Tag Archives: Pew Research

Hopeful Signs

During some twenty years on a university faculty, I learned to appreciate the vast differences in the reliability of research, especially survey research. It isn’t simply the “garbage” studies that are promoted by partisans of one sort or another–even serious efforts at determining attitudes and beliefs of particular populations run into problems with the way in which questions are posed and the selection of representative respondents, among other minefields.

Carefully crafted, reliable surveys require skilled researchers (they’re also very expensive), so we need to look carefully at the source of data coming from survey researchers. One of the most skilled, reliable and reputable of such sources is Pew Research–which is why I was so heartened by a recent study Pew published, showing that the electorate is shifting — and not in the Republican Party’s favor.

As The Week reported:

A new deep dive into the 2020 electorate by Pew Research contains mostly bad news for Republicans, whose approaching demographic doom is less racial than it is generational. While it shouldn’t be news to anyone at this point that young voters are a solidly blue voting bloc, the more worrisome developments for the GOP are the unexpectedly elderly nature of the party’s coalition and the unyielding Democratic lean of younger voters as they age. If Pew’s numbers are to be believed, the only solidly Republican age demographic last year was 75 and over, meaning that every time the sun comes up, the GOP’s struggle to win a majority of American voters gets harder.

Pew’s in-depth study uses validated voter files – matching panelists to a registration database confirming whether or not they turned out – to offer a different, and possibly more accurate, view of the electorate than the exit polls taken on Election Day. Often this new data can challenge narratives that set in stubbornly and immediately after the votes are counted – in 2016, for example, Pew’s research found that Donald Trump won white women by a considerably smaller margin than Election Day surveys indicated, upending one prevailing story about who was most responsible for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss.

Some of the ways in which Pew’s findings differed from the arguably less-precise findings of exit polls included the extent of Trump’s inroads with Latino and Black voters (he did somewhat better with Latinos and worse with Blacks than previously reported) and the fact that he did not win married men by 11 points–in fact, Pew found that married men went for Biden by 5.

But it was the age numbers that I found most hopeful. Exit polls had shown Biden winning 18- to 29-year-olds by 24 points, 60-36; Pew found it at a similar, albeit slightly smaller 58-38. Exit polls also showed Trump with just a 52-47 edge among voters over 65, and Pew’s numbers were almost identical – 52-48 for Trump over Biden.

Pew also broke the survey down into not just age groups but generational cohorts. And it’s here where you’ll find the most terrifying information for the GOP. According to Pew, Trump won a decisive majority only with members of the “Silent Generation,” those born between 1928 and 1945 (and the extremely tiny number of living people older than that). Trump dominated that cohort by 16 points, 58-42. That means that the only reliably Republican voter bloc will shrink considerably between now and 2024, and that 65- to 74-year-olds must have been a much more blue-leaning group in 2020 to produce Trump’s comparatively narrow 4-point margin with all over-65s.

As the article notes, you don’t need a degree in actuarial science to know that 65- to 74-year-olds will be around considerably longer than 75- to 102-year-olds.

Perhaps even worse for former President Trump and his acolytes, the Pew data showed little erosion in the millennial preference for Democrats over Republicans. Fifty-six percent of millennials voted for Clinton in 2016, and 58 percent voted for Biden in 2020. Remember, the first millennials voted in 2002, and as a group they simply have not budged. “Elder millennials” are turning 40 this year and they don’t love the Republican Party any more than they did when George W. Bush was lighting several trillion dollars on fire prosecuting a pointless war in Iraq. And that’s terrible news for the GOP’s hopes of ever becoming a majority party again, because if they keep losing the youngest voters by double digits election after election, they need a significant number of them to get more conservative as they age just to hold current margins in place.

This is all good news–in the long run. Even in the medium run.

The task for those of us who are terrified by the GOP’s current efforts to win elections by cheating–gerrymandering, vote suppression, placing unethical partisans in positions to oversee elections, etc.–is to work our fannies off to keep them from destroying democracy in the short run.

 

 

Alternate Realities

If we needed a reminder that today’s Republicans and Democrats occupy very different realities, Pew recently provided it.

The Pew Research Center fielded one of its periodic surveys, asking Americans to identify the issues facing the country that they considered most pressing. A majority of Democrats identified gun violence, health care affordability, the coronavirus outbreak and racism as very big problems facing the country today. Each of those issues was identified by two-thirds or more of Democrats and Democratic leaners.

But far fewer Republicans saw these issues as major problems.  The closest they came was the four-in-ten Republicans who did identify health care affordability; approximately two-in-ten rated the coronavirus and gun violence as big problems.

The extent to which climate change and economic inequality are viewed as very big problems is similarly split along partisan lines. About six-in-ten Democrats say each of these are very big problems, while just 21% of Republicans say economic inequality is a very big problem and even fewer (14%) say this about climate change.

By contrast, illegal immigration and the federal budget deficit are the top problems identified by Republicans. About seven-in-ten say both of these are very big problems for the country. Only about three-in-ten Democrats identify these issues as very big problems

It isn’t hard to see the influence of partisanship in these responses. Pew reports that Republicans today are 40 percentage points more likely than Democrats to say the deficit is a very big problem, a finding that–among other things– is in stark contrast to the numbers who said so during the Trump Administration, when there wasn’t a partisan split on that issue. Evidently, deficits incurred when Republican Presidents cut taxes on the wealthy aren’t as worrisome as deficits caused by Democratic Presidents spending on pandemic relief and infrastructure.

It is stating the obvious to say that government cannot solve a problem it fails to properly diagnose. We have evidently reached a point in our political lives where Americans refuse to see problems that are at all inconsistent with their political identities–so people who embrace so-called “Second Amendment” liberties don’t see the steady toll of mass shootings (not to mention the consistent loss of life attributable to suicide by gun) as a big problem.

What is truly difficult to understand is the survey’s finding that only 14% of Republicans identify climate change as a problem. This, in the face of dramatic increases in damaging weather events, out-of-control fires attributable to unusually severe droughts, rising sea levels and other evidence that is widely reported and just as widely attributed to climate change– and that increasingly affects the daily lives of ordinary Americans.

The fact that members of the GOP don’t consider income inequality a problem is more understandable, if equally unforgivable. After all, Republican policy preferences have caused that inequality.

It also isn’t surprising that Republicans named immigration as a “big problem.” For many of them, immigration these days equates to the entry of people of color, hastening the time when White Americans are no longer in the majority. Democrats who consider immigration a problem generally define the problem differently; for them, the problem is a dysfunctional system that takes far too long, is difficult to administer, and is unfair to categories of would-be immigrants.

The Pew survey illustrates what most observers already know: Republicans and Democrats no longer simply disagree about the policies needed to solve our problems. They occupy different realities, in which the identity and severity of the nation’s problems are starkly different.

No wonder our political system is gridlocked.