Hank Jones, b. July 31, 1918

July 31, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

The great jazz pianist Hank Jones was born 100 years ago today. He recorded with Bird and Diz and other beboppers, but as you can hear in this excerpt from a masterclass he gave at NYU at age 85, he never abandoned his roots in stride, especially when he was playing solo.

I saw Hank a few times in the 1980s playing duos with bassists Ron Carter or Red Mitchell at Bradley’s or The Knickerbocker in The Village. I also saw him in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the Broadway shoq based on the music of Fats Waller, Hank was the ontage pianist, and he wore a vest and derby hat like Fats. He had one line – at the end of the show, I think – Fat’s famous “One never knows, do one?”

Like other jazz musicians,* he is uncredited in what is probably his best-known performance – accompanying Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” and “Thanks for the Memories” for JFK in 1962. You can hear him and see her here.

* Other examples include Bud Shank  on “California Dreamin’”  and Phil Woods on “Just the Way You Are.”

The Paradox of Choice Shops for a Birthday Card

July 31, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Is having a large variety of items to choose from helpful for making a decision? Or, as the paradox of choice would have it, do all those options keep us from deciding and then, when we do finally make up our mind, leave us less satisfied with our choice?

In the previous post, I speculated that it depends on how deeply our ego is sunk in the thing we’re choosing. The same object may have a vastly different meaning to different people. When it comes to shopping, those differences are often strongly rooted in gender roles.

I once heard a marketing expert explain that in a greeting card store, men and women follow much different stage directions. Women will look at nearly every card in the category trying to find the absolutely right one. Men look only until they find one that seems OK, and that’s the one they buy.  It’s the same now on the Internet. Scribbler, an online British card company found that men spent about six minutes online choosing a card. Women averaged 15 minutes.

Men would probably be happier with a small number of cards to choose from. But a woman who finds only a few cards to choose from might extend her search to another store or website in order to find the perfect card. Greeting cards are not a guy thing.* Or as Emily West puts it in an article in Feminist Media Studies (here), “For many women, greeting card communication is part of a feminized habitus that includes kinship work as well as routine provisioning for the household. For men, taking an interest in greeting cards can seem like discrediting behavior for heterosexual masculinity.”

In other words, regardless of what is actually printed on the greeting card, the real message is that the giver and receiver are connected socially and emotionally. For many women, competence in that sphere matters a lot for their sense of self. Men, not so much.**

* Eighty percent of all greeting cards are bought by women.

** It always strikes me as ironic that although greeting cards signify this personal connection, we turn to an unknown and distant stranger, some Hallmark-hired Cyrano, to put these feelings into words (the “sentiment” as it’s known in the card biz)

Neckties, Self, and the Paradox of Choice

July 30, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

I was walking through Macy’s the other day – the original store, the one that occupies an entire city block at Herald Square.  On the ground floor of the men’s store (the half of the building on the Seventh Avenue side) is the departmentI called “men’s furnishings.” It was there, in men’s furnishings, that I thought of Barry Schwartz.

Schwartz is the social psychologist who in 2004 published The Paradox of Choice — Why More Is Less.

The basic idea is that while choice is good, if we have too many items to choose from, we freeze. We can’t decide. And when we finally do make a choice, we’re less likely to be satisfied with it.

It all began with jam. In 2000, psychologists Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a remarkable study. On one day, shoppers at an upscale food market saw a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam. Those who sampled the spreads received a coupon for $1 off any jam. On another day, shoppers saw a similar table, except that only six varieties of the jam were on display. The large display attracted more interest than the small one. But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display. [Barry Schwartz, “More Isn’t Always Better,” Harvard Business Review, June 2006]

It sounds reasonable. But the last time I was in a supermarket, they certainly seemed to have a lot of different jams. But what do I know? Maybe the displays are only half the size of what they were pre-Schwartz.

Back to Macy’s. What they have mostly in men’s furnishings is neckties. Table after table, each featuring a different designer or label, and each designer offering different patterns and different colors. I felt as though I were swimming in an ocean of neckties. There had to be well over a thousand different ties to choose from.

(Click to enlarge. A panoramic view of the whole floor would have shown still more tables on the left and right of this.)

