Saturday, June 24, 2017

Now for some speculation

According to exit polls, Donald Trump got 67% of the vote among whites without a college degree in 2016, which may be the best-ever performance by a Republican (Reagan got 66% of that group in 1984).  What explains Trump's support among less educated voters?  One popular idea is that he cared about them, or at least gave them the impression that he cared.  The popularity of this account has puzzled me, because it's not even superficially plausible.  Every other presidential candidate I can remember tried to show empathy by talking about people they had met on the campaign trail, or tough times they had encountered in their past, or how their parents taught them to treat everyone equally.  Trump didn't do any of that--he boasted about how smart and how rich he was.

A variant is that Democrats drove "working class" voters away by showing contempt for them.  This is more plausible, but raises the question of whether Democrats showed that much more contempt in 2016 than in 2012, 2008, 2004, etc.  That seems like a hard case to make--at any rate, I haven't heard anyone try to make it.  

So why are these explanations so popular?  My hypothesis is that it's because American society has become a lot more socially egalitarian over the last 60 years or so. Educated people don't want to be thought of as snobs or elitists, and less educated people are less likely to think they should "improve themselves" by emulating the middle class.  At one time, you could say that Democrats thought of themselves as the party of the common people, and Republicans thought of themselves as the party of successful people.  Now both parties think of themselves as the party of the common people, plus the fraction of the elites who care about or understand the common people.  The result is that people are attracted to an explanation that is more flattering to the "working class."  When thinking about this, it occurred to me that I've seen many books and articles on how the Republicans can win over working-class voters, but nothing on how they can win back the kind of educated people who used to vote Republican. That is, gaining working-class voters is thought of as a more worthy goal than gaining middle class voters.   

There are two possible objections to my account.  First, it's easy to point to examples of condescension and contempt today.  My reply is that there was probably always a lot of this in everyday political discussion, and that social media has just made it more visible for those who are paying attention.  A second is the recollections of people like Charles Murray (Coming Apart) and Robert Putnam (Our Kids) about how there used to be less social distance between classes.  I think that may be because they both grew up in small towns in the Midwest.  If you read something like E. Digby Baltzell's The Protestant Establishment, you get a very different picture of status differences in America.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

There must have been a reason

My last post was one of several arguing that people in general, and less educated people in particular, didn't see Donald Trump as all that interested in their problems.  What was his appeal, then?  The survey I used in my last post asked people who said that they would probably vote in a Republican primary "How confident are you in X's ability to make the right decisions about the economy--are you very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident?", and about confidence in ability to "handle an international crisis" and "make the right decisions about illegal immigration."  The questions were asked about Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. That may seem like a strange choice of candidates, but Ben Carson was the strongest rival to Trump at the time--in this survey, 27% wanted Trump to get the nomination and 21% wanted Carson.  There was no clear third--Ted Cruz had 9%, Marco Rubio 8%, Fiorina and Jeb Bush had 6% ("don't know" had 11%).  The survey also asked people about their second choice, and Carson was the leader in combined first and second choices (41%), followed by Trump (38%), with Rubio (26%) and Fiorina (20%) farther behind.  

The mean ratings by education (lower numbers mean more confidence):

                    College Grad    Not Grad 
      Trump          1.82            1.70
      Carson         1.89            1.98
      Fiorina        1.95            2.27

Intl Crisis 
      Trump          2.56            2.23
      Carson         2.14            2.09
      Fiorina        2.23            2.46

      Trump          2.13            1.87
      Carson         1.84            1.97
      Fiorina        2.06            2.46

Both college graduates and less educated voters had high confidence in Trump's ability to make the right decisions about the economy.  On the other two issues, there was a bigger split by education, with the less educated seeing Trump more favorably.  International crisis was an area of relative weakness for Trump, while immigration was one of strength.  Less educated voters had substantially less confidence in Fiorina on all three areas.

My interpretation is that Trump's appeal to less educated voters was a matter of style--they saw him as tougher and less likely to compromise than "mainstream" candidates like Fiorina.    This is almost opposite to the "Trump cared" analysis--you could say that people recognized that Trump was an s.o.b., but thought that was what the country needed.  Although these data just apply to people who said they'd vote in a Republican primary, the general point is also relevant to the general election.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Friday, June 9, 2017

Who Cared?

