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] 

Monday, July 1, 2019

More on busing

In March, I had a post on public opinion concerning busing in the 1970s.  I didn't expect that to become an issue in the presidential campaign, but in the wake of the exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in last week's debate people are talking about busing again (although I don't think anyone's proposed bringing it back).  At first, the general view among people who commented on the exchange seemed to be that Biden had something to apologize for, but now some are making the point I made:  that busing was unpopular with the public.  A New York Times story refers to a 1973 Gallup Poll that found only 9% of blacks and 5% of whites thought busing was the best way to integrate the schools.  But that's not a very good measure of support for busing--for example, someone could have thought the integration of housing was the best way to integrate schools in the long run, but also favored busing as something that could be done immediately.  The question asked about "integration in terms of different economic and racial groups":  27% chose "change school boundaries," 22% chose "create more housing for low-income people in middle-income neighborhoods," 5% busing, 22% "do something other than the above," and 18 percent "I oppose the integration of schools", while 17% had no opinion (those add to over 100%, so the question must have allowed multiple answers). 

The Gallup Poll also had a question that started in 1970 and was later picked up by the General Social Survey:  "In general, do you favor or oppose the busing of negro [later black or African-American] and white school children from one school district to another?"  The percent who said they favored it is shown in the figure:

An upward trend, but support was under 20% during the 1970s.  However, the question just asked about "busing"--integration was implied, but not explicitly mentioned.  Maybe mentioning a goal that most people supported made a difference?  In 1975, Roper asked "are you in favor of or opposed to school busing to achieve racial integration in the public schools?"  12% said they were in favor, 74% opposed, and 10% volunteered that they had mixed feelings.  That's not much different from the 17% support in the Gallup/GSS question that year.  A couple of polls taken for Richard Nixon in 1971 and 1972 asked about "busing of students on a compulsory basis to achieve racial integration" and found 17% in favor.  In 1976-8, some surveys asked whether "Racial integration of the schools should be achieved even it requires busing":  20-25% said yes, which was a little higher than support in the Gallup/GSS question.  So mentioning integration seems to have made only a little difference.

Finally, in 1976 there was "Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'Sometimes busing may be necessary if it is the only way to integrate the schools.'"  40% agreed.  That's considerably higher support.  My guess is that some people regarded busing as justified in extreme cases, and that most of them would answer no to the "in general" question.  I couldn't find any questions asking whether people thought busing was justified in particular cases (real or hypothetical).

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]