Saturday, June 29, 2019

Maybe not so different

Paul Krugman recently had a column about the influence of rich people--"the 0.1 percent, or maybe the 0.01 percent"--on policy.  Although I agree with his general point that they have too much influence, his primary example doesn't seem to support his case.  The example is the concern with a "debt crisis" and preoccupation with cutting "entitlements" in 2010-11.  He notes that Americans in general support more spending on Social Security, but says that "the rich, however, are different from you and me."  There's not much information on the political opinions of the super-rich--even the survey he cites seems to cover something closer to the top 5% than the top 0.1%--but the General Social Survey lets us look at the general effects of income on opinions about spending on various programs including Social Security.  I regressed opinions on whether we are spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on level of education (0=no high school diploma ... 4=grad degree) and real household income (in $100,000s).  The results are summarized in this figure.

The "northeast" quadrant are things on which education and income are associated with support for more spending.  They are:  "highways and bridges" and "supporting scientific research."  The southwest quadrant art things on which education and income are associated with support for less spending.  They are social security and "assistance to the poor."  The northwest quadrant are things for which more income is associated with support for less spending and more education with support for more.  That is, for most people (well-off and well educated, or low income and low education) education and income are working in different directions.  They are welfare, "improving the conditions of blacks,"  "improving and protecting the nation's health," "improving and protecting the environment," and "improving the nation's education system."  There are no items in the southeast quadrant.  

So the belief that we need to cut "entitlements" is not unique to the rich--it's also more common among well educated people.  This probably explains why many journalists accepted it as common sense--it's not that they had "internalized the preferences of the extremely wealthy" (as Krugman says) but that they had similar preferences to start with.  As far as why, I would guess that educated people are more aware of some relevant facts--a large part of the budget is devoted to Social Security (and Medicaid), and that part is almost certain to grow because of demographic changes, so if we don't contain spending there we'll have to cut other spending, raise taxes substantially, or eventually face a debt crisis.  Since journalists tend to be more familiar with these issues, I expect they are more inclined to favor cuts than educated people generally. 

Krugman would presumably answer that a these facts don't mean that we need to cut entitlements:  if we want people to have a long and reasonably secure retirement, which most of us apparently do, we can and should raise taxes to pay for that.  There are other economists who argue that we can't actually do that--the resulting taxes would reduce economic growth so much that we'd still have to cut other spending or face a debt crisis.  There are also people who focus on politics rather than economics--in practice, it's hard to raise taxes, so regardless of what we could do in principle, if spending on social security continues to increase, it will mean spending cuts on other things.  In any case, opinions on this topic are not just a reflection of self-interest.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Postscript on elites and the public

In my last post, I noted that between 1998 and 2014 Democratic elites, Republican elites, and the public all became less likely to say that "protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression," "strengthening the United Nations," "helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations," and "combating world hunger," should be priorities, and that the move of Democratic elites was larger than that of the other groups.  (I left out one that followed the same course--"promoting and defending human rights in other countries").  But I didn't mention the result:  in 2014, the general public was more likely to say that all of those should be priorities than either Democratic or Republican elites. 

                                                Public     D Elites   R Elites
Protecting the weak                   26%         20%       18%
UN                                             37%         27%         5%
Bring democracy                       17%         12%        13%
World hunger                             42%        40%        15%
Human rights                             33%         32%        13%

All of these are goals that could be described as "humanitarian."  I think this says something important about popular views of foreign policy.  It's often suggested that the contrast is between an "nationalist" public and "internationalist" elites.  There is something to that--the public is more likely to think we should focus on "problems here at home."  But there is also a generous side to public opinion--if there are problems in a foreign country, people often feel that we should do something to help.   So popular "nationalism" isn't equivalent to chauvinism or isolationism.

