Saturday, October 31, 2020

Ya Gotta Believe

 I saw a reference to a Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin which found that 80% of Trump supporters expected Trump to win and 80% of Biden supporters expected Biden to win.  Of course, people tend to be optimistic, so it's not surprising that expectations differ by party, but that's a big difference.  It's also interesting that it's symmetrical--since polls show Biden with a pretty substantial lead, you might expect this supporters to be more optimistic than Trump's.  

Questions of this type have been asked of national samples since 1952.  I've written about them before, but just looked at the overall distribution.  I didn't have time to do a comprehensive analysis, but I went back to 1992 (except 1996--I couldn't find one for that election)  and broke it down by party identification (another possibility would be to break it down by candidate you planned to vote for, but the 2020 data just showed it by party ID, so that was what I used). 


                us    them    us     them        log odds

1992        44    47        78    9            2.1
2000        72    17        56    27           2.2
2004        83    7          57    26            3.3
2008        67    31        85    14            2.6
2012        71    19        86    8            3.6
2016        55    40        93    6            3.0
2020        90    9         73    24            3.4

For example, in 1992, only 44% of Republicans expected their candidate (Bush) to win and 47% expected him to lose, while 78% of Democrats expected their candidate (Clinton) to win and only 9% expected him to lose.  The log odds in the last column is a measure of the strength of the tendency to expect one's own candidate to win.  There are some signs that it's increasing, although with the small number of cases it's hard to be sure.  The greatest confidence in one's own candidate occurred for Democrats in 2016, which probably explains something about how they reacted to the election.   The lowest level of confidence was for Bush supporters in 1992.  As I recall, that campaign had quite a few ups and downs, and that poll may have been taken when things were looking especially bad for Bush.  Still, it's remarkable that less than half of Republicans expected him to win (of course, Bush did lose, but not by a landslide--the margin was a little smaller than 2008, when two-thirds of Republicans expected McCain to win).    This year, Democrats are less optimistic than Republicans, which is probably because of the memory of 2016.

While I'm on the subject, I didn't offer a prediction on this blog for the 2016 election, but on Nov 5 (the Saturday before the election) I sent an e-mail to a friend giving one:



Nov 5, 2016 Predictions                                 Actual


Clinton                     50.5%                             48.0%              

Trump                       46.5%                            45.9%

Johnson                         2%                             3.3%

Jill Stein                      0.5%                            1.1%

[others]                      0.5%                               1.7%

At that time, the 538 average of polls showed 45.1% for Clinton, 42.3% Trump, and 4.4% Johnson, leaving 8.2% undecided or other (they didn't break it down further).  I thought that a lot of the "other" support would evaporate and that most of it would go to Clinton.  In fact, it held up better than I expected, and it seems like the people who decided at the last minute broke for Trump.  The current 538 average is 53.1% Biden and 43.2% Trump, leaving 3.7% undecided and other (including the Libertarian).  In addition to Biden's bigger lead, the smaller other/undecided group reduces the uncertainty about possible late shifts.  I'll say that the other vote will be about 2% (it was about 1% in 2004, 1.5% in 2008, and 2% in 2012), and that things will tighten a little*, producing:

 Biden        53%

Trump        45%

Other        2% 

Of course, what matters is how that translates into the Electoral College vote, but with an 8% lead Biden would almost certainly get a majority.  

*Also, the Economist model shows a slightly smaller Biden lead.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The rest of us?

I've had a number of posts (starting with this one) suggesting that the people who are angry about perceived contempt from "elites" are not the working class, or residents of "the heartland," but conservatives, and more specifically, conservative elites.  I ran across a striking example of that recently, in the New York Post editorial endorsing Donald Trump.  The last sentence was "Plus, it'll really tick off Hollywood." It's hard to imagine an endorsement of Joe Biden which concluded with something like that.  The editorial also had three passages complaining about the hypocrisy of "the media," plus this:  "When journalists write that the United States has 'lost its standing in the world,' they usually mean our standing at Davos cocktail parties. For the rest of us, it’s clear that Trumpism is focused on pursuing what’s best for our country."  