Wine stores, same thing. Bottle of red, bottle of white? More like hundreds, thousands, of each. Narrow it down. Say you want a cabarnet sauvignon. You’ve still got at least a hundred to choose from.

Macy’s and my wine store have been in business for a long time. Surely they must know what they’re doing in giving the customer so many options. Call it the paradox of the paradox of choice. Or as Koen Smets (here ) says, “It’s complicated.” There are choices, and then there are choices.

People prefer fewer choices for utilitarian purchases and more choices for hedonic purchases. When we buy something only for its functional utility, we don’t want to spend much time comparing various options — whatever does the job is good enough. When we are looking for something that will give us pleasure, in contrast, our preferences are more specific and pronounced, and this makes us more demanding.

Pleasure as opposed to functional utility may be part of what makes us want more choices. But that can’t be all there is to it. Is my wine at dinner more pleasurable than my marmalade at breakfast? How much choice we want and how much time and effort we will devote to making that choice also depend on how meaningful the item is to us, how strongly it’s connected to our sense of who we are. That connection is also what makes the object pleasurable. If I think of a car as just transportation, a BMW isn’t going to give me more pleasure than does my ‘98 Honda.

I was having lunch once in Manhattan with a friend who had a business meeting that afternoon. As we were leaving the restaurant, I noticed that some of the lunch had wound up on his necktie. We weren’t far from Bloomingdale’s, whose necktie department (also on the ground floor) looks much like Macy’s only with higher prices. But on the streetcorner across from the restaurant, stood a guy selling ties from a small rack — a selection of at most a dozen. Most of them looked like all the other ties my friend owned, so he grabbed one, paid the $5, tossed his stained tie in a trash can, and put on the new one. Necktie connoisseurship was not a big component in his sense of self.

For choosing an item closely entwined with the self, more choice may mean more pleasure. What if one of the supermarket shoppers in the Iyengar*-Lepper study was really into jam. She looks at those 24 jars (What, only 24?) and imagines what each will taste like, how it will compare to others she’s had. She reads the ingredients on each label.  (Fifteen grams of sugar? Seems a bit much.). Finally, she narrows the choice and takes the quince-blueberry with a hint of thyme. On the other hand, the shoppers who just want something to smear on the kids’ PBJ sandwiches will grab the first one that looks like it’ll work. All those others just make things confusing.

* Ms Iyengar made an appearance in this blog some years ago (here), also in connection with the idea of choice. The post was called “Iyengar Management.” I couldn’t resist. And it does have anger in it.

The Tristesse of No Bonjour

July 27, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Several years ago, I went to Paris with my family. When we got out of the airport, I couldn’t find the RER, the express train from DeGaulle to Paris. I went up to a man standing on the sidewalk and asked, in French of course.

 “Bonjour,” he said.

I repeated my question. “Bonjour,” he said again, this time as if cuing a dim-witted child. I got it. “Bonjour,” I said and again asked about the RER. This time he answered.

I had chalked it up to this guy just being a stickler for formalities. But now that I’ve started reading The Bonjour Effect by Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau, I realize how wrong I was. Bonjour is not just a greeting. It’s like eye contact – a necessary start to any interaction. It acknowledges that you are in the same situation with the other person. Without bonjour, communication cannot begin.

As I read this first chapter about bonjour, I recalled a much earlier visit to Paris. I needed some Velcro to make a small repair on something. A piece of clothing? A bag? I don’t recall. A friend told me that I could find Velcro in the mercerie section of a department store.  I went to La Samaritaine and found the mercerie. Two sales girls were standing talking to each other. I stood there, waiting to be waited on. Any clerk in an American store would have turned to me and asked if she could help. But the two girls continued their conversation, facing one another and ignoring me as if I weren’t there. I can’t remember how I managed to interrupt and finally get the Velcro.*

The rudeness of the French, I thought, or at least young French women. But now, decades later, I wonder what would have happened if I had said, “Bonjour.”

