Me, saying things

Election Slides

posted Nov 18, 2016, 1:37 PM by Daniel Laurison

I gave a talk at Swarthmore on Monday November 14th. Here are the slides, the ones at least that work without me saying things while you look at them.

What to do?

posted Nov 12, 2016, 10:32 AM by Daniel Laurison   [ updated Nov 13, 2016, 9:02 AM ]

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and work as hard as you can to make the worst impossible and the best happen.  Re: the best, see this article, giving a lot of plausible reasons why Trump will not be able to do the vast majority of awful things he’s promised.  But re: the worst, some of the worst seems to be happening now in all kinds of one-on-one interactions, as well as in the celebration of white supremacist groups, and people are legitimately scared. And if there’s even a 1% chance that Trump will manage to take our country back to the days of Jim Crow or worse, that this is the end of democracy in America, that he will make good on all his racist, anti-semitic, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-queer, anti-Muslim (and more) rhetoric, we can’t let our hopes or faith in our democratic institutions or our fellow Americans make us complacent, especially if we’re not members of targeted groups.

On to working for the best, I think the first step there is for us all to try really, really hard not to blame Trump’s electoral victory on our erstwhile allies.  All of the following are at least partly true, but not one of them is the sole or primary cause (also remember that Clinton won the popular vote, and to generally beware of single-factor explanations):

    • If Stein voters had just held their noses and voted for Clinton, she might have won (she’d have won 2 of the 4 or so states she needed to win, anyway).
    • If Sanders had been the Democratic candidate, he’d have won.
    • If white women didn’t vote their race over their gender, Trump would have lost.
    • If people of color had turned out in the numbers they did for Obama, Clinton would have won.
    • If snooty liberal elite Democrats knew how to connect with the issues and concerns of the white working class, Clinton would have won.
    • If whites weren’t so willing to abide racism, Trump would have lost.
    • If the Democratic party were more concerned with the issues of people of color, Clinton would have won.
    • If generations of left activists hadn’t decried electoral politics as inherently corrupt and and worthless, Trump would have lost.

So, do something, and don’t spend too much energy telling people what *they* ought or (especially) what they ought NOT to do (unless you think it will be genuinely harmful).  I’ve seen lots of analyses of what “we” ought to do now, and comebacks from people who feel that that’s the wrong strategy.  I think it’s normal and right and good that we’re all just trying to figure things out and disagreeing some, but I want my energy and my allies’ energy to go towards making things better, in any way we can, rather than stopping each other from doing stuff.   For example, there are lots of calls for empathy/understanding/connecting with Trump voters.  For some of us, especially those of us who don’t feel directly threatened by the hate that Trump’s victory has unleashed, I think that’s really important. But lots of people, especially people of color and immigrants and survivors of sexual assault and abuse and Muslims and people with disabilities, just for a few examples, have no interest whatsoever in empathy with people who just voted for someone who incites (and brags about) violence against them or their communities. If you feel you can’t connect with Trump supporters right now, no one should ask you to. But if you feel you can empathize/connect with/understand a Trump voter, one of the ones who wasn’t (intentionally) in it for the racism & misogyny, great, that’s work to be done (as long as it’s not validating racism/misogyny/violence etc; in fact the first step might be calling on those Trump voters to disavow the current wave of Trump-emboldened violence, and calling on Trump himself to do so as well).

So what should you do? First, I think there’s a small but non-zero chance that some electors from states that were narrow Trump victories (or wide ones, for that matter) could refuse to vote for Trump; I’m not sure who would be President if that actually happened, but I think any predictable competent Republican would be safer for this country than Trump, and Clinton of course would be far better. The electoral college was designed as a bulwark against direct democracy, both as a compromise with the slave states and to protect the Presidency from someone unfit to hold it. So there’s a petition on that has already 3.5 million signatures, and this page explaining how to contact electors directly. Asking electors to be “faithless” is well within the rules of our democracy, so I’m OK with it. And/or focus on things that might get Trump impeached ASAP or delegitimize his presidency further, like his dealings with Russia or his fraud trial.

Still, I think we can be pretty sure Trump will be our next President. So, given that, I think the most important thing is first to tend to yourself and your community, and to figure out ways to make sure you and the people around you are as safe and protected as can be.  That might mean going to rallies and protests and community gatherings, or it might mean just being by yourself or with your close friends and family.  More concrete things to ensure your safety and the safety of people in your community include:

·         taking self-defense classes (here’s the program I used to work with in Philadelphia)

·         wearing safety pins to announce you’re an ally/safe person for people who are being targeted

·         offering to walk people home (that one’s from New York; if you have the skills & time to organize a matching service for elsewhere, that’s something you could do *right now*)

·         intervening in harassment or violence when you see it

·         checking out which rights are pretty safe, and which you may lose as a queer or trans person and working to shore up your legal protections

·         donating to help others shore up their protections (that’s a trans-specific one, there must be others for other groups)

·         stockpiling birth control and hormones and Plan B, in case of ACA repeal or the loss of funding for trans and reproductive health care and abortion

That’s not a complete list at all, but this is a really really comprehensive crowd-sourced list.