A few months ago, I wrote about the idea that Donald Trump appealed to less educated voters because he seemed to care about them.  I pointed out that he didn't do particularly well in surveys that asked if he "cared about people like you"--in fact, he ranked lower than almost all other recent nominees.  But the individual-level data weren't available at that time, leaving open the possibility that people with less education rated him highly.  Now the individual data for a relevant survey has been released:  a CBS News poll from early October 2015.  That survey asked "How much do you think that ___________ cares about the needs and problems of people like you--a lot, some, not much, or not at all?" for Republicans Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Democrats Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden.  Here are the average scores (4 points for a lot, 3 for some, 2 for not much, 1 not at all) for non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic whites without college degrees:

                W          NCW   
Trump          2.38      2.51
Carson         3.17      3.20
Fiorina        2.70      2.69
Clinton        2.21      2.12
Sanders        2.81      2.67
Biden          2.72      2.61

Ben Carson stands out here.  I'm not sure why--maybe it was having grown up in poverty, maybe it was his calm demeanor, maybe people associate doctors with caring.  But for my purposes, the important thing is that Trump ranks fifth, ahead of only Hillary Clinton.  He did somewhat better among people without college degrees, but still ranked only fifth.

The survey also asked people if they expected to vote in a Democratic primary, a Republican primary, or didn't expect to vote in a primary.  Trump won over some non-college-educated Democrats and independents in the general election, so their perceptions are of particular interest.

                 R            D            N
Trump           2.96       1.92         2.32
Carson          3.42       2.97         2.98
Fiorina         2.87       2.41         2.36
Clinton         1.65       2.92         2.17
Sanders         2.31       3.27         2.64
Biden           2.28       3.24         2.56

Once again, Trump didn't do well--he got substantially lower scores than Carson or Fiorina among both Democrats and people who didn't support a party, although he did a little better than Fiorina among non-college-educated whites who intended to vote in a Republican primary.

What was Trump's appeal?  The survey also asked if candidates had "strong qualities of leadership," and Trump did well there.  Non-college-educated whites who didn't intend to vote in a primary rated him higher that all three Democrats and Fiorina.  Carson was equal to Trump among people who had an opinion, but had more don't knows.

It's true that voters didn't think that Hillary Clinton cared about them that much, but they didn't think that Trump cared about them that much either.  This raises the question of why many commentators think that they did.  I have no evidence on this, but I'll offer some speculations in a later post.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Cost disease or employment disease?

In his speech announcing that he's pulling the US out of the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump once again displayed his preoccupation with coal mining.  That reminded me that I had once looked up figures on coal mining since 1900.  It took several different sources, which had to be spliced together, so it's useful (at least to me) to have it in one place:

The number of coal miners (the red line) has been declining pretty steadily since 1920.  But the number of tons mined has increased.   That means that the average miner is getting more coal--that is, productivity is increasing.

There are two distinct periods of productivity growth--averaging about 1.7% a year until 1950 and 3.9% since then.  So even though coal demand has grown by an average of 1.3% a year since 1950, employment has fallen to less than 1/6 of what it was in 1950.

The economist William Baumol, who died a few weeks ago, wrote about the consequences of different rates of productivity growth for different products.  There are some services for which productivity can't grow by much--for example, anything that requires one-on-one interaction, like getting a haircut or talking to a therapist.  Those services will get relatively more expensive--not less affordable in an absolute sense, but more expensive in terms of how many tons of coal (for example) you need to pass up in order to obtain them. This is usually discussed in terms of cost--people sometimes call it the "cost disease" of the low-productivity-growth sector.  But you could also call it the "employment disease" for the fast-growth sectors--the number of workers will decline unless you manage to keep selling more and more.  This point of view is more relevant to politics--coal miners vote (sometimes), but tons of coal don't.  