A couple of other postscripts:
1.  In the column I mentioned in my last post, David Brooks said "a big part of the shift is caused by the fact that many Americans have lost faith in human nature and human possibility. . . . social trust has collapsed over the decades, especially among the young. Distrustful, alienated people don’t want to get involved in the strange, hostile, outside world."  The survey he talks about includes a standard measure of trust also included in the General Social Survey.  The GSS doesn't have many questions related to foreign policy issues, but there are a couple.  One is whether the United States should take an active part in world affairs or stay out.  Trust is strongly associated with opinions on this:  80% of people who say that most people can be trusted say yes, against 59% of those who say "you can't be too careful."  Another is whether we are spending too much, too little, or about the right amount on foreign aid.  Trust doesn't make any discernible difference on this question. 
2.  The 2014 survey asks about "limiting climate change" and "limiting global warming."  These are the two issues on which there is the biggest gap between Democratic and Republican elites.  77% and 79% of Democratic elites say they should be very important goals--higher than any of the others, even preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.  For Republican elites, it's 7% (lower than anything except strengthening the UN) and 15% (about the same as preventing world hunger and protecting human rights).   The public was in the middle, with 40% and 45% saying they should be important goals.  Oddly, many conservative elites seem to think that they are in tune with the public on this issue.  I saw another in the New York Times the other day:  Matthew Continetti wrote "behind the rise of outsider politicians such as Mr. Trump are the interrelated issues of unchecked immigration, terrorism and the imposition of carbon taxes and other measures to mitigate climate change.  . . . efforts to fight climate change through regulation, international treaties and carbon pricing provoked a similar anti-elitist response."  I think this is related to the assumption that "elites" are almost uniformly liberal that I mentioned a couple of posts ago. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Elites and the public, 1998-2014

Last week David Brooks had a column about public opinion on foreign policy, based on a survey by the Center for American Progress.  In Brooks's summary "The top priorities . . . are all negative aspirations: preventing bad things from hostile outsiders.  The lowest priorities were . . . the core activities of building a civilized global community."  He suggested that this represented a change:  "After Iraq and other debacles, many Americans are exhausted by the global leadership role. "  However, to his credit, he didn't say that there was any survey evidence of a change. 

I have been writing about a series of surveys that asked the public and elites about foreign policy priorities.  So far, I have focused on the 1998 surveys, but now I'll look at changes between 1998 and 2014 among the public, elites who identify as Democrats, and elites who identify as Republicans.  There were eleven issues which they asked about at both times.  On one of them, "securing adequate supplies of energy," there was little change in any group.  On four, "protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression," "strengthening the United Nations," "helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations," "combating world hunger," all groups moved in the same direction.  In all of these, that direction was towards saying they should be a lower priority.  This is in line with what Brooks suggested, although it's worth noting that the shifts were just as large among elites.  More exactly, the were smaller among Republican elites, and larger among Democrats.  As a result, there was a convergence of Democratic and Republican elites on these points.   Basically, no one's idealistic now. 

There were six on which the groups moved in different directions, or some moved and others didn't.  Most of these involved divergence between Democratic and Republican elites.  E, g., the percent of Republican elites who said that "maintaining superior military power worldwide" should be a top priority went from 77 to 85, while the percent of Democrats who said it should went from 44 to 37.  Two of them deserve special note.  On "controlling and reducing illegal immigration," the percent of the public who said it should be very important declined from 57 to 47; the percent of Democratic elites who said it should declined from 12 to 5, but the percent of Republican elites who said it should rose from 37 to 46.  In 1998, the public was to the "right" of both elites; in 2014, the public was at essentially the same place as Republican elites.  On "protecting the jobs of American workers," the public (81% in 1998, 77% in 2014) and Republican elites (41 and 40%) hardly changed, and Democrats rated it lower (40% in 1998, 30% in 2014). 

Many accounts of Trump's success, like those by Peggy Noonan that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, focus on immigration as the key.  " immigration . . . is the issue of the moment, a real and concrete one but also a symbolic one: It stands for all the distance between governments and their citizens. It is of course the issue that made Donald Trump. . . If you are an unprotected American . . . you have absorbed some lessons from the past 20 years’ experience of illegal immigration. You know the Democrats won’t protect you and the Republicans won’t help you. Both parties refused to control the border. The Republicans were afraid of being called illiberal, racist, of losing a demographic for a generation."  That would have been a reasonable thing to say in the 1990s, but by 2014, the public had moved left and the Republicans had moved right and lost whatever fears they might once have had about being called illiberal or racist.*   In fact, in 2016 Donald Trump was pretty much in line with what had become the mainstream Republican view--the differences were that he gave more emphasis to it and talked about it more crudely. 