Medium-to-longer term, where you put your anti-Trump, pro-equality social justice energy is going to be different for everyone, but the good news (especially for people who haven’t been politically active before and might not know this) is that there are many, many organizations that have already been working hard to make things better in all the areas where Trump wants to make things worse.  We can’t all work with all the organizations and causes, so donate or get involved where you think you can be the most use on the issue you’re most fired up about or concerned with.  A few possibilities:

    1. Southern Poverty Law Center works against hate groups & hate crimes.
    2. Planned Parenthood supports reproductive rights and healthcare.
    3. Standing Up for Racial Justice is an organization for white people who want to work against racism, as allies to people-of-color-led organizations.
    4. for fighting climate change.
    5. is for Latinx power.
    6. The Injustice Boycott is against police violence.
    7. The Courage Campaign has a resist-Trump pledge & organizing tool; they work on a variety of progressive issues.
    8. Work on and in the Democratic Party:

                                                              i.      Bernie Sanders is calling on Democrats to move to the left and elect Keith Ellison head of the DNC,

                                                            ii.      Kamala Harris has pledged to stand up to Trump in the Senate

                                                          iii.      So has Harry Reid

                                                          iv.      Credo has a petition calling on Democrats to fight Trump

                                                            v.      And it’s never too early to start organizing for the 2018 midterms.

That’s a lot, and it’s by no means everything you could or do. But what I hope is that we, all of us, will avoid some of the stumbling blocks that could keep us from doing everything we can to oppose Trump and his policies. We can all contribute to work for as just, fair and safe a country as possible, for ourselves and for those more vulnerable than we are. We won’t do it perfectly, and we won’t all agree or want to work on the same things, but there is so much to be done and so many ways to be involved; there is room and need for all of us.

Four (more) things to consider when interpreting the election:

posted Nov 10, 2016, 9:12 AM by Daniel Laurison

  • If you’re trying to understand who voted how, remember what the vote counts actually are (with not-quite-all precincts reporting): Clinton won (just barely) the popular vote – 47.7% vs 47.5%.  Turnout is estimated at 56.3% of the voter-eligible population, which means that of the adult citizens over 18 in this country (who don’t live in Puerto Rico and haven’t been disenfranchised due to a felony conviction), about 27% voted for Clinton, 26% voted for Trump, 3.4% voted for someone else, and 43.7% stayed home.
  • Groups are not people – watch out for the ecological fallacy.  “Ecological fallacy” is the tendency to impute to individual members of a group the characteristics of the whole.  When you look at the election map, you see Pennsylvania in red. If you live in Pennsylvania, or followed the returns, you know that Pennsylvania was actually very close, and something like 48% of voters in PA voted for Clinton (it should be purple, and will be when this year’s purple maps come out). If you hear about the voting patterns of groups you don’t know or aren’t part of, try to remember that those groups are (almost) all mixed, too.  A few examples:
    • “Whites without a college degree supported Trump” – it looks like about 67% of those who voted did, which means 33% *didn’t*. 
    • The rust belt shifted to Trump – we know that many states that were “blue” last time are “red” this time; we don’t know (yet) whether that’s due to individuals who voted Obama last time voting Trump this time, or different people turning out vs staying home; probably some of both.
    • People who are harassing and assaulting visible minorities & Muslims seem to be vocal Trump supporters.  It’s awful that Trump’s victory seems to be emboldening these people, and many of us opposed Trump because we were worried this would happen. Most people who voted for Trump are not doing this, and a substantial portion of them would oppose it.
  • Beware single-factor explanations.  Just because if one thing *had* been different (and everything else had remained the same) the outcome would be different, does NOT mean that that factor is the cause of the result.  So, in a few states Clinton lost, the Jill Stein vote was larger than the Trump-Clinton difference.  Sure, if each and every one of those Stein voters had voted Clinton instead, Clinton would have won.  But Clinton *also* would have won if turnout among committed Democrats in that state had been % higher, or if a few more white women had voted for Clinton instead of Trump, or any number of other shifts of just a few percentage points. People will jump to their favorite explanation, and especially this early after the election, it’s pretty easy to find a single data point to back up most single-factor assertions. 

Understanding the Election outcome - Some initial thoughts

posted Nov 9, 2016, 7:25 AM by Daniel Laurison

Dear friends, I can't say I fully understand how or why Donald Trump is going to be our next President, and I'm partly writing this to work some of it out for myself. But the thing I keep coming back to is I don't want us, the broad left, the people who voted for Clinton or opposed Trump, to think that roughly half of Americans are our enemies.

First, it looks like turnout was maybe 56% of eligible voters (a higher percent of registered voters), so already Trump voters are less than 28% of adults in this country. While overall turnout was up, that's still no where near a majority.

