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.