Monday, July 3, 2017

It is what it is

In his speech announcing that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump said something to the effect that other countries were taking advantage of the United States.  That led me to wonder if there were any survey questions on that issue.  I found one, in a 1999 Pew survey.  People were offered two statements, "Other countries generally treat the United States about as fairly as we treat them"
"Other countries often take unfair advantage of the United States" and asked which they agreed with more.
After they made a choice, they were asked if they felt strongly.

Among people who had graduated from high school but not gone to college, about 20% agreed with the first statement and 75% with the second; among people with graduate education, 44% agreed with the first, and 50% with the second.  The item was part of a series of about 12 with the same format, covering a variety of issues.  The correlation between education and opinions on fair treatment vs. take advantage was the strongest of all items, with one exception:  whether immigrants strengthen the country or are a burden on the country.

Most analyses of Trump's appeal to less educated voters hold that it was about race, or gender, or a long period of slow wage growth.  The alternative, that it was about what he talked about--taking a hard line on immigration and following an "America first" policy--hasn't gotten much attention.  But as these questions show, there's a lot of support for those general sentiments, especially among less educated people.  Opinions on immigration have become more favorable, as I have noted, but are still mostly negative. Unfortunately the fair treatment/take advantage question has not been repeated, but  I was surprised to see how lopsided the distribution of opinions was--even among people with graduate degrees, people who thought that other countries took unfair advantage were more numerous and more likely to feel strongly about it.  Trump seems to have found a strong current of opinion that no one else had tried to appeal to.  Although comparable questions are not available for a long period of time, there is some evidence that it has been around for quite a while.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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