Of course, it’s not just a matter of words. The bonjour requirement is the visible tip of an underlying difference in the way we think about service workers and customers and the relation between them. The definition of those roles in France is not the same as it is in America. Barlow and Nadeau explain:
When you enter a French store ore a restaurant or even walk up to an information kiosk, the first thing you have to do in France is acknowledge that you are entering their turf. That’s because you are asking for something from an employee who may have something more important to do. Whether or not that employee actually does have something better to do is not the point. You are interrupting him to ask for something. He does not owe you anything in exchange for you giving him your bounces. The French just don’t think that way. When you address a merchant or a clerk or a hostess or even a waiter, bonjour is not a word. It’s not a greeting or even a form of courtesy. Bonjour is code for “please allow me to indulge in your services.”

* The French word for Velcro, I discovered, is Velcro. It was invented by a francophone Swiss. According to Wikipedia, the word is a portmanteau of velour and crochet (hook).

Am I Blue? It Depends.

July 25, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.
   — Cole Porter
“Defining Deviancy Down” is the title of a 1993 article by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Like Cole Porter, Moynihan was arguing that behavior looked on as shocking in earlier times nowadays gets a pass. But while Cole Porter was bemused, Moynihan was deeply worried.  The subtitle of the article was “How We've Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels Of Crime and Destructive Behavior.”

Moynihan begins with two related ideas from sociology. First, norms change. Second, whether a behavior is deviant depends on how much of it there is. Society seems to need a certain amount of deviance, and when behavior changes, the norms change so as to maintain that amount. Moynihan quotes from Wayward Puritans, Erik Erikson’s classic study of deviance in colonial New England. “the number of deviant offenders a community can afford to recognize is likely to remain stable over time.”

Erikson in turn was inspired by Durkheim’s well-known quote about the necessity of deviance.*

Imagine a society of saints, a perfect cloister of exemplary individuals. Crimes, properly so called, will there be unknown, but faults which appear venial to the layman will create there the same scandal that the ordinary offense does in ordinary consciousness. If, then, this society has the power to judge and punish, it will define these acts as criminal and will treat them as such. For the same reason, the perfect and upright man judges his smaller failings with a severity that the majority reserve for acts more truly in the nature of an offense. Formerly, acts of violence against persons were more frequent than they are today, because respect for individual dignity was less strong. As this has increased, these crimes have become more rare; and also, many acts violating this sentiment have been introduced into the penal law which were not included there in primitive times.

Both Durkheim and Erikson focused on societies that defined deviance up. Durkheim’s society of saints was hypothetical, but Erikson’s was real. Those 17th -century Puritans in Salem thought of themselves, or at least their leaders, as saints. Three hundred years later in the US, a dearth of sinners was no longer the problem, as Moynihan saw it. Just the opposite. But the general proposition is the same: the amount of a behavior affects our perception of how deviant it is.

As with deviance, so with color. How blue does a dot have to be for you to say that it’s blue and not purple? The answer, according to a recent series of experiments, is that it depends. It depends on the actual color of the dot, of course. That’s what the Graph A shows. The researchers (Levari, Gilbert, Wilson, Sievers, Amodio and Wheatley) asked subjects whether a dot was blue or purple. Subjects (I hope they were well paid) had to judge 400 dots. In the graphs below, the X-axis is the degree of blueness.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)
The bluer the dot, the higher the percentage of subjects who labeled it as blue. In one version of the experiment (Graph A) the first 200 trials and the last 200 had the same proportion of blue dots. Consequently, color was everything, First 200 trials (blue line) or last 200 trials (yellow line) made no difference.
But in the other version of the experiment, in the final 200 trials, the experimenters reduced the number of really blue dots. As in the first experiment, color made a big difference. Bluer dots got a higher percent of subjects calling them blue. But the number of blue dots also affected perceptions. There was little effect for the dots that were at the ends of the spectrum — the very purple and the very blue.

But for the more ambiguous colors, the number of blue dots affect subject’s willingness to call a dot blue. I’ve added red boxes to show more clearly the difference for a single level of blueness. In the first 200 trials, less than half the subjects called those dots blue. But with fewer of those dots around, subjects were far more likely (more than 75%) to define that color as blue.

There’s something else interesting in Graph B — those five yellow data points indicating that when blue dots were scarce (the last 200 trials), even the very blue dots were not always labeled as blue. In some cases, only half the subjects saw them as blue. Apparently, when blueness (or deviance?) becomes rarer, there is less consensus on just what is and isn’t blue (or deviant).