"Protecting American jobs" is where there was a gap between the public and both parties; although Trump didn't offer clear plans, I think that people did sense that it was a priority for Trump and not for conventional Republicans or Democrats.  It also occurs to me that this might have been a particular weakness for Hillary Clinton.  Her stint as Secretary of State may have given people the sense that she was more concerned with foreign than domestic policy. 

[data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, June 14, 2019

Gaps between elite and public opinion

In a recent post, I mentioned a tendency (especially among conservatives) to assume that elites are to the left of the public.  In the survey I discussed there, on foreign policy priorities, there was an elite-public gap on six of them.  Those six, with the percent of each group saying that it should be a "very important" goal:

                                   Public           R Elite          D Elite
Stopping drugs             83%             65%                45%
Illegal immigration      57%             37%                12%

Defending allies           45%            57%                59%
Protecting jobs             81%            41%                39%
Trade deficit                 51%            32%                27%

Strengthening UN         44%            11%               39%

The first two can be seen in left-right terms (note the difference between Democratic and Republican elites), and elites of both parties are to the "left" of the public.  The last one also can, but on that one elites of both parties are to the "right" of the public.  That may seem surprising, since a lot of conservatives seem to think that denouncing the UN is a popular position.  I think it says something interesting about popular views of international affairs, and I may write more about that later.

But then there are the middle three.  These are not normally thought of as left-right issues, and there is little difference between Democratic and Republican elites and a substantial gap between elites and the public.  On these, the differences may follow from greater sophistication (that is, knowing more and thinking more about the issues), or the influence of "experts."  For example, people who think more about foreign relations are more likely to realize that we can't count on allies to help us when we need it unless we're ready to help them when they need it.  The lower ratings of protecting jobs and the trade deficit follow from economic theory, which elites are more likely to be familiar with, at least at second hand.  The ones on which there is a partisan difference but in which elites of both parties are on one side relative to the public may have similar explanations.  For example, the lower priority for stopping drugs is probably not because elites don't care about drug use, but because they think of it as mostly a domestic problem rather than a foreign policy issue (no one would try to smuggle them in unless there was demand for them). 

Of course, this doesn't mean that elite views are always right.  My point is that the general "elites are out of touch" laments (and analyses of how that is supposed to have happened) are misleading. 

These data are from 1998, and a lot has happened since then.  There are comparable data from as late as 2014, which I'll look at in a later post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, June 8, 2019

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming

I was going to write another post about the difference between the opinions of political elites and the general public, and I will in the not too distant future, but I saw a New York Times story about opinions on abortion.  It pointed out that although the parties take clear positions in favor of legal abortion (Democrats) or against it (Republicans), a lot of people are somewhere in the middle:  should be legal for this reason but not that, or generally available up to some point in the pregnancy and very limited after that. 

The story allowed comments, and the most-liked comment (as I started this post) noted that they didn't show opinions of men and women separately.  The author didn't explicitly say what she thought that would show, but the implication was pretty clear: "The effects of abortion laws cause women to lose their agency. subject women to invasive, degrading and unnecessary procedures and counseling, force women into economic hardship.  If a set of laws are designed solely to denigrate the status of one segment of the population...."  A couple of replies to the comment pointed out that there wasn't much difference between the opinions of men and women, but none of them got more than a handful of likes, so it seemed worthwhile to show the figures.  These are from the General Social Survey, 2008-18.  The general introduction is "please tell me whether you think it should be possible for a pregnant woman to obtain a legal abortion if" and there are a number of questions giving different conditions.  The percent of men and women who say abortion should be legal:

                                                                                               Men          Women
The woman's health is seriously endangered                        89%           88%
She became pregnant as a result of rape                               80%           75%
There is a strong chance of a serious defect                          76%          73%
She is married and does not want any more children            50%          44%
The family cannot afford any more children                         47%          44%
The woman wants it for any reason                                       46%          44%
She is not married and does not want to marry the man        44%          41%

There is a small but definite tendency for men to give more support to legal abortion.  Not all surveys find this--for example, this Pew survey finds women are slightly more in favor.  "Little or no difference" would be a reasonable summary.  It would be interesting to have information about whether people think there is a difference, but I don't know of any surveys that asked about that.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

More on elites

This post follows up on a couple of others.  In my most recent post I said that there was a trend towards believing in climate change over the last 20 years, and that belief in climate change fell when unemployment was higher:  "if you regress the figures on a time trend and the unemployment rate, unemployment has a negative and statistically significant estimate."

