Getting a Driver’s License is Losing Popularity in the US

Washington Post: “A new study from the University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle tracks data on the share of Americans of different ages who have driver’s licenses. Turns out that among the young, the share has plummeted over the last three decades.”

“It’s unclear what’s behind these longer-term downswings in driver’s licensing. Maybe they have to do with increased urbanization, changes in access to public transit, changes in licensing laws or other forces.”

Trump Seizes Opportunity for Rising Authoritarianism

Matthew MacWilliams, writing in Politico, argues that “Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.”

“My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted … I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.”

“So what does this mean for the election? It doesn’t just help us understand what motivates Trump’s backers—it suggests that his support isn’t capped. In a statistical analysis of the polling results, I found that Trump has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall.”

“So, those who say a Trump presidency ‘can’t happen here’ should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

GOP Success Hinges on Working-Class Whites

Washington Post:  “The urgent imperative of Republicans — historically the party of business, money and power — [is] to broaden their coalition with many more white working-class voters. As the nation diversifies and the GOP struggles to adapt, the presidential hopefuls see this demographic bloc as the key to taking back the White House.”

“There has been a debate within the party — and the political class — about whether Republicans need to diversify to win or whether it just needs to attract even more of its core constituencies. So far in 2016, led by Cruz and Donald Trump, the election has moved decisively toward the latter. The exceptions, such as Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham, are either out of the race or on the edges of it.”

“The mission is not limited to the campaign trail, however. Within the GOP’s congressional ranks, some reform-minded lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), are pushing anti-poverty policies. Ryan co-hosted a presidential candidates forum in South Carolina over the weekend devoted to those issues.”

“As Republicans face difficulties winning over Latino, young and women voters, further maximizing support and turnout among working-class whites is critical.”

What’s the Most Likely Way You’ll Die?

Washington Post: “Not to be morbid, but what are you likely to die from? Nathan Yau of Flowing Data has created a fascinating interactive chart that shows the answer, according to statistics. Drawing on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database, Yau charted the cause of death for Americans by age.”

Here’s what the chart looks like for women overall:

Note that this chart shows percentages by age group, not absolute numbers. There are far more people dying in 70s and 80s than there are in their 20s, but this kind of chart gives them all equal space, to show you how deaths break down by percentages. And here is the chart for men overall:

“You can see that death by disease is far more common for children and for older people. Roughly a third of people die from diseases of the respiratory system, including the flu. Cancer is mainly an issue for older people, and infectious diseases are much more rare. External causes — drugs, guns, homicides — are a much bigger cause of death for those in their teens and 20’s.”

Party Identification Near Historical Lows

Gallup: “In 2015, for the fifth consecutive year, at least four in 10 U.S. adults identified as political independents. The 42% identifying as independents in 2015 was down slightly from the record 43% in 2014. This elevated percentage of political independents leaves Democratic (29%) and Republican (26%) identification at or near recent low points, with the modest Democratic advantage roughly where it has been over the past five years.”

U.S. Party Identification, Yearly Averages, 1988-2015

“Americans’ attachment to the two major political parties in recent years is arguably the weakest Gallup has recorded since the advent of its polls. The percentage of U.S. adults identifying as political independents has recently reached levels never seen before. As a result, a new low of 29% of Americans identify as Democrats, and the percentage of Republican identifiers is on the low end of what Gallup has measured historically.”

“The lack of strong attachment to the parties could make candidate-specific factors, as opposed to party loyalty, a greater consideration for voters in choosing a president in this year’s election than they have been in past elections.”

The Voters’ Mood in Election Year: Sour and Dour

Wall Street Journal: “The election year is upon us, and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway describes the nation’s mood heading into it this way: ‘Sour and dour. Nervous, on edge, a feeling of vulnerability and a lack of control.’”

“Pollster John Zogby thinks voters are setting up for themselves a fundamental choice, the outcome of which isn’t at all certain: ‘Overriding any particular issue will be whether Americans want to tear things down and start over, or believe that government/politicians are trustworthy enough to make required changes.’”

“Finding somebody who can disperse the clouds appears to be more important than any specific issue or set of issues, though Republican pollster David Winston thinks the basic rule of voter priorities still applies: ‘The election will be about jobs, wages and the economy, with foreign affairs and terrorism having emerged now as the clear next issue of concern.’”

Vast Majority of Americans Support Background Checks for Gun Purchases

Carl Bialik in FiveThirtyEight: “In dozens of polls over the past two decades, Americans have been asked if they support expanding background checks for the purchase of firearms … Consistently, at least 70 percent of Americans said they favor background checks. Often, far more do. In October, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans — including 87 percent of Republicans — favor background checks for all gun buyers.”

