Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Electoral College, part 3

The percent in favor of electing the president by popular vote in surveys ending on October 9, 2011 and November 20, 2016:

                                2011            2016
Democrats                73.8%           77%
Independents            70%              60.5%
Republicans              52.7%          28.5%

Little change among Democrats, but a big change among Republicans.  I'm not sure if that says something about the difference between Democrats and Republicans, or the circumstances of the 2016 election--most Democrats thought that Hillary Clinton had underperformed, and tended to blame her loss on that rather than the electoral college.

I used the 2011 survey to look for factors affecting state-level support.  I considered number of electoral votes, margin of victory, and region.   Support for the electoral college was somewhat higher in small states, which is as expected since it gives their voters more weight.  There was no evidence that being in a state where the vote was close made any difference (although it's hard to decide how to measure that, since it changes from one election to the next).  Finally, the only regional distinction that appeared to matter was South vs. non-South. That makes some sense, since despite the talk about "coastal enclaves" vs. "heartland," the South is still the most regionally distinctive part, and southerners may think that the electoral college protects their regional interests (it would be interesting to see if there's any interaction with race, but I didn't do that--I did look at basic race differences and support for the electoral college was if anything a bit higher among blacks).  Combining the two factors to get predictions for percent in favor of elections by popular vote for states with 4 and 25 electoral votes in and outside the south:

4, non-south               60.8%
25, non-south             69.5%
4, south                      50.1%
25, south                    59.6%

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Electoral College, part 2

This figure shows the percent who favor abolishing the electoral college minus the percent who oppose abolishing it.  There are three different questions:

1 (blue):  Would you approve or disapprove of an amendment to the Constitution [in 2013 "vote for or against a law"] which would do away with the electoral college and base the election of a President on the total vote cast throughout the nation?
2 (red):   Presidents are now elected by the Electoral College, in which each state gets as many votes as it has members of Congress and can cast all of them for whoever wins in that state. Do you think we should keep the Electoral College, or should we amend the constitution and elect as President whoever gets the most votes in the whole country?
3.  (green):  Thinking for a moment about the way in which the president is elected in this country, which would you prefer--to amend the Constitution so the candidate who receives the most total votes nationwide wins the election or to keep the current system, in which the candidate who wins the most votes in the Electoral College wins the election?

They are pretty consistent for the period of overlap, although support for abolishing the Electoral College seems a bit lower under the second and third forms (maybe because they explicitly say that it's the way we currently elect presidents).  There is always more support for abolishing it than keeping it--until 2016, a lot more.  It was almost even right after the 2016 election, but in the latest survey had returned to 55% in favor of abolishing it and 41% in favor of keeping it.  The greatest support for abolishing it (80%) was in November 1968, right after the third-party candidacy of George Wallace, which had the goal of preventing an Electoral College majority.  The election of 2000 had much less impact on opinions that 2016, maybe because of the general increase in partisanship since 2000. 

A lot of recent commentary has treated abolishing the Electoral College as a radical cause, but the public generally likes the idea.  I thought that it would be fairly popular, but was surprised at just how popular it was, at least through 2013.  I suspect that most people don't have strong opinions, and will just follow their party, so that if it becomes a significant topic of debate there will be something close to a 50/50 split.  However, it seems unlikely that it will hurt the Democrats.

I haven't systematically looked at group differences, but what I've seen suggests that liberals and Democrats have always been more likely to favor abolition and more educated people are a bit less likely to favor abolition.  I think there are two offsetting factors at work with education--more educated people tend to be less attached to tradition, but the popular vote is consistent with popular ideas of fairness.  The arguments in favor of the electoral college are more sophisticated (not good, but sophisticated), so they are more likely to be known to educated people.  It would be interesting to look at regional differences--are people in small states or "swing states" more likely to favor keeping the electoral college?

PS:  I criticized a column Jamelle Bouie in a recent post, but I should give him credit for the best commentary on the electoral college that I've seen. 

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Electoral College

The Electoral College has been in the news recently.  I am going to write a post about public opinion on the Electoral College vs. popular vote, but I was diverted into writing about the arguments offered in favor of it.  An editorial in the National Review says "it prevents New York and California from imposing their will on the rest of the country."  Taken literally, that is ridiculous--those two states combined had about 16% of the popular vote in 2016.  But presumably the general idea is that the Electoral College makes it harder for a small number of large states to provide a victory.  That is true--the less populated states get a bonus because of Senate seats.  How much difference does that make?   In 2016, 52% of the popular vote came from 10 states:  California, Florida, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, and Georgia (in descending order of number of votes).   In the Electoral College, those states combined had 256 electoral votes--in order to win, you would need to add New Jersey (14).  Even if you think the difference between ten and eleven states is important, the diversity of the ten biggest states is striking--there's no way a candidate could win all of them without winning a lot of others. 

