Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The people, maybe

In 1964, a survey conducted by the Gallup Poll asked "In general, how much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making political decisions--a very great deal, a good deal, not very much, or none at all?"  Starting in 1997, the question has occasionally been included in Pew surveys, most recently in March 2016.    A similar question, "How much trust and confidence do you have in the wisdom of the American people when it comes to making choices on Election Day?" has appeared several times between 1998 and 2016.  The figure below shows average responses (higher numbers mean more trust and confidence), with different colors indicating the different forms:

Confidence in the wisdom of the people was only slightly lower through 2006 than it had been in the 1964, but fell sharply between 2006 and 2015.  This pattern is in contrast with confidence in most institutions, which has declined pretty steadily since the 1970s, as discussed in this post (maybe with a bigger drop from the 1960s to the 1970s, as discussed in this one).  It would be tempting to say the decline was a response to the rise of Trump, but the average in a survey from September 2015, when the campaign for the Republican nomination was just getting started, and March 2016, when he was moving toward the nomination, were almost exactly the same.  So in terms of this question, he seems to have been a symptom more than a cause.

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Everyone is right, sort of

In the last couple of months, Donald Trump has been boasting that "Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!"  At the same time, a report from the Economic Policy Institute says that black unemployment is higher than it was fifty years ago.  The figures for black unemployment, which I got via FRED, start in January 1972.  The 6.8% in December 2017 is indeed the lowest since those records began (the previous low was 7.0% in April 2000). 

The EPI numbers refer to unemployment for "black and other," and were 6.7% in 1968 and 6.4% in 1969 (they give a link to the table).  Like the figures on unemployment among blacks, they are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so the question is how much difference including "other" makes.  They report both "black and other" and "black" for 1972, and "black" is 0.4% higher (10.4% vs. 10%).  If you estimate unemployment among blacks in 1968 and 1969 by adding 0.3 or 0.4, it was about the same as it is today.

Of course, white unemployment is low now and was low in the late 1960s, so if you are interested in racial differences, the thing to look at is the ratio of black unemployment rate to white unemployment rate.

The ratio bounces around from one month to the next, presumably mostly because of sampling error, so I also show a 23-month moving average in red (chosen because it seemed to give a reasonable balance between simplicity and detail).  It seems like the ratio increased somewhat through the late 1980s and then fell, leaving it just slightly lower at the end than the beginning.  Things are a bit more complicated than that, because the ratio tends to be higher when general unemployment is low, as it is now--if you adjust for that, there is more of a downward trend in the ratio.  Still, the trend is not as large as I would have expected given the narrowing of racial differences in education. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Protestant, Catholic, Jew .... and beyond?

Since the 1930s, the Gallup Poll has asked questions of the form "IF YOUR PARTY NOMINATED A GENERALLY WELL-QUALIFIED MAN FOR PRESIDENT AND HE HAPPENED TO BE _____, WOULD YOU VOTE FOR HIM?"  (Later they changed it to "person" and "that person.")  The figure shows the percent who said they would vote for a Catholic and a Jew:

Starting in the late 1990s, they have asked about "a generally well-qualified person who happened to be Jewish"--over 90% have said that they would.  In the late 1950s, the percent saying that they would vote for a Catholic was only a little higher than the percent saying they would vote for a Jew.  Since Catholics were about 25% of the population and Jews were about 3%, that suggests that among Protestants, willingness to vote for a Catholic was lower than willingness to vote for a Jew. 

In April 1960, the Gallup poll had a survey asking about hypothetical contests for President, including Kennedy vs. Nixon.  In that match, 46% said they would vote for Kennedy and 44% said Nixon.  Then they asked "As you may know, Kennedy is a Catholic in his religion.  Supposing Kennedy were NOT a Catholic—which man would you like to see win—Nixon or Kennedy?"  51% said Kennedy and 40% said Nixon.  In October 1960, they asked "AS YOU KNOW, SENATOR KENNEDY IS A CATHOLIC. HAS THIS FACT MADE YOU MORE IN FAVOR OF HIM, LESS IN FAVOR OF HIM, OR HASN'T IT MADE ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL? (Oct 1960)"  5% said more in favor and 19% said less in favor.  That is, Catholicism made a difference to voters in 1960, and it didn't take subtle techniques to detect it.

