Notes on a Theory…

Thoughts on politics, law, & social science

Black and White Americans are Most Concerned About Jobs and Poverty, But Also Other Things

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According to Wesley Lowery , Black Americans now see race relations as nation’s most important problem. Read past the headline, and you learn that actually, ‘race relations’ is tied with ‘unemployment/jobs,’ which is a bit less exciting.  Here’s the full table, from the poll from Gallup.

Most Important Problem

Now remember, this is Gallup’s categorization of open-ended responses by respondents. It’s not clear to me why you would put ‘unemployment / jobs’, ‘the economy in general,’ and ‘poverty / hunger / homelessness’ into separate categories. (Added together they account for 30% for black respondents).I think any fair reading of the whole table suggests the ‘most important problem’ suggests the black respondents are most concerned with economic issues. While whites appear most likely to say ‘dissatisfaction with government in general’–which is so vague as to be meaningless, they too are likely to point to one of the economic options (24%).  So to the extent this question is meaningful, there seems to be much less going on here than the headline suggests.

But it’s not clear that it is meaningful at all. For one thing, nothing I wrote above suggests that black people, or for that matter, white people, aren’t very concerned about ‘race relations’ (again, whatever that means). Why should we care what the ‘most important problem’ is, especially when the highest percentages are under 20%?. Indeed, if black people, on a scale of 1 (not caring at all) and 10 (caring intensely) rated jobs / poverty at 9.9 and racist policing at 9.89, does that mean we can dismiss concern for the latter? Of course not. Even worse, in an unstructured open-ended question people are especially likely to simply tell you what is at the top of their mind.  Far more helpful would be to ask people how much they cared about a series of issues. (It doesn’t appear as though Gallup has done this, although I could be wrong.) Don’t get me wrong–there is plenty of evidence that Americans care deeply about jobs / poverty, and that black people are more concerned about racial justice than white people. But this poll doesn’t help us much.

Poll questions like this, especially when not interpreted with care, make for great headlines, but they don’t help us understand people’s views very much.

One more thing. According to Lower

Over at The Fix, The Post’s Chris Cillizza notes the depressing takeaway from another set of Gallup polling: the most recent polling on Americans’ confidence in major institutions. Across the board, Americans have less confidence in almost every major public institution — from government to schools to churches — than the historical average.

There is nothing depressing about people losing faith in institutions that fail them.

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Written by David Kaib

June 17, 2015 at 9:18 pm

One Response

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  1. havent followed this much but if i recall gallup doesnt even get the presidential elections right. they also have a christian bias if i recall. also while averages are fine, alot of the issues on say race, health, obesity, employment are really local. i’v seen 2 stars and bars this week on hikes, and my area has had a crime spike—apt door broken in etc.one has to look at ‘higher moments’ not just average,
    median and variance, j galbraith promotes one sort of entropy, others say tsallis or superstatistics

    Ishi Crew

    July 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm


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