A few days later, I found support for my view from an unexpected source.  Jonah Goldberg writes "Real America . . . tops the long list of conservative catchphrases capturing the sense of grievance dominating so much of the right these days. Real America is 'flyover country,' a term used more by those who resent it than by those who actually use it as a term of derision. In today’s Republican mythology, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco and other major cities are home to the elites—or, if you include the shores of Lake Michigan, the even more hated 'coastal elites.'"  At the beginning of this year, I had a similar observation about "flyover country," and other alleged examples of elite disdain.  

I think these examples help to explain an odd feature of this campaign, and Republican strategy over the last several years--the focus on trying to win with a minority rather than trying to build a majority.  The idea is that some voters count more than others--the party that deserves to win isn't the one that gets the most votes, but the one that gets the right kind of voters.  It's sometimes said that "the right kind" means white voters, but I don't think this is right.  Trump's efforts to appeal to black and Latino voters may be clumsy, but he makes them, and he boasts about any sign that he's doing relatively well among them.  Rather, the right kind of voter is anyone who's not "elite"--that is, college-educated and living in coastal urban areas.  He hasn't made any effort to appeal to those kind of voters, and none of his media supporters seem to have urged him to do so.  Instead, we have media elites (meant not as a pejorative term, but as an objective description) denouncing "the media" and claiming to speak for "the rest of us."

Friday, October 23, 2020

Isn't it pretty to think so?

 David Brooks says that Americans have moved to the left on issues involving the welfare state, and that it's not just a short-term reaction to Trump and the recession caused by the coronavirus.  He says "the 2020 shift to the left follows years of steady leftward drift."  The General Social survey has a number of relevant questions going back to the 1970s:

Placing yourself on a seven point scale from "the government in Washington ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor,perhaps by raising the taxes of wealthy families or by giving income assistance to the poor" to "the government should not concern itself with reducing this income difference between the rich and the poor."

and five point scales for " the government in Washington is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private busienss" to "the government should be doing even more to solve the country's problems", the government doing everything possible to improve the standard of living of poor Americans, the government helping people to pay for doctors and hospital bills, and the government doing everything possible to improve the living standards of blacks.  

The means for the questions (higher values mean more conservative):

It doesn't look like a trend on anything, although the movement on helping blacks from 2014-18 is striking.  If you regress them on party of the president and a time trend, the party effect is statistically significant for all (opinions are more conservative under a Democrat) and the time trend isn't statistically significant for any.  So basically, they've been stable, although opinions about aid to blacks may be starting to change.  

You could argue that the actual role of the government has increased (which it generally has, if you just go by dollars spent), so if you interpret the questions as relative to how things are, then opinion has moved to the left.  That is, people's view of the status quo is stable, but the status quo has moved left.  But Brooks seems to be saying something stronger--that there's increasing public pressure to move farther and faster to the left.

Oddly, I agree with Brooks's concluding remarks:  "It was a vigorous debate that lasted many decades, but the liberal welfare state won — a robust capitalist economy combined with generous social support."  But that victory happened a long time ago--the 1950s or 1960s.  Since then, there hasn't been much change in popular views of the welfare state and redistribution.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The story of the decade, part 4a

 In writing my last post, I recalled a couple of posts I wrote about the question "In America, each generation has tried to have a better life than their parents, with a better living standard, better homes, a better education, etc. How likely do you think it is that today's youth will have a better life than their parents--very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, or very unlikely?"  If you count "very likely" as +2, "somewhat likely" as +1, "somewhat unlikely" as -1, and "somewhat unlikely" as -2, you can compute the mean score for Democrats and Republicans, and take the difference between them.  The mean for the thirteen surveys for which I have data is about +20--Democrats tend to be more optimistic.  The gap differs depending on the party of the president--it's +42 with Democratic presidents and -28 with Republicans.  This difference isn't surprising--people generally have more favorable assessments of conditions when their party is in power.  But an interesting pattern emerges when you plot differences over time:

The gap is essentially the same on the four occasions when a Republican was president (Reagan, GW Bush twice, and Trump), but it varies a lot when a Democrat is president.  In particular, it was a lot bigger on the last two times--April 2011 and December 2012.  This change was mostly driven by variation in Republican views, which became substantially more pessimistic while Obama was president. 

I think this reflects the process I talked about last time, in which Republican elites persuaded their base that they were facing an epochal threat. A possibly encouraging thing is the Republican views became considerably more optimistic during the 1990s--maybe cheerfulness keeps breaking in, despite the efforts of party leaders.   