Some of the experiments involved questions far more subjective than “Is this dot blue?” for example, “Is this research proposal ethical?” The results were similar. This tendency to define deviance up, the authors say, leads to an irony that the people involved often do not see: “well-meaning agents may sometimes fail to recognize the success of their own efforts.” Take “micro-aggressions” on campus, for example. You can see these as an important problem, one that requires constant vigilance and action. But you can also see their elevation to the status of “problem” as a sign that the more egregious bright-blue-dot forms of sexism and racism have grown scarcer.

* Somehow, the writers of the TV show “Profiler” managed to have Debbie, their sociology grad student character, completely miss Durkheim’s basic idea. See this earlier post.

Camille — a Name That’s Bucking the Trend (in France)

July 19, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Harper, Avery, Aubrey, Riley, Addison were among the most popular fifty names for girls last year. These fit a general pattern — first they are names for boys, then become acceptable and often stylish for girls.

Often, once a name has crossed the gender line, parents of boys find it less and less attractive. In an earlier post (here), I referred to this as the “there goes the neighborhood” effect. The lower-status group (in this case girls) move in, the higher-status group leaves. And they don’t come back.

Here’s Aubrey:

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

It doesn’t always happen that way, maybe not even most of the time. Charles Seguin has graphed several names, and in many cases the popularity of the name for boys increases even as the name grow popular for girls.

(Click on an image for a larger view.
The lines don’t go in opposite directions, and are often closely parallel, popularity rising and falling for girls and boys and roughly the same time. But in every case — 27 names in all (I did not copy the other two of Seguin’s graphs)  — once the name becomes more frequent for girls, once the blue line crosses to be above the red line, game over. Girls with that name continue to outnumber boys. (Seguin’s paper is here.)

Things may be different in France, at least for one name. Baptiste Coulmont this week tweeted a graph of the name Camille. I know of only three French Camilles, two male — the Impressionist (or is it post-Impressionist?) artist Pissaro and the composer Saint-Saens, both born in the 1830s – and one female, sculptor Camille Claudel, sister of poet Paul Claudel, mistress of Rodin, born in 1864. (I know about her only because I saw the 1988 film with Isabel Adjani.)

Coulmont graphs the ratio of girl Camilles to boy Camilles. Through the first half of the 20th century, the name was twice as popular for boys. Then that relative poularity reverses until, by the turn of this century, there are 15 times as many girl babies given that name. But after 2000, the trend reverses towards boys just as rapidly as it had 30 years earlier for girls. The girl-boy ratio falls from 15:1 to 2:1.

Here is the graph showing frequqencies.

As might be expected, as the popularity of Camille among girls soared, the name lost popularity among boys, falling by 50% over the course of the 1990s. But then came the unusual reversal. As the name lost favor for girls, in rebounded among boys.  Why are French boys returning to the Camille neighborhood as the girls flee? Coulmont does not offer any explanation, only the data. I don’t know enough about current French culture to speculate. For the few other androgynous French names I could find — Dominique, Claude, Yannick — the trends in popularity go in the same directions, separated sometimes by a few years. Camille is unique.

Multiple Negatives and Believable Lies

July 17, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

At Language Log (here ), Mark Liberman posted this sentence from a CNN interview with Michael Hayden, CIA director in the Bush 43 administration, about the Mueller investigation.
I would not be surprised
if this were not the last indictment we see
that- that doesn't mention
an American

[emphasis addded]
Does this statement mean that Hayden thinks more Americans will be indicted?

Jake Tapper quickly translated
so in other words there will be another indictment, and you think there'll be Americans involved
Oh those multiple negatives, cancelling each other out. Hayden has three nots.

You have to cut Hayden some slack. He was speaking extemporaneously. But what about writers? I’ve blogged before about problem of multiple negatives in multiple-choice test questions and even the GSS (here).

In today’s New York Times, Mark Landler (here) matches Hayden’s three-in-a-sentence construction. Here’s the second paragraph of Landler’s piece.

