Agreement. . . . Now we are looking at the 'BAN', Tariffs, Remittance Fees, or all of the above. Guatemala has not been good. Big U.S. taxpayer dollars going to them was cut off by me 9 months ago."

This is not a new theme--here's a tweet he sent in January 2014 and then repeated in slightly different words in June 2014:  "I hope we never find life on another planet because if we do there's no doubt that the United States will start sending them money!"

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Economic and social ideology

It is sometimes said that the left has a natural advantage on economic issues, while the right has a natural advantage on social issues.  Of course, this is not true for every individual issue.  However, the general image of the left is that it's interested in helping the poor and middle class, and the general image of the right is that it's interested in helping business, especially big business. People who are middle class and below are more numerous, plus even many affluent people regard inequality as undesirable.  For social issues, the image of the left is that it's interested in helping minorities and "outsiders," while the image of the right is that it's interested in defending traditional majority values.  So the left is with the majority on economics, and the right is with the majority on social issues. 

People have been distinguishing between economic and social ideology at least since the 1950s, but it wasn't until 1999 that Gallup thought to ask people about their ideology on economic and social issues separately ("thinking about economic issues" and then "thinking about social issues").  They asked these questions once or twice a year until 2015.  Here are the average responses, on a scale of 1 (very conservative) to 5 (very liberal).

Self-rated opinions on social issues moved to the left, while self-rated opinions on economic issues went up and down without any trend (this makes sense, given that opinions on some important social issues did move to the left).  Opinions on social issues started out slightly to the left of opinions on economic issues, and because of the different trends, the gap widened.  That is, in terms of self-rated ideology, the left does better on social issues, not economic issues.  Another striking thing is that ratings, especially on economic issues, moved to the right in 2009-10--that is, during the recession (the 2008 survey was taken in may, when the economic was slowing, but not in a serious recession). 

Why doesn't the left do better on economic issues than social issues?  The perception of liberals as more interested in the middle class and poor is found in other surveys.  However, another popular meaning of "liberal" is free-spending, and a popular meaning of "conservative" is cautious or careful.  I think that's what gives conservatives their relative advantage on economics--many people think "it might be nice, but we can't afford it now," especially during a recession.  Of course, a recession is the best time for spending according to Keynesian economics, but as Paul Krugman has noted, Keynesian economics doesn't seem to have had much impact on popular thinking. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, July 14, 2019


This post extends a few points from my previous post.  In that one, I quoted Ross Douthat:  "America’s major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe" and added "it's not just that America's major political parties are more responsive to public opinion, but that they are inclined to accentuate any potential division in public opinion."  Although I agree with Douthat's claim, I would change the terminology, because there are different kinds of elites, so there isn't necessarily a single "elite sentiment."  It would be better to say that in Europe, political elites are more influenced by "expert" sentiment, and less by public opinion. 

That's a secondary point.  My main one is to say what I meat by "accentuate any potential division in public opinion."  Take the immigration bill of 2013, which was in line with what the public seemed to want.  So why didn't it get support from enough Republicans to pass? If it had, most people would have approved, partly because they agreed with the content, and partly because people like it when politicians from different parties shake hands and talk about bipartisanship.  But people generally give most of the credit or blame to the president, so Obama and the Democrats would have benefited more than the Republicans.  On the other side, although the general idea of a path for citizenship for "deserving" immigrants coupled with stronger border security was popular, any legislation would have to be complicated and open to potential objections (e. g., the provisions for border security were inadequate).  So if Republicans held out against it, they could raise enough doubts to drive support down, so they wouldn't pay much of a penalty for opposing it.  The public might become frustrated with "gridlock," but the president would take more of the blame for that.  So a strategy of uniform opposition can prevent a president from accomplishing much, which prevents him or her from becoming too popular.  The Republicans perfected this approach under Obama, although it had the unanticipated effect of making the Republicans in congress unpopular (they got some of the blame for gridlock), providing an opening for Donald Trump. 