Starting in the late 1950s, Gallup also asked about voting for an atheist:

Willingness has grown, and it's now a little below willingness to vote for a Catholic or a Jew in the late 1950s.  I also show two from Time/CNN/Yankelovich surveys in the 1990s, which asked "Would you vote for a candidate for President who did not believe in God?" Those showed much lower support, although by a dictionary definition "did not believe in God" is weaker than "atheist," since it could be interpreted to include agnostics.  Unfortunately, those questions have not been repeated.  

In 2003, the question was asked about a Muslim for the first time--56% said they would.  In 2012, it was 58% and in 2015 it was 60%.  Given the short span of time and the sample sizes, it's hard to say if that's an upward trend.  In 2015, a Suffolk University/USA Today poll asked "Would you vote for a qualified Muslim for president?":  49% said they would, 40% said they would not.  

[Date from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, March 3, 2018


A lot of the coverage of Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum has talked about how this is a departure from the traditional Republican position.  For example, this story in the New York Times says  "Mr. Trump has strayed from the party’s traditional orthodoxy of embracing free and open markets," quotes Republican senators Orrin Hatch and Ben Sasse with critical remarks, and then Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) with a positive comment.  I've said it before, but it's worth saying again:  support for free trade is not a traditional Republican or conservative position.  For example, a 2008 Fortune/Abt SRBI poll asked people how they felt about a proposal to "Place high tariffs on goods coming from countries that produce low-priced goods so that American companies can compete with them."  60% of conservatives, 64% of moderates, and 57% of liberals said they were strongly or somewhat in favor.  The breakdown by party ID:  64% of Republicans, 59% of Democrats, and 66% of independents in favor.  That is, partisanship and ideology made little if any difference.

Education mattered:  68% of people with no college were in favor, compared to 52% of college graduates.  So did gender:  68% of women and 54% of men were in favor.   However, as I observed in my previous post, tariffs are pretty popular with all segments of the general public.  The groups that are strongly against them are elites, or more exactly professional and diplomatic elites, and people who listen to those elit

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Another chance?

A Pew survey finding that 58% of Republicans say that colleges and universities are having a negative effect on the way things are going has been getting a good deal of attention.  However, according to a Pew survey from 2016, there was no partisan difference among college graduates in views of of how useful their college education had been in giving them job opportunities and workplace skills (there was some difference in views about how useful it was for personal growth).  That reminded me of a post I had a few years ago about a survey that asked how important various factors were in getting ahead.  Liberals were more likely to rate "a good education" as important, while conservatives were more likely to choose hard work or saving and spending decisions.

I looked for more questions about the individual value of education, and found a CBS News survey from 2011 that asked "Would you go back to school to further your education if you could
do it for free?"  65% of those who had voted for Obama said yes, compared to 51% of those who had voted for McCain, and 79% of those who had not voted.  I thought that people who had less education would have more interest in going back to school, but there was no clear difference by educational level.  However, opinions were related to age gender, and race (older people, men, and non-Hispanic whites were less likely to say yes).  The Obama/McCain difference was still there, and just about as large, after controlling for those factors.*

So it seems like there is some ideological difference in views about the individual value of education.  That value is both economic and non-economic, but the strong negative association between age and interest in further education suggests that people were focusing on the economic benefit.  Like the survey I wrote about in my earlier post, this one suggests that people on the left are more likely to see education as important for success.  Combined with the results of the Pew survey, it seems that this is not because they think that educational institutions are more effective in teaching job skills, but presumably because they think you can make up for lack of education by other qualities.  (This happens to be something that Piketty speculated about in the talk mentioned in my previous post.)

*The Obama/non-voter difference was reduced and was not statistically significant--there's a lot of uncertainty because the number of reported nonvoters was fairly small.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The wrong question

Thomas Edsall had a piece in the New York Times asking "why democracy has failed to stem the growth of inequality."  Building on work by Thomas Piketty, he proposes that the answer can be found in the changing composition of Democratic and Republican voters.  In this account, educated people have shifted towards the Democrats because of their position on various "social issues."  Since educated people tend to have high incomes, they are not very interested in programs to help the poor:   "the highly educated constituency currently controlling the party has been ineffective in protecting the material interests of the less well off."  That means that people with low incomes have less reason to vote for the Democrats, so some of them shift to the Republicans, increasing the influence of educated voters in the Democratic party, and further weakening its support for equality.

In fact, spending to help people with low incomes has increased substantially during the period of rising inequality, as I discussed in a post in July.   The American state doesn't do as much for people with low incomes as many European states do, or as much as some people (including me) think it should, but it has "stemmed the growth of inequality" if you focus on the gap between the poor and the middle class.