It occurred to me that some opinions seem to go against the party in power--in a conservative direction when there's a Democratic president and a liberal direction when there's a Republican.  Logically, it doesn't seem like that should happen with these questions, but logic is of limited use when dealing with people.  So I regressed opinions on a time trend, party control, and the unemployment rate.  Now party control was statistically significant and unemployment was not.  The estimate for the time trend was almost unchanged--the estimate was an increase in the percent thinking it would be a threat in your lifetime by about 0.6% a year, so it would take about 15 years for it to increase by 10% (it's currently about 45%).

That post was in response to columns by Ross Douthat and Bret Stephens in which they said that climate change was one of several issues hurting the Democrats.  More specifically, the idea seemed to be that it was hurting them because it was associated with "elites."  Stephens said:
"The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. . . . It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it."

"When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: 'Macron is concerned with the end of the world,' it went, while 'we are concerned with the end of the month.'"

This passage exemplifies a common mistake in analyzing populism, which is to assume that the difference between "elite" and popular opinions is that elites are to the left of the public.  A gasoline tax isn't a leftist policy:  the leftist policy would be to just require businesses to reduce carbon emissions.   That would definitely not provoke mass protests and probably would be pretty popular.  I'm not saying that it's a conservative policy either--it's a distinctively elite policy.  Economic theory says that "substituting a price signal for cumbersome regulations" is a more efficient way of reducing carbon emissions (quoting from a statement signed by a groups of distinguished economists of all political persuasions), so it appeals to people who've studied economists or who listen to economists.  Most ordinary people, however, are opposed:  in addition to general dislike of taxes, my guess is that they think it's unfair to put a special tax on something that people need.

Another common (and related) mistake is to treat elites as a single group,  Douthat says "a pattern of narrow, issue-by-issue resistance is also what you’d expect in an era where the popular culture is more monolithically left-wing than before. That cultural dominance establishes a broad, shallow left-of-center consensus, which then evaporates when people have some personal reason to reject liberalism..."  If "popular culture" means things like movies, music, and TV shows, it's probably true that the relevant elites are more monolithically left-wing than ever before.  However, although in the long run the creators of movies, music, and TV shows may be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, in the immediate sense what matters for political ideas is political elites, and there are plenty of right-wingers among them.

So getting around to some data, I want to talk about the differences between political elites and the public, using the 1998 Chicago Council on Foreign Relations survey I've written about before.  In that post, I took elites as a whole, but now I will distinguish between Democrats and Republicans in the elite group.  The survey asked about seventeen different goals, and what priority they should have.  On five issues, there was consensus:  Democratic elites, Republican elites, and the public saw the goal as about equally important.  For example, about 30 percent of each group said that "helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations" should be a very important goal.  On six issues, Republican elites were on one side, Democratic elites on the other, and the public somewhere in the middle.  All of these are things that could easily be seen in left-right terms, and the parties line up as you'd expect.  For example, 77% of Republican elites, 44% of Democratic elites, and 59% of the public said that "maintaining superior military power worldwide" should be a very important goal.  Finally, there were six on which elites on both parties were on one side of the public.  For example, 83% of the public said that "stopping the flow of illegal drugs into the United States" should be a very important goal; 65% of Republican elites and 45% of Democratic elites said it should be.  Political elites of both parties regard it as less important than the public does.

The other five issues on which there was an elite-public gap were:

"Reducing our trade deficit with foreign countries"
"Strengthening the United Nations"
"Protecting the jobs of American workers"
"Defending our allies' security"
"Controlling and reducing illegal immigration"

This is already a pretty long post and I have other things to do, so I'll talk about the direction of those differences in my next post.