The National Review also says that the Electoral College keeps candidates from "retreating to their preferred pockets and running up the score."  That assumes that it's easier to add to your lead when you already have a lead than when you are close or behind.  That may be true in some sports, but in getting votes  it seems that things would be more likely to go in the other direction--if you don't have much support in a place, you have little to lose and a lot to gain.  If it made any difference, election by popular vote would probably encourage parties to look outside their "preferred pockets"--e. g., the Republicans might try to compete in California rather than write it off. 

In a post about two years ago, I said the "American creed" has a canonical texts (the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence), which "means that there's a possibility of  'fundamentalist' movements that say we need to go back to those texts in order to find the answers to our problems."  An additional point, which had not occurred to me then, is that the Constitution wasn't a statement of political philosophy--it provided a set of institutions.  That means that "fundamentalism" tends to go back to the letter rather than the spirit.  The Electoral College is an example of this--the way that it has worked since the early 19th century is totally different from the way it was intended to work.  The original idea was that people would choose the members based on their reputations, and that the members would choose a president by exercising their judgment.  Although few people would want to choose a president in that fashion today, it still is worth thinking about.  But it's hard to defend the way it operates now--at least, I haven't seen any argument that even begins to make sense.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Biden and Trumpism

Last week, Jamelle Bouie had a column in which he said that Joe Biden might defeat Trump, but wouldn't defeat "Trumpism"--"the white resentment and racial chauvinism that drive his movement."  He said that Biden had appealed to those sentiments himself by opposed busing in the 1970s.  Bouie did say that "most white voters in Delaware opposed busing," but didn't seem to recognize how widespread the opposition was.  Between 1972 and 1996, the General Social Survey had a question "In general, do you favor or oppose the busing of (negro/black/African-American) and white school children from one school district to another?"  Among whites, 21% of those with an opinion said they were in favor.  That was the average over the whole period--in the 1970s, it was only 14%. 

The GSS also had a question which asked whites for their reaction to the statement "(Negroes/ blacks/African-Americans) shouldn't push themselves where they're not wanted."  Even among those who said that they disagreed strongly, only 37% favored busing.   Another question gave people a hypothetical choice:  "Suppose there is a community-wide vote on the general housing issue. There are two possible laws to vote on: a. One law says that a homeowner can decide for himself whom to sell his house to, even if he prefers not to sell to (negroes/blacks/African-Americans). b. The second law says that a homeowner cannot refuse to sell to someone because of their race or color. Which law would you vote for?"   Among those who said they would vote for the second law (about half during the period that the questions both were included), only 35% said they favored busing.

You could argue that this just shows the pervasiveness of prejudice among whites--even those who said they were for integration in principle didn't want it in practice.  But even among blacks, there was significant opposition to busing--57% favored it and 43% opposed.  So the opposition wasn't just racial chauvinism and resentment.  What else could it have been?  Most people have positive views about their local schools, so I think it was the idea of neighborhood kids being sent long distances to schools people weren't familiar with and didn't have any connection to.

As far as Biden, it seems unreasonable to criticize him for opposing a policy that was not just unpopular, but extremely unpopular (and one of the major cases of busing was in Wilmington, Delaware, so he couldn't just avoid the issue).   The larger problem is that a lot of progressives automatically offer "white resentment" as a complete explanation of anything they disapprove of, without even thinking about other possibilities.  That was true before Trump, but seems to have accelerated since he took office. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Capitalism and Free Enterprise

Between 1964 and 2010, a number of surveys asked people if they agreed or disagreed with the statement:  "The government has gone too far in regulating business and interfering with the free enterprise system."  The figure shows the percent who agreed minus the percent who disagreed. 

The smallest figure is from 1964, when 43% agreed and 40% agreed.  Since then, the average gap has been 30 percentage points.  The last time the question was asked, in March 2010, 58% said the completely or mostly agreed and 37% that they completely or mostly disagreed.  

