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]