I've discussed the idea that politics might shift from a rich/poor to an open/closed alignment.   I think that the "employment disease" provides another reasons that this isn't likely to happen.  To protect jobs in the fast-growth sector, you have to restrict the rate of productivity growth, and reducing economic growth will reduce the chance of re-election.  An additional point is that it will produce a split between employers and workers in that sector, as employers push for productivity growth.  But what if the poles were reversed, so that the issue was protecting employment in the slow-growth sector?  David Brooks proposed something like this (he said he was drawing on Tyler Cowan):

"On the one hand, there is the globalized tradable sector — companies that have to compete with everybody everywhere. These companies, with the sword of foreign competition hanging over them, have become relentlessly dynamic and very (sometimes brutally) efficient.
      On the other hand, there is a large sector of the economy that does not face this global competition — health care, education and government. Leaders in this economy try to improve productivity and use new technologies, but they are not compelled by do-or-die pressure, and their pace of change is slower.
In politics, we are beginning to see conflicts between those who live in Economy I and those who live in Economy II. Republicans often live in and love the efficient globalized sector and believe it should be a model for the entire society. ....  Democrats are more likely to live in and respect the values of the second sector."

I think that the problem with this analysis is that Brooks assumes that differences in productivity growth between industries all come down to competition.  But as Baumol recognized, most of the difference is from the nature of what they do.  So there's not much need to protect employment in the "second sector," and you can't make that the basis of a strong political appeal.

People sometimes say that change is coming--maybe artificial intelligence will put me out of work in a few years unless the opponents of "creative destruction" succeed in stopping it.  One answer to that is historical:  education faced an enormous technological disruption before most other parts of the economy did, and it didn't lead to a decline in employment.  As Edward Gibbon said in the late 18th century:  "It has indeed been observed, nor is the observation absurd, that except in experimental sciences . . . the many valuable treatises that have been published on every subject of learning may now supersede the ancient mode of oral instruction. . . . But there still remains a material difference between a book and a professor:  the hour of the lecture enforces attendance; attention is fixed by the presence, the voice, and the occasional questions of the professor; and the more diligent will compare the instructions which they have heard in the school, with the volumes which they peruse in their chamber."  The more general implication is that if productivity growth takes place in these services, it will be mostly in the form of letting the worker give better service, rather than serving more people.  For example, there's been substantial growth in the ability of health care professionals to do things they couldn't do before, but not in the ability to do things faster.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The ideal president

The usual explanation of why Donald Trump did well among less educated ("working class") white voters was that they are profoundly discontented and thought that he might help them with their problems.  I don't think that this fits the facts very well.  First, people are not all that discontented with the state of society, as distinct from politics.  Second, people did not see Trump as particularly concerned with "people like you" (he trailed Clinton in that respect).*  I suspect that the explanation is that a style of tough talk and not caring if you offend people is, and probably always has been, more popular among less educated people (and also among men)--they are more likely to see it as refreshing and honest rather than as evidence of unfitness.

I looked for questions about the qualities or behavior that people wanted or expected in a president, and to my surprise found only one relevant survey.  None of the questions directly involved the issue I was concerned with, but I thought they were interesting in their own right.   The introduction was:



The questions were:


The median was 50.  The most popular were 50 (32%), 45 (20%), and 55 (12%).  Only about 10% said 56 or older.


74% very Important


85% very important


83% very important


66% very important


80% very important


73% very important


44% very important

Having a college education was the one that was most widely seen as important, even ahead of attending religious services.**  People who had less education were somewhat more likely to see it as very important.

It would be interesting to repeat this survey now (of course, it would need a change to gender-neutral language).

*I haven't broken these data down by education; I hope to do that in the future.

**Harry Truman did not have a college degree, and in fact never attended an academic college (he attended a "business college" for a year after high school).  He was the last president without a college degree.  In thinking about this post, it occurred to me that his seven predecessors also had college degrees, six of them from elite institutions (Harvard for both Roosevelts, Yale for Taft, Princeton for Wilson, Stanford for Hoover, and Amherst for Coolidge).

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The owl of Minerva, part 2

One of the striking things about the 2016 election was that the gap between more and less educated voters became much bigger.  Compared to the 2012 election, less educated voters shifted towards the Republican, more educated voters towards the Democrats.  The American National Election Study asked about vote in 2012, and I used that and 2016 vote to create a six-way classification:  non-vote to Trump, Non-vote to Clinton, Obama to Trump, Obama to Clinton, Romney to Trump, Romney to Clinton.  There was a bias towards recalling a vote for Obama in 2012 (see my previous post), but my concern here is with opinion differences among the groups, and for that purpose the bias is probably not harmful.