I think that this question has implications for the claim that most people are to the left on economic issues, which I've discussed here.  Most people agree with the general principle that more should be done to help the poor and the middle class.  But the general sense that the government is already doing too much gives conservatives an argument that they can use against specific proposals, as they did with health care reform under Clinton and then again under Obama.  

While I was looking at this question, I noticed another:  "Just off the top of your head, would you say you have a positive or negative image of each of the following. How enterprise?"

                   Positive   Negative
 1/2010            86%       10%
11/2012           89%         7%
 5/2016            85%         9%
 7/2018            79%       17%

It's overwhelmingly positive at all times, but considerably less positive in 2018.  I can't find breakdowns by party, but I would guess most of the change is among Democrats, probably not because of a shift in fundamental beliefs, but just as a reaction against everything that Republicans say they support.  

Finally, Bret Stephens had a column in the NY Times in which he criticized John Hickenlooper for being unwilling to say that he was a "proud capitalist" and suggested that reluctance to embrace the term "capitalism" could cost the Democrat the 2020 election.  But "capitalism" is an educated person's term--college graduates are strongly favorable, less educated people are pretty evenly divided.  (Numbers are here and here).  Stephens also said that in the past "one of the reasons why the right-wing charge of “socialism” against the Democratic Party rarely stuck was that it was generally untrue."  In fact, it did stick, but people didn't care very much:  in 1965, 36% thought that America's economic system was "capitalism" and 34% thought it was "socialism" (the rest weren't sure).  That's probably because "socialist" has been applied to any kind of redistribution or government intervention.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Sunday, March 3, 2019


   Donald Trump got about 46% of the votes in 2016, a little less than what Mitt Romney got in 2012.  But he did considerably better among less educated voters than Romney had (and worse among more educated voters).  What caused this shift?  I think that "style" may have been an important factor.  Most people seem to have pretty definite feelings about what qualities make for a good leader,  and a lot of campaign coverage involves the personal qualities of the candidates.  There haven't been many questions about leadership qualities, and most of those are about candidates (e. g., would X be tough enough....).  However, there was one survey from March 2008 that asked people to choose between different styles of leadership.  I have written about it before, but I will go into more depth here.  The relevant questions:

"would you prefer a president who gets involved in many of the details of most issues, or a president who sets broad policies and then delegates to others the implementation of these policies?"

"would you prefer a president who makes decisions and then sticks with them no matter what, or a president who reconsiders decisions after making them when circumstances change?"

"would you prefer a president who spends a lot of time thinking things through and deliberating before making decisions, or a president who makes decisions more quickly based on his or her gut instincts?"

"Suppose a loyal and long-time employee of the president was not doing a good job. If you had to choose, would you prefer a president who keeps that employee out of loyalty, or a president who would fire the employee?"

"What kind of advisors and employees do you think a president should hire--should he or she hire people with different views who may disagree on important issues, or hire people who mostly share his or her views?"

"would you prefer a president who sets peoples' expectations higher even if he or she may not be able to meet them, or a president who sets peoples' expectations lower but probably will be able to meet them?"

A summary of the relationship to education:  the first column is the direction and the second is the size of the estimated effect (in a logistic regression):

Delegates                .46
Reconsiders            .67
Deliberates            (.18)
Fires                      (.10)
Different                 .23
High                       .27

The two estimates in parentheses aren't statistically significant.  There's a good deal of uncertainty about them, since overwhelming majorities at all educational levels favored deliberation and firing the loyal employee.  The effects for reconsidering decisions and delegating are clearly the strongest.  In terms of percentages, 27% of people with a high school diploma or less and only 6% of college graduates wanted a president who would stick with decisions no matter what.

The answers to the different questions had only small associations with each other, but there was a strong association between reconsidering decisions and another question:  whether people were more offended "negative comments about women in general, or when people make negative comments about African Americans in general, or don't remarks like that offend you?"  Over 40% volunteered that they found them equally offensive.  There was little or no difference between people who were more offended by remarks about one group than the other, so I combined them:

                                                 Sticks       Reconsiders
Not offended                              25%            75%
One more offensive                   16%             84%
Both offensive                           11%             89%

I didn't anticipate this association, but in retrospect the questions seem to fit together into a "never apologize, never explain" style.  

I don't know of any data on how people perceived Trump's leadership style, but my impression is that the image he cultivated was more in line with what less educated people preferred--get involved, make a decision and stick to it.  

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]