Mr. Trump’s declaration that he saw no reason not to believe President Vladimir V. Putin when he said the Russians did not try to fix the 2016 election was extraordinary enough. But it was only one of several statements the likes of which no other president has uttered while on foreign soil. [emphasis added]

I won’t say that Landler’s sentence is not less than incomprehensible. And maybe “Trump said he found Putin’s statement believable” is imprecise and overstates Trump’s credulity. Maybe — but not by much. Here’s what Trump said,

My people came to me, Dan Coats [Director of National Intelligence] came to me and some others, they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. . .  So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

Trump does not use multiple negatives. That may be because they pose problems of logic for the speaker, not just the listener. But whatever the reason, this avoidance may be one of the things that fosters the impression that he is a “straight talker.” What he says on a topic may change from one day to the next, but when he voices his view of the day, he states in absolute terms – no reservations, no qualifications.

Double negatives are ambiguous. If we say that someone is “not unfriendly,” we leave open the entire spectrum. from  “possibly somewhat friendly” to “absolutely the friendliest person in the world,” as Trump might put it, especially if he were talking about himself. Trump’s world has no ambiguity. Things that are not good are the worst. Things that are good are the greatest.

Maybe Putin’s denials to Trump about election meddling were similarly uncomplicated — no multiple negatives — allowing Trump to ascribe to Putin’s lies the same credibility that conservatives in the US give to Trump’s lies.

UPDATE:  The press conference happened yesterday. Today Trump issued a clarification that reinforces my point that he doesn’t know how to state ideas involving multiple negatives. In the press conference Monday, on the matter of who was responsible for the hacking and other meddling in the election, Trump said, “ I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Today, Tuesday, Trump corrected himself, reading from a script probably written by Stephen Miller:  “I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’. The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative,”

He’s probably lying about what he meant to say. But even if he’s telling the truth, he’s saying that the logic of that double negative is a bit too complicated for him, which is why he couldn’t speak it correctly at the time.

A Behavioral Econ Lab Is Not a Restaurant

July 16, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Great title for an article
We should totally open a restaurant:
How optimism and overconfidence affect beliefs
It will be in the August issue of the Journal of Economic Psychology. The link popped up in my Twitter feed this morning.

No, the failure rate for restaurants is not 90% in the first year as a 2003 American Express ad claimed. But most restaurants don’t make it to three years. So it’s only natural to ask about the people who think that their new restaurant will be among those that beat the odds. This was an article I wanted to read.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the article was not at all about people who started up a restaurant. True, the word restaurant appears 13 times in the article, plus another seven if you include restauranteur [sic – the preferred term is still restaurateur, no n]. But the data in the article is a from a laboratory experiment where subjects try to guess whether a ball drawn from an urn will be white or black. No chefs brilliant but overweaning, no surly waitstaff, no price-gouging suppliers, no unpredictable customers, no food, and no location, location, location. Just opaque jars with white balls and black balls.

The procedure is too complicated to summarize here – I’m still not sure I understand it – but the authors (Stephanie A. Hegera and Nicholas W. Papageorge) want to distinguish, as the title of the article says, between optimism and overconfidence. Both are rosy perceptions that can make risky ventures seem less risky. Optimism looks outward; it overestimates the chances of success that are inherent in the external situation. Optimism would be the misperception that most restaurants survive for years and bring their owners wealth and happiness. Overconfidence, by contrast, looks inward; it is an inflated belief in one’s own abilities.

Both in the lab and probably in real life, there’s a strong correlation between optimism and overconfidence. People who were optimistic also overestimated their own abilities. (Not their ability to run a restaurant, remember, but their ability to predict white balls.) So it’s hard to know which process is really influencing decisions.

The big trouble is that the leap from lab to restaurant is a long one. It’s the same long leap that Cass Sunstein takes in using his experiment about “blaps” to conclude that New York Times readers would not choose a doctor who was a Republican. (See this earlier post.)

The Hegera-Papageorge article left me hungry for an ethnography about real people starting a real restaurant. How did they estimate their chances of success, how did they size up the external conditions (the “market”), and how did they estimate their own abilities. How did those perceptions change over time from the germ of the idea (“You know, I’ve always thought I could . . .”) to the actual restaurant and everything in between — and what caused those perceptions to change? On these questions, the lab experiment has nothing to say.

