Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Social desirability bias for survey questions on race

Social desirability bias is the tendency for individuals to avoid answering survey questions in a way that might be looked upon unfavourably by others. It often impacts questions on issues such as race, religion and immigration. Looking at data from the CBS/NYT poll that I mentioned in my last post, I discovered quite an interesting example of social desirability bias. The poll included the following question on race relations in the US:
In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?
I recoded the variable so that respondents answering "too much" were distinguished from those answering either "about right" or "too little". Crucially, the poll also included the race of the interviewer for each individual respondent. Thus, I investigated social desirability bias by examining the effect of having a black interviewer on white respondents' answers to the above question on race relations. 

The table below shows coefficients from linear probability (i.e., OLS) models of believing that too much has been made of the problems facing black people. The sample is restricted to whites (who in any case comprised the vast majority of respondents). The value in the left-hand column indicates that whites with a black interviewer were 15 percentage points less likely to answer "too much" than whites with a white interviewer. And the values in the other columns indicate that this effect remains unchanged when controlling for a range of socio-demographic characteristics. 

15 percentage points is arguably a fairly large difference. Indeed, 38% of whites with a white interviewer answered "too much", whereas only 23% of whites with a black interviewer did so.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Americans who can correctly define 'socialism' view it less positively

A couple of days ago, The Federalist published a long article entitled 'Why So Many Millenials are Socialists', the main explanation being that relatively few millenials seem to understand what socialism is. To investigate whether, in general, Americans with a better understanding of socialism view it more or less positively, I examined data from a poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times in April of 2010. 

Respondents were asked the question, "When someone says the country is moving toward socialism, what does that mean to you?" The correct (and modal) answer, given by 37% of respondents, was "government ownership of the means of production". The most-frequently given wrong answers were: "redistribution of wealth" (9%), "taking rights away from people" (9%), and "a bad thing" (4%). Unfortunately, the CBS/NYT poll did not ask respondents for their view on socialism. 

Happily, however, a Reason/Rupe poll from August 2014 did ask respondents for their view on socialism. (Since the two polls surveyed completely different individuals, it is only possible to conduct an analysis at the aggregate level.) Percentages with a positive and negative view of socialism were reported for various different socio-demographic groups: whites, blacks, Republicans, Democrats, etc. Accordingly, I calculated the percentage giving the correct definition of 'socialism' for each of those same socio-demographic groups, using the CBS/NYT poll (sampling weights were applied in order to attain representativeness).

For example, 29% of whites in the Reason/Rupe poll had a positive view of socialism, and 43% of whites in the CBS/NYT poll gave the correct definition of 'socialism'; 55% of blacks in the Reason/Rupe poll had a positive view of socialism, and 15% of blacks in the CBS/NYT poll gave the correct definition of 'socialism'. The two charts below plot percentage giving the correct definition of 'socialism' against: respectively, percentage with a positive view of socialism, and percentage with a negative view of socialism.

In both cases, there is a very strong relationship. Socio-demographic groups who are better at defining 'socialism' are less likely to view it positively, and are more likely to view it negatively. The correlations (controlling for group fixed-effects) are: r = –.85 and r = .86, respectively. Of course, since the various groups overlap with one another, and are therefore not at all independent, these figures should be interpreted with considerable caution. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Big business is overwhelmingly pro-EU

YouGov recently ran a poll of business leaders' stance on the European Union. Interestingly, and consistent with previous findings, there was a huge gap between small business and big business. Among, SMEs, 42% answered "leave" and 47% answered "remain". By contrast, among FTSE companies, only 7% answered "leave" while 93% answered "remain". 

One interpretation of these results is that leaving the EU would be bad for Britain's largest businesses, and would therefore be deleterious to the economy as a whole––large businesses, though small in number, account for a disproportionate share of both output and employment. Another interpretation, however, is that large businesses tend to support the EU because they can use it to gain special privileges at the expense of their competition. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Left-wing euroscepticism: Tony Benn's 1974 letter to his constituents

Euroscepticism is widely regarded as a conservative position. Indeed, in the most recent YouGov poll, only 30% of Conservatives and only 2% of UKIP supporters said the UK should remain in the European Union, compared to 60% of Labour supporters, 63% of Lib Dems, and 69% of other voters (mostly Greens and SNP supporters). Nonetheless, as I have noted before, there are and have been many prominent left-wing eurosceptics. One such eurosceptic was the late Tony Benn. 

I just came across a letter that Benn sent out to his constituents in December of 1974, prior to the upcoming 1975 referendum on Britain's membership of the common market. One particular quote caught my eye (emphasis in original):
But we must recognise that the European Community has now set itself the objectives of developing a common foreign policy, a form of common nationality expressed through a common passport, a directly elected assembly, and an economic and monetary union which, taken together, would in effect make the United Kingdom into one province of a Western European State. The communiqué issued after the recent Paris summit makes these objectives clear.  
Britain's continuing membership of the Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation and the end of our democratically elected Parliament as the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom.
Benn reiterated his euroscepticism at the Oxford Union in 2013: "They're building an empire there, and they want us to be a part of that empire, and I don't want that".