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The story of the decade, part 4

 I'm returning to the question I started on last month--why has there been a growth of polarization in the United States in recent years?  I have criticized the leading hypotheses, and now it's time to offer something in their place.

    Traditionally, there was a rough balance between left and right.  On the one hand, the general current of history seemed to be going to the left:  proposals that started on the radical fringe would eventually be implemented over conservative opposition, and after a while would come to be almost universally accepted.  So conservatives could feel like they were, in the famous words of William F. Buckley, "stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop!."  On the other hand, conservatives controlled most of the leading institutions of society--maybe some people  at the lower ranks were liberal or even radical, but the people who had the power to make decisions were mostly conservative.  As a result, conservatives with more sanguine temperaments could feel pretty good, figuring that they could block the worst ideas from the left and delay or modify the others so that they didn't do much harm, and maybe even did some good.   

    In recent decades, the current has still been running to the left, but conservatives have lost their advantage in the institutions--some, like education and the media, are dominated by liberals, while in others conservative dominance is weakening.  This situation creates a sense of desperation among conservatives.  As Tim Alberta says, "If there is one principle driving Republican politicians today, it is that traditional American values—faith, patriotism, modesty, the nuclear family—are under siege. . . .  what’s fascinating to observe is the shift in priorities and proportionality. What was once a source of annoyance and frustration for one sect of the party, social conservatives, has turned into the dominant life force for the GOP."  Traditionally, conservatives were willing to retreat, but now they have a sense that any compromise will send us over the edge.  This explains why Republican elites continue to denounce the Affordable Care Act and try to overturn it in the courts, even though their position has become unpopular and they have no alternative to offer.  It also explains why they've stuck with Donald Trump:  he's opposed to the left, and in comparison to earlier Republican leaders has shown less restraint in denouncing it.

The decline of conservative power has been gradual, and the sense of being embattled has been growing for decades, but the Obama administration accelerated it.  Obama was started with a high level of popularity, at a level that no new president had reached in many years, and it seemed that he might be able to lead a realignment which would leave conservatives almost powerless.  This gave conservatives new energy, but it mostly involved opposition to the left, rather than support for any particular goal.  So when Republican voters had a choice, they went for the "fighter" rather than for any of the more conventional conservatives.  And after a while, conventional conservatives realized that they didn't have any principles that outweighed opposition to the left, so they reconciled with Trump.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Infected by reality

 In July, a researcher at the Brookings institution reported that plans for remote vs. in-person school reopening were unrelated to the Covid case rate in the district, but were related to vote in the 2016 election--the higher the support for Trump, the more likely in-person reopening.  Later I found a survey from about the same time (July 16-20) which asked people "When the school year begins where you live, do you think each of the following types of schools should open for in-person instruction as usual, open with minor adjustments, open with major adjustments, or not open at all for in-person instruction."  Opinions about the K-12 schools by party identification:

                               Usual or minor adjustment             No in-person

Democrat                       6%                                              44%

Republican                   43%                                             12%

Independent                  26%                                             23%

Other/None                  27%                                             29%

(I omit the "major adjustments," which was 45-50% in all groups).    

So partisanship apparently had a strong effect on views.  The natural follow-up question is how much effect local conditions had.  I got weekly death rates by state as reported by the CDC.  It seemed that death rates in the two weeks before the survey were related to opinions, but previous death rates were not (I used the square root of death rates because it produced a slightly better fit).  In states with higher recent Covid death rates, people were less inclined to support opening as usual.  Did the effect of local conditions differ by party?  People sometimes talk about Republicans inhabiting a "bubble" through which information doesn't penetrate, but the point estimate for the effect of state death rates is about twice as large among Republicans as among Democrats and independents, although the difference is not statistically significant (t-ratio of about 1.5).  Estimated opinions by party and state death rates (higher values mean more support for online-only):

The more important point is that the difference in opinions between the states with the lowest and highest death rates is only about half as large as the difference between Republicans and Democrats.  The data are at the state level, and in some states the prevalence of Covid may differ widely within the state, so the estimated effect of local conditions may be attenuated by measurement error.  Still, it seems that party matters more than reality.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]