But you’ve got to admit, it’s a great title. Totally.

Minority Rule, the Legitimacy of Courts, and a Penny Bet

July 12, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s almost certain that the Republicans in the Senate will confirm Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. And when they do, they will speak glowingly about democracy and convince themselves that they are carrying out the will of the people.

In 2006, I was having coffee at Zabar’s café one morning with a conservative I knew. We were talking about Bush’s nomination of Alito to the Supreme Court. The Democrats were wrong to oppose Alito, said my coffee companion, because most Americans wanted him confirmed. (He also said that those who opposed Alito were “disloyal,” but that’s another matter.)

As Robin Hanson says, a bet is a tax on bullshit, so by way of calling bullshit on him, I offered him a bet — a penny bet.

“When the Judiciary Committee votes on Alito,” I said,”some will vote for him, others will vote against. America is a democracy. Our senators are elected democratically. So I’ll give you a penny for every person who voted for the senators who vote for Alito. Then you give me back a penny for every person who voted for the senators who vote against.” I offered him the same bet for when the full Senate would vote on the nomination.

He declined my offer. He may have been deluding himself about what the American people wanted, but he wasn’t stupid enough to take the bet.

I’d love for someone to take this same penny bet on Kavanagh. After all, the Republican senators outnumber the Democrats 11-10 . But if the vote goes along party lines, I’ll walk away with nearly $80,000. Another penny bet on the full Senate would add about $20,000.

Far more important than my potential $100K windfall, is the issue of legitimacy.

In December 2000, the Supreme Court ruled against Al Gore, halted the Florida recount, and gave the presidency to George W. Bush.. The majority of the justices had been appointed by Republican presidents (including one appointed by Bush’s father). The next day, Gore made a speech saying that while he disagreed with the Court’s decision, he accepted it. He was upholding the legitimacy of the Court and the president-elect. Can anyone imagine Trump doing anything like that?

The Court, like other political institutions is losing the confidence of the American people, at least according to Gallup.

I’m not sure whether surveys like Gallup are measuring reactions that are specific to the Court or just a more general feeling about government. But the current and future Court provides ample material for questions of legitimacy. Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, and his first Court appointment, Gorsuch, was made possible through an unprecedented and blatantly political maneuver by Mitch McConnell, whose party represented a minority of voters as it will when it confirms Kavanagh.

What will happen to the Court’s legitimacy if Trump’s appointees wind up ruling on cases directly involving Trump that emerge from the Mueller investigation?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to Me . . . Or Not

July 8, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I wondered why Republican women surveyed by Pew saw Donald Trump as having “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of respect for women. One of the explanations I didn’t consider is that people don’t always answer the question that researchers are asking. The Pew survey asked dozens of questions. Several were about respect — how much respect does Trump have for women, men, Blacks, Hispanics, Evangelicals, and more. Others asked how believable Trump is, whether he keeps his business interests separate from his presidential decisions, whether he respects democratic institutions. (Results from the survey are here.)

But maybe to the people being interviewed, these were all the same question: Trump – good or bad?

Claude Fischer blogged recently (here) about this difference between questions researchers think they are asking and the questions people are actually responding to. Sometimes people give incorrect answers to basic factual questions. But it’s not that these respondents are ignorant.

an interesting fragment of respondents treat polls not as a quiz to be graded on but as an opportunity for what survey scholars have termed “expressiveness” and partisan “cheerleading.”

I would broaden this kind of poll responding to include “self-presentation” or, more simply, “sending a message.” That is, there are respondents who treat some factual questions not as chances to show what they know but as chances to tell the interviewer, or data analyst, or reader, or even themselves something more important than facts.

If expressing feelings or sending a message underlie people’s responses to factual questions, those same purposes should have even more importance when it comes to subjective judgments, like whether Trump has a lot of respect for women.

Fischer seems to side with the “sending a message” explanation. But that phrase suggests, to me at least, an intention to have some specific effect. For example, proponents of harsher criminal penalties claim that these will “send a message” to potential criminals. The obvious corollary is that these punishments will have an actual effect – less crime.