I focused on the OC, RT, and OT groups.  Common sense suggests that the Obama-Trump group--people who voted for a Democrat once and a Republican once--will be in between the people who voted for a Democrat both times and a Republican both times.  I looked at average opinions on a lot of issues and that is generally the case.  However, there are some exceptions.  There was one on which the OT group was more "Democratic" than the Democrats:  spending on Social Security.  With 1 meaning that spending should be increased, 1.5 that it should be kept the same, and 2 that it should be reduced, the average for OC voters was 1.19, RT was 1.28, and OT was 1.15.  

There were a number for which the OT group was more "Republican" than the Republicans.  Two involved spending:  crime prevention (OT most favorable to more spending) and science and technology (OT least favorable to more spending).  Four involved "feeling thermometers" about different groups:  Jews, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, and Blacks.  On all of these, OC was most favorable, and OT least favorable.  Finally, on rating blacks has hard-working versus lazy, OT voters were more negative than RT.  

The differences on spending for Social Security and crime are consistent with what Trump said in his campaign.  He didn't say much about science and technology, but he certainly didn't give the impression that he was interested in spending more in that area.  

The differences in the feeling thermometers are more puzzling.  Trump talked a lot about illegal immigration, with an emphasis on Mexico, so lower ratings for Hispanics aren't surprising.  However, he didn't say much about blacks, and what he said implied that conditions were the result of faulty government policy rather than the fault of blacks themselves.  Some people said that he appealed to anti-Semitism, but I didn't find their examples convincing.*  I don't recall that he said anything about Asian-Americans.  A lot of people said that Trump appealed to ethnic prejudice of all kinds, and this might seem to support them.  However, the pattern didn't show up on most issues related to race and ethnicity.  For example, there was a feeling thermometer towards the Black Lives Matter movement.  OC voters were 66, RT were 22, and OT voters were in between with 37.  That is, it was only on the general ratings of groups that OT voters were more extreme.

My thought is that it has to do with what people now call "political correctness," or what used to be called "respectability":  the things people know that they are supposed to think and say.  The "respectable" position is that you should show positive feelings towards every ethnic and religious group that's part of the "American community."  But there are some people who are are prejudiced or at least feel "I'll tolerate them, but don't tell me I have to like them."  Trump was the first major party candidate in a long time who didn't care about being respectable, which would be appealing to people like that, apart from any specific statements or proposals.

*From Ian Buruma in the NY Times Magazine:  "Incendiary references to a 'global power structure' that was robbing honest working people of their wealth were illustrated by pictures of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein. Perhaps not every Trump supporter realized that all three are Jewish. But those who did cannot have missed the implications." 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

That was some uptick

I wasn't going to post again this soon, but this morning I read an interview with Heather Ann Thompson, a professor at the University of Michigan and author of a well-received new book on the 1971 uprising in Attica prison.  It reads
[interviewer] You point out not only that the war on crime was a bipartisan effort — it started with L.B.J. but grew under Nixon — but also that it wasn’t really in response to a crime uptick, as many Americans thought at the time. [Thompson] It was pure rhetoric. It was a policy choice, not a crime imperative. . . . The civil rights movement comes North, and all of a sudden, Johnson starts to sound like Bull Connor, right?

Here is a graph of the murder rate from 1960-75:

Here is motor vehicle theft, which is measured pretty accurately because there are car registration records.

For other crimes, there's more possibility of changes in reporting rates, but here are a couple of others.

Finally, here is the number of prisoners in state and federal institutions:

Putting these together, there was a large and sustained increase in crime beginning in about 1960, while the number of people in prison declined between 1960 and 1972.  Of course, Thompson is right to say that  the "War on Crime" was a policy choice; maybe there were better choices that could have been made.  But to say it "wasn't really in response to a crime uptick" is like saying the New Deal "wasn't really in response to an unemployment uptick."

Sources:  FBI Uniform Crime Reports 
Historical Statistics on Prisoners in State and Federal Institutions,Yearend 1925-86