The question we should be asking is why the government hasn't done much to limit the gains of those at the top.  The shift of college educated voters towards the Democrats doesn't help to answer this question.  Edsall notes that between "1988 to 2012, the inflation-adjusted income of college graduates increased by 16 percent and for those with advanced degrees by 42 percent."  However, almost all of these gains occurred before 2000--since then, average incomes at all educational levels have been flat, and only people at the very top of the income distribution have made substantial gains.  So the majority of both more and less educated people seem to have a material interest in redistributing the wealth at the top.  There has been very little discussion of why this hasn't happened, but I have considered it here and here.  One important factor is that people are not very aware of how high incomes are at the top end:  when people are asked how much the chief executive of a national corporation makes, the average estimate is only about $500,000.  The high incomes of celebrities and sports figures get a lot of publicity, but those of CEOs and people on Wall Street generally do not.  Another factor seems to be that people just don't like the idea of very high taxes on anyone (see my second paper for further discussion).  As a result, public opinion doesn't put much pressure on the government to redistribute income away from the top.  On the other side, politicians seem to be less concerned with bringing attention to business misconduct or excess than they used to--this may be because of the increased importance of corporate contributions and the chance of making a good living as a lobbyist if you lose office.  I was struck by how quickly the Equifax security breach dropped out of sight as an issue--in the 1970s or 1980s I think there would have been congressional hearings, pointed comments about the generous salaries of the people in charge and questions about what they did to justify those salaries, and calls for new regulations.  Instead it was in the news for a few days, and then everyone moved on (and Equifax stock started rising again).    This lack of publicity means companies don't face much pressure to limit the growth of top incomes.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Poor us

I July, I wrote about a question from 1999 about whether "other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States."  Agreement was substantially higher among the less educated, although it was high at all educational levels.  I have looked for later questions on the same issue and haven't found any, but I did find an earlier example, from a 1946 NORC survey.  People were asked "Do you think that this country's interests abroad are being well taken care of by the President and other government officials, or do you think other countries are taking advantage of us?"  The results by educational level:

                             care     Taken advantage    DK
Not HS grad         29%       53%                    18%
HS grad                32%       58%                    10%
Some college        40%       50%                    11%
College grad         51%       38%                    11%

Less educated people were substantially more likely to think we were being taken advantage of.  This wasn't a reflection of party loyalty:  the president in 1946 was a Democrat (Truman), and at that time less educated people were more likely to be Democrats. 

There was an open-ended question about which countries were taking advantage of us.  The most popular answers were the Soviet Union and Great Britain--for those countries, and most of the others, there was no clear difference by education.  They coded some answers as "all of them, that can--all of Europe,"  and less educated people were substantially more likely to give that answer.  You could say that a substantial number of less educated  people thought that someone was taking advantage of us, but weren't sure who it was.

Although 1946 was a long time ago, this attitude still seems to be common.  It's certainly a major element in Donald Trump's world-view.  I recently discovered the Trump Twitter Archive, which includes almost all of Trump's tweets since 2009.  There are a large number along these lines:

"Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect—and much worse.”  (2012)

"When will our nation's sacrifices  be respectfully appreciated? Iraq and Libya should reimburse us in oil." (2011)

"Boycott Mexico until they release our Marine. With all the money they get from the U.S., this should be an easy one. NO RESPECT!" (2014)  He was referring to an ex-Marine who had been convicted of bringing loaded guns into Mexico, a violation of their laws).

"Now a small country like Sudan tells Obama he can't send any more Marines.  We are a laughing stock."  (2012)

It's possible that the belief that your country is being taken advantage of is a general part of nationalism, but I believe that it's especially strong in the United States.  Our self-image is of being generous--helping to rebuild Germany and Japan after the Second World War, welcoming immigrants, trying to promote democracy.  The flip side of that is a feeling that other nations don't appreciate our sacrifices or are taking advantage of our good nature.  I think Trump's appeal to this sentiment helps to explain his support in the "working class" (ie less educated people). 

PS:  The Trump Twitter Archive also helps to show why his "economic populism" faded so quickly--it didn't exist until he started running for office.  Up through 2014, his tweets on economic issues were standard conservative stuff--government spending is too high, deficits "will turn America into Greece," the " Fed's recklessness is going to lead to record inflation."  Even after that, he didn't have that many tweets about departures from orthodoxy.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]