“The popularity of background checks transcends age, political party, gender, education and even gun ownership. Last month, Quinnipiac University asked Americans whether they support a law requiring background checks for sales at gun shows or online. At least 84 percent of every one of 15 subgroups — including Republicans, men, gun owners and people living in rural areas — said ‘yes.'”

“Summarize all the conflicting views on gun control into one question, as the Pew Research Center has done, and you find a nation evenly split since 2010. Since 1993, Pew has asked the following question: ‘What do you think is more important — to protect the right of Americans to own guns or to control gun ownership?’”


Survey: Government is Top Problem

Gallup: For the second consecutive year, dissatisfaction with government edged out the economy as the problem more Americans identified as the nation’s top problem in 2015.


“Americans were most likely to mention some aspect of the federal government in 2015 when asked to name the country’s top problem, but this category still averaged less than 20% of all responses during the year. Even when mentions of terrorism, immigration and gun laws briefly flared, the percentages citing these stayed below the 20% threshold.”

“This lack of a prominent public concern provides an interesting setup to the 2016 presidential election … This contrasts with the last three presidential election cycles when at least one issue commanded significant public attention in the year prior to the election. In 2011, for example, the dominant issues were the economy and unemployment; in 2007, the Iraq War; and in 2003, the economy. Those concerns provided a clear framework for the campaigns, something that is thus far lacking in the race for 2016.”

Look to State Polls for Signs of Early State Success

Harry Enten in FiveThirtyEight: “Just as during the 2012 general election, state polls and national polls disagree. And our advice this year is the same as it was then: Trust the state polls. In fact, there’s evidence the national polls may be a negative indicator once you control for the state-level survey results. If you’re a candidate who wants to win one of the first two contests, you’d rather have good state polls and bad national polls than good state and good national polls.”

“So what might be going on? I can’t be sure, but the candidates who underperform in early states are often those with the highest name recognition … It could be that a disproportionate share of these candidates’ support in the early states is due to high name recognition, which the national polls pick up on, and not because they line up well with the state’s voters. As the voting gets closer and more voters tune in, name recognition tends to even out, and voters may decide there are better options out there.”

“Relatedly, the phenomenon I found could be due to news coverage. Sometimes celebrity candidates receive a lot of national media coverage that helps drive their support in the national polls higher than it would be based on how well they’re actually liked.”

“It could simply be that early state voters — who are paying more attention and getting more candidate exposure than national voters — are seeing something in the candidates that people outside the state are not.”

The Secret to Truth in Polling? Money.

Neil Irwin comments on two new studies about partisan bias in The Quarterly Journal of Political Science, one from four scholars led by John G. Bullock at the University of Texas at Austin, the other by Markus Prior of Princeton and two colleagues.

The results show that “the partisan bias in how people answer factual questions about the economy is diminished by this one weird trick: Pay people.”

“When survey respondents were offered a small cash reward — a dollar or two — for producing a correct answer about the unemployment rate and other economic conditions, they were more likely to be accurate and less likely to produce an answer that fit their partisan biases.”

“The paper by Mr. Bullock, Alan S. Gerber, Seth J. Hill and Gregory A. Huber found that offering a $1 payment for a correct response and a 33-cent payment for an answer of “Don’t know” eliminated the entire partisan gap between Democrats and Republicans on questions about the economy.”

“The good news is this: No matter how politically polarized society might seem, there is an objective reality we can agree upon on how the economy is performing and on other measures of national well-being. It just takes a little skin in the game to get people to acknowledge those facts when they are at odds with their political instincts.”

GOP Wants a Conservative

Gallup: “The ideological profile of the ideal Republican presidential candidate looks much the same now as it did before the 2008 election. Six in 10 Republicans nationwide, including independents who lean toward the GOP, want the party to nominate a conservative to represent it in 2016. About one in three want a moderate candidate, while support for a liberal is in the single digits.”

Republicans' Ideological Preferences for Their Party's Presidential Nominee

“Meanwhile, Democrats’ desire for a ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’ candidate has grown, from 30% in 2007 to 36% now. However, the largest share of Democrats and Democratic leaners — 40% — still mostly prefer a moderate candidate. This desire has shrunk somewhat from 48% in 2007.”

“The past eight years have arguably been a transformative era in U.S. politics … Despite all of this, the desire among Republicans and GOP-leaning independents for a conservative candidate has not waned in the party’s time out of the White House. However, a sizable one in three Republicans and GOP-leaning independents would prefer a moderate. Though Democrats remain most interested in a moderate candidate, their openness to a liberal one has grown.”