In the past, it might have been possible to get enough Republican votes to get the bill through.  That is harder now, partly because fewer members of congress have a personal base of support that would give them the freedom to go against their party.  Although I don't have direct evidence of this, I was able to find a number of questions, mostly from Gallup, that asked people if they could name their representative in Congress.  The percent who said that they could: 

There is a clear downward trend, despite the increase in average levels of education.  Most of the surveys just asked people if they knew, but a few also asked for the name and recorded whether it was correct.  In 1957, 5% gave the wrong name, in 1977-8 about 10%, and in 1994 about 15%.  That is, the figure might understate the decline in knowledge--not only do fewer people think they know the name, but more of those people are mistaken.    

So my idea is that as politics has become more nationalized, a strategy of across-the-board opposition has become more effective, and that means that the parties pull their supporters farther apart.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Monday, July 8, 2019

The elite dissensus

Ross Douthat had a column yesterday about why the parties are moving apart on immigration.  The key passage:  "the cycle started with a gap between the elite consensus on immigration — unabashedly in favor — and the public’s more conflicted attitudes, which differ depending on the day’s headlines and the wording of the polling questions. Across the first 15 years of the 21st century, too many Beltway attempts to simply impose the elite consensus set the stage for backlash, populism, Trump."  Then Trump implemented cruel and ineffective policies, and Democrats reacted against them.  The later part seems right--the Democratic presidential candidates are competing to show how strongly they oppose Trump.  But the part I quoted seems wrong in two ways. 

First, although the public's attitudes are "conflicted" in the sense that they are not straightforwardly pro-immigration or anti-immigration, they are pretty stable.  For example, here is a question from 2011:  "Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the US (United States)?...They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for US citizenship. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers but not to apply for US citizenship. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the US."  44% chose the first option, 26% the second, and 26% the third.  One from December 2014:  "Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently in the United States? Should the government...send all illegal immigrants back to their home country, have a guest worker program that allows immigrants to remain in the United States to work, but only for a limited amount of time, or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for US citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?"  17% chose the first, 16% the second, and 63% the third.  Here's one from September 2018 "Which statement comes closest to your view about how the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the US illegally? The immigration system should allow them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, allow them to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens, or identify and deport them?"  On this, it was 62%, 16%, and 21%.  That is, about 20 % favor a hard-line policy, maybe a quarter favor letting them stay but not become citizens, and most favor a "path to citizenship."  I think most of the difference between the first question and the other two is that the first one just talks about having jobs, while the others mention other requirements.  That is, there is strong support for citizenship for "worthy" illegal immigrants, and the more "worthy" qualities you specify, the stronger it gets (as much as 89% for "for illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children if they meet certain requirements such as going to college or joining the military, and not having a criminal record?")

Second, on the "elite consensus":  there was a bill in 2013 that provided a path to citizenship, which passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority of 68-32.  But it was never voted on in the House, because the Republican majority objected to it.  That's not because the bill was unpopular with the public--several surveys showed a majority in favor, or in favor if they added "tougher provisions for border security." I haven't found any that showed a majority, or anything close to a majority, in favor of just rejecting it.

There may be a pro-immigration consensus among academic elites, or journalistic elites, but they don't make the laws.  There was not, and is not, anything resembling a consensus among political elites: most Republican elites have taken a position well to the right of the public.  The "populist" revolt was not a response to efforts to impose an elite consensus, but to the division among political elites:  it seemed like there was an agreement, and then it fell apart, so people turned to someone who said that he could cut through the gridlock and make "deals."  Oddly, Douthat got the situation pretty much right in 2010 when, comparing the United States and Europe on climate change, he said "America’s major political parties generally tend to be more responsive to public opinion, and less constrained by elite sentiment, than their counterparts in Europe."  Although with the benefit of hindsight, I would say it's not just that America's major political parties are more responsive to public opinion, but that they are inclined to accentuate any potential division in public opinion.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]