Second, and this is the thing I think it's most important to remember as we try to understand and plan and organize, even though all those people voted for Trump, they weren't all answering the same questions, let alone the same question you or I might have been answering. Most people don't think about voting or politics the way I do. They made an awful choice, but not necessarily because they are all awful people or have awful values.

Most people I know, when they voted, were answering questions like
- Who is most qualified?
- Who is most likely to work for some of the policies I believe in?
- Who comes closest to sharing my values and beliefs?
- Who do I want to have to fight when I'm fighting for an end to police violence, an end to wars, an end to economic and racial injustice, to stop climate change? 
- Do I think racism, bullying, islamophobia, sexual assault and misogyny are OK?

Please don't assume that most people who voted Trump were answering those same questions.

Some people who voted Trump (and many who voted Clinton, too) were answering really different kinds of questions: 
- Do I think we need a change in this country?
- Who makes me feel like national politics can include people like me?
- Am I better or worse off than I was a few years ago?
- Am I a Republican? 
- Who are people around me voting for?

Some of them, of course, were deliberately and consciously voting for the racist misogynist (etc etc) bully, and/or, to paraphrase Arlie Hochschild in her new book, were voting their belief that "other people" have unfairly cut them in the line for a nice life in this country.

I think we can take a little while to grieve and mourn, and then to try to understand better, and then we can organize, to reduce the harm that Trump can do to this country and to Black and Brown people, immigrants, and the Earth.

One last thought, if anyone is still reading: I remember thinking "this isn't my country" and joking about seceding in 2004 when Bush was re-elected. I genuinely think Trump is scarier and his support harder to stomach, but this time I know this is indeed my country, flawed and racist and awful as parts of it are, and I'm not even joking about moving. I will keep working to move this country and our world towards the kind of world I want to live in and to leave to my children.

On the Class Ceiling

posted Nov 1, 2016, 12:44 PM by Daniel Laurison

by me & Sam Friedman (@samfriedmansoc)

this is a draft of a post that will be on the Work in Progress Blog at some point.

How “sticky” is your class of origin? That is, how much does the class you’re born in affect where you end up? This is the question studies of social mobility seek to answer, and they almost always do it by looking at the association between parents and their adult children on only one measure of class position – either income or occupation. Decades of this research show that social origin is a strong predictor of life outcomes – that is, there is much less intergenerational mobility than there would be if one’s class origin had no effect on one’s class destination. Sociologists primarily operationalize social class through aggregating sets of occupations with similar social status and employment situations into “big classes," or sometimes through looking at single occupations or “micro-classes.”

In a recent study, we take a different approach, looking at (big) occupational-class-origin effects on earnings for those in high-status jobs. We find that in the UK there is a “Class Pay Gap in Higher Managerial and Professional Occupations.” Working-class origin people earn substantially less – 17%, or about £7350/year ($11k US at the time we ran the numbers, less at post-Brexit conversion rates) than their privileged-origin peers in similar occupations. Even after controls for pretty much everything we could think of (and find in the survey data) that might affect earnings, the class-origin pay gap is about 9-10% or about £5500.

This shows the problem with reducing social mobility to the one-dimensional issue of access: it assumes that social mobility finishes at the point of occupational entry. The reality is that while many working-class people may secure admission into elite occupations, they don’t necessarily go on to achieve the same levels of success as those from more privileged backgrounds.

Our analysis examines data from the 2014 Labour Force Survey, Britain’s largest employment survey with a sample of 95,950. We analyze respondents in the 63 occupations that make up Class 1 of the UK Government’s National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) – defined as Britain’s elite. We then look at the class origins of those in these occupations, and most importantly how their income varies according to their class background.

Our research shows that those who have been long-range upwardly mobile by this measure earn less than their peers from advantaged backgrounds. In other words, people whose parents were in what might be called the working class (e.g. factory workers, retail salespeople, hairdressers, truck drivers), who now work in higher professions or management (e.g. CEOs, professors, doctors, investment managers) earn substantially less than those in similar jobs whose parents were also in these higher professional or managerial positions.

This pay gap, we argue, points to a worrying and previously undetected “class ceiling” within Britain’s elite occupations. This class-origin pay gap is similar in size to the wage penalties for women in our analyses; when combined with the better-known gender pay gap, this means that that upwardly mobile women face a double disadvantage when compared to intergenerationally stable men.

Explaining the class-origin pay gap

These are striking figures and point towards the persistence of class-origin effects even beyond entry to elite occupations. But how might we explain this “class ceiling”? There are two sets of answers to this question – those we can get from the data in this study, and those we can get elsewhere.

In our article, we use a technique called a “Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition” to show that about half the differences in earnings between working-class-origin & privileged-origin people are explained by differences between the two groups (that were measured in the survey). There are three big sources of earnings differences we find here. First, education: working-class origin people have less education on average than those from better-off backgrounds. Next, work context: privileged-origin people are far more likely to work in London and in large firms, where salaries are much higher. Third, sorting: working-class origin people are