Tag Archives: Pew Research

Connecting The Dots

Pew has recently reported on the global eruption of anti-Jewish incidents.

Jewish people were the targets of harassment in 94 countries in 2020, with incidents ranging from verbal and physical assaults to vandalism of cemeteries and scapegoating for the COVID-19 pandemic….

The U.S. hasn’t escaped that worldwide rise.  Violence focused on Jews and other minorities tends to spike in times of social and civil turmoil, and unscrupulous politicians are always willing to stoke the flames. (DeSantis recently  labeled New York DA Alvin Bragg a “Soros-funded” prosecutor, a reference clearly intended to suggest to the anti-Semitic Right that–while Bragg is Black– Jews are to blame for Trump’s expected indictment.) 

For obvious reasons, anti-Semitism is something I take personally. It is also a type of hatred I’ve found difficult to understand–so a recent podcast in which Yascha Mounk interviewed Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, was very enlightening.

In that Persuasion interview, Mounk raised several questions that have always bedeviled me. For example, the usual explanation for Christian hatred of Jews is religious–rooted in the bogus “Jews killed Jesus” accusation. (I always want to respond  by pointing out that Jews lacked the power to kill anyone; it was the Romans, dammit!) (We also don’t have space lasers…) But if you look at a survey of some of the worst eruptions of anti-Semitism–in the Inquisition and  Nazi Germany, for example– it becomes obvious that  conversion to Christianity doesn’t erase the hatred.

As Mounk noted,

If it’s purely religious, then it should be the case that the moment you convert that there should be no prejudice against you, you should be fully accepted. But if it has an ethnic, racial, and perhaps in certain ways, cultural element, then you go on to say, “Well, OK, you’ve converted, but you’re still a Jew.” Now, obviously, that’s true in the Holocaust: many, many murdered Jews were Protestants and Catholics, had been baptized, and the Nazis didn’t care.

The  whole conversation was edifying , but one observation by Greenblatt triggered an epiphany for me.

What’s different is that anti-Semitism, as the Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt has written, is a kind of conspiracy theory about how the world works that posits that the Jew, the Eternal Jew, in some way is responsible for whatever is wrong. Colorism, we call it racism today, isn’t new. It’s been going on for thousands of years. But that’s where someone feels superior to someone else. Anti-Semitism is “the Jews who are responsible for controlling business, manipulating government, the world’s wars, cheating me,” whatever. There’s a set of recurring myths that seem to cross cultures—that have been reinforced, again, by different sociocultural forces over time—that keep this alive. But I think the conspiratorial nature of anti-Semitism makes it very different. We’re living in a time that is shaped by social media, where we’re trapped in our filter bubbles in a world where everything has become relative. Conspiracy theories are often the coin of the realm in a world in which nothing can be believed and in which anything is possible. People always feel like something is working against them. We shouldn’t be surprised that anti-Semitism not just festers but flourishes in a world in which systems also seem to be failing. Our politics are failing. Markets are failing. Our expectations aren’t being met. That creates the kind of space where populist demagogues come in and their typical toolbelt is blame: “Well, it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the Jew.” And so the conspiratorial dimension of anti-Semitism, which, again, I think is somewhat unique, because of its recurring nature and how amorphous it is. The immigrant takes your job. The welfare queen takes your money. But the Jew does all of it. 

Until recently, I hadn’t really thought about the prevalence–and enduring political utility– of conspiracy theories, or the recurring role they play in offering comprehensible “explanations” of complicated realities. It has only been with the advent of social media and the Trumpers that I have come to appreciate the role that conspiratorial beliefs play in society, and the way they fulfill the very human need to simplify a bewildering social environment, to understand why-why is my life going the way it is?  Why does that person make more money, or have more friends, or [fill in the blank] than I do?

For many people, ambiguity is intolerable. Such people desperately need to construct a simpler world–preferably, a world where “people like me” are clearly good and others are just as clearly evil. They need to believe– in an ideology, or religion, or a comforting conspiracy theory that tells them who to blame for their problems.

 Conspiratorial world-views require villains. Presumably, with space lasers…

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.