When pollsters call me, I’m often tempted to send a message. I consider what the implications of my answer will be when it’s reported in the survey and how that might affect politicians’ decisions. I’m even tempted to lie on demographic questions (age, income, party affiliation). Maybe my preferences will swing more weight coming from a young Independent.

But my hunch is that in most of the Pew questions about respect, people are not trying to influence policy. They’re just expressing a global feeling about Trump. The message, as Fischer says, is that they want others to know how they feel.        

Which is it — a deliberate strategy or an expression of sentiment? The trouble is that the only way to know what people are thinking when we ask them whether Trump respects women is to ask them and to listen to their answers instead of giving them four choices and then moving on to the next question. That is the great limitation of questionnaire surveys.

Flashback Friday — Wynette v. Franklin

July 6, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Ten years ago, I blogged (here) about “Stand By Your Man,” the country-and-Western classic song by Tammy Wynette. I didn’t use the phrase “false consciousness” but I should have. The lyrics document the ills that women suffer at the hands of men, but then, instead of urging women to rethink their roles and expectations, the song tells them to uphold the system – and the man – that is the cause of their heartbreak. (Here’s a link to Ms Wynette lip synching to her own recording of the song.)

I flashed back to that post today when I saw the results of a recent Pew survey. One of the questions asked. “How much does Donald Trump respect women?. Pew offered respondents these choices:
a great deal               
a fair amount                   
not too much
none at all
Men were more likely than women to say Trump respected women. Three-fourths of men put him in the positive categories (“a great deal,” “a fair amount”). Less than half the women were so sanguine. That’s no surprise. But among women who identified themselves as Republicans, nearly three-fourths said that Trump respected women. They were split nearly evenly between the two favorable categories.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Is this merely motivated perception? Have these women, once they’ve decided for whatever reason to support Trump, then selected the details from his biography that seem to show respect for women and ignored or discounted the rest?

Do these women have a definition of respect that is different from that of their more liberal sisters? If so, what is it? I confess I am not familiar with the research on this. Do Arlie Hochschild  or Katherine Cramer tell us how these women see the world and how they see men like Trump?

Or is this perception that Trump respects women the same old “Stand By Your Man” consciousness that Tammy Wynette was singing about a half-century ago? After all, Trump does embody those two staples of country songs – lyin’ and cheatin’.  Are these women willing to accept whatever the man does and find in it some sign of respect? Contrast that with Aretha, first issuing a demand for that respect and then, just to make sure the man cannot misunderstand, clearly spelling it out.

Proud? Maybe Just Not Right Now

July 4, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

“America’s the best country in the world,” says Noam Chomsky. His writings are unfailingly critical of US government policy, so interviewers tend to ask him why he doesn’t go live somewhere else. That’s his answer.

More and more Americans are coming to share that ambivalence. A Gallup poll released two days ago shows that less than half of us are “extremely proud” to be an American.

(Click on an image for a larger view.)

The attacks of 2001 are probably the reason for the increase of pride in the next few years after 9/11, and the war in Iraq might have had something to do with the decline in pride as the futility of that war became evident in the mid-2000s. Interestingly, the financial collapse and great recession had no perceptible impact on national pride.

It’s tempting to blame the current low ebb of pride on Trump. The “extremely proud” percent has fallen five points since he was elected. But it also fell five points in the last years of the Obama presidency.  And in both periods, the decline was greatest among Democrats, whose “extremely proud” percent fell 11 points in Obama’s last three years and another 13 points since Trump was elected.

Does this mean that Democrats don’t love their country? Another recent poll (USA Today / Ipsos) takes a more nuanced approach to try to separate the general feeling of pride from the temporary feeling of shame for one’s country when that country is led by a shameless president. So the poll also asks respondents whether they agree or disagree with the statement, “I am proud of America right now.”       

There’s a big difference. While 72% are proud to be an American, only 42% agree that they are proud of America right now. And almost as many (39%) flat out disagree. The survey breaks this down by political party.

No surprise that Republicans are most proud on both questions. And as in many surveys, Independents are closer to Democrats than to Republicans. But even among Republicans, the current reality doesn’t come close to their ideal. There’s an 18-point gap between their American pride and their pride in America right now.

