Monday, November 23, 2015

Anxiety, Nostalgia, and Mistrust

That's the title of the latest survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. From the executive summary:
When asked what issues are most important to them personally, Americans are more likely to cite health care (63%), terrorism (62%), and jobs and unemployment (60%) than any other issue. A majority (53%) of Americans report that crime is a critical issue to them personally. Slightly fewer say the cost of education (49%), economic inequality (48%), and immigration (46%) are critical issues. Fewer Americans say that race relations (39%), climate change (34%), abortion (34%), religious liberty (31%), and same-sex marriage (25%) are critical issues.
One interesting number is that 72% of Americans think the country is still in a recession, even though in strictly economic terms the recession ended six years ago. As to what divides the parties this election season:
Strong majorities of both Democrats and Republicans name health care (71% and 61%, respectively) and jobs and unemployment (66% and 59%, respectively) as critical issues. However, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to name the cost of education (62% vs. 33% respectively) and the growing gap between the rich and the poor (62% vs. 29%, respectively) as critical issues. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to name terrorism (79% vs. 53%, respectively) and immigration (59% vs. 43%, respectively) as critical issues.
Some interesting data on who is optimistic or pessimistic about America:
Americans have become more pessimistic about the country’s future than they were just a few years earlier. Today, Americans are evenly divided over whether America’s best days are ahead of us (49%) or behind us (49%). In 2012, a majority (54%) of the public said that America’s best days were ahead, while fewer than four in ten (38%) said that they were behind. No group expresses greater pessimism about America’s future than members of the Tea Party. Only one-third (33%) of Tea Party members say that the country’s best days lie ahead, while about two-thirds (65%) say they are in the past.

Perceptions about America’s future vary by religious affiliation. Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants and white mainline Protestants are markedly more pessimistic than other groups, with majorities believing that America’s best days are behind us (60% and 55%, respectively). By contrast, majorities of Americans who are affiliated with non-Christian religions (55%), Catholics (56%), black Protestants (57%), and religiously unaffiliated Americans (58%) all believe America’s best days are ahead of us. . . .

Six in ten (60%) black Americans and a majority (54%) of Hispanic Americans believe that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s. In contrast, only 42% of white Americans agree, and 57% say that the American way of life has mostly changed for the worse over the last sixty years.

While a majority of independents (56%), Republicans (67%), and members of the Tea Party (72%) say American culture and way of life has gotten worse since the 1950s, only 40% of Democrats agree.
I think this explains American politics better than anything else. Supporters of Trump, Carson and Cruz don't care much about the details of their policies, they just feel that under its current leadership America is in catastrophic decline, and they want somebody radically different to shake things up and put us back on what they see as the right course.

One more detail:
Approximately two-thirds (65%) of white Americans say recent killings of African American men by police are isolated incidents, while about four in ten (41%) Hispanic Americans and only 15% of black Americans say the same.

More than eight in ten (81%) black Americans say recent police killings of African American men are part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans.
Fascinating that anyone could see the numbers on killings by police in America and think that the killings of black Americans are "isolated incidents." That's a lot of isolated incidents. This is a good lesson in how people's beliefs -- e.g., America is a just society -- influence their thinking on every topic.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Fascinating that anyone could see the numbers on killings by police in America and think that the killings of black Americans are "isolated incidents."

Most people never do see the numbers.

Why? I see it as a combination of not caring enough to seek them out on their own, an unwillingness to listen to parties that would cite said numbers, and a general irrational confidence that the numbers would end up being inaccurate or cherry-picked or otherwise skewed.

In general I find people hate being told facts or statistics that clash with their preconceived notions. It produces an unpleasant cognitive dissonance which they reflexively need to eliminate, and so they rationalize the implications away. Many people simply don't want to believe that there is a major flaw in how our justice system operates depending on race. So even if you confront them with the evidence, they're still highly likely to just ignore it or explain it away. Hence the prevalance of the notion of "isolated incidents".

How to combat this behavior? I'm at a loss. How do you get entire swaths of the populace to start thinking rationally, particularly about unpleasant truths they'd really rather just ignore or dismiss? There's no real productive way I can think of to try to convince them of the facts without driving them to just ignore you entirely.