The survey has further breakdowns by gender, age, and other demographic and political variables. It also asks respondents to rate a variety of people (Trump, Pelosi, McCain, et al.), classes of people (nurses, bankers, actors) and things (the Second Amendment, respect for authority, etc.) as representing the best or worst of America.  (You can get all the data here. )

The variable that consistently produces the widest differences is which news source the person most trusts. Here, for example, is the breakdown on the pride questions.

Fox viewers are more than twice as likely to be proud right now. Similar or even larger differences separate Foxists from CNN and network TV in their best-worst ratings on issues like respect for authority and not protesting, being uncompromising in your beliefs, having secure borders, believing in God, and several others. 

Bureaucrats a Conservative Can Love

July 2, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston

Conservatives don’t like bureaucracy. They utter the word “bureaucrat” with the same sneering tone they use for “liberal” or “feminist.” They hate regulations and red tape.

But there’s something they hate even more – poor people. Well, not exactly. What they hate is the idea that some poor person somewhere might be getting food or medical care that he of she does not “deserve.”

So the Trump administration is allowing states to impose work requirements on people who get Medicaid. The assumption is that hordes of able-bodied people who could be working are idly whiling away their time in unproductive self-indulgence. We should not reward this indolence by giving them free medical care.

The reality of the lives of poor people on Medicaid is, of course, far from this image of dolce far niente. Most of them work. But under the work requirements, they will have to go through the bureaucratic process of documenting that they are employed. Those who can’t negotiate the red tape will lose their health coverage even though they were working. How many such people will there be, and how many freeloading idlers will be kicked off Medicaid?

Those are the questions that the Kaiser Foundation answers in its recent report (here). The answer is that most of the people who will lose coverage will lose it because of the paperwork, not because they failed to meet the work requirement.

Kaiser made estimates of what would happen in each of four scenarios – the cells in this 2 x 2 table. The top and bottom row are the high and low estimates of the percent of Medicaid recipients the work rules are aimed at — people who would lose coverage because they failed to find work (or some substitute like being in a job training program or volunteering). The Kaiser estimates are based on what happened when states imposed work requirements on people who received welfare (TANF) or food stamps (SNAP).

The columns are the low and high estimates of the collateral damage — people who really did meet the work requirement but who would lose coverage because they were not able to complete all the necessary paperwork each month (things like documenting the number of hours worked).

Even under the most favorable scenario, the people who are “disenrolled” for bureaucratic reasons outnumber those who are disenrolled because they didn’t work. – 62% to 38%.

The work requirement and the bureaucratic requirements surrounding it seem to assume that poor people have, or should have, a “job” – a regular place of long-term employment — the kind of job that middle-class people have.* In fact, the great majority of Medicaid recipients do work. But the work that poor people get is often temporary. In retail, food-service, and construction, hours are irregular and uncertain. Turnover is high. In a bad month, a low-wage worker may work less than the 80 hours required, and consequently lose benefits.

As for administrative costs, Kaiser says this:

States implementing work requirements will likely have to design new systems to reflect changes in eligibility rules, to enable enrollees to report compliance, to interface with other programs (such as SNAP, TANF, or employment training), to implement coverage lock-out periods, and to exchange eligibility information among the state, enrollment broker, health plans, and providers. New staff may be required to conduct beneficiary education, develop notices, evaluate and process exemptions, and review more applications as churn increases and enrollees appeal coverage lockout periods.

More money spent on more bureaucrats and more red tape. You’d think that conservatives would rise up and shout “No!” But the states that are most eager to impose work requirements are the states dominated by conservative governments — Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, and others.**

Sure bureaucracy and bureaucrats are bad, but apparently, if we can keep even one undeserving poor person from getting Medicaid, then all the bureaucratic regulations we impose on people and all the bureaucrats we pay to enforce all these new regulations, will have been worth it. Who cares if a few of the deserving poor are discomfited? How many of them could there be anyway among all these freeloaders getting Medicaid? The answer is: a lot, far more than the number of freeloaders.

* Arkansas even assumes that poor people have broadband access. The state is requiring that Medicaid recipients submit their forms online. No in-person, no phone, no snail mail.

** Conservatives have a similarly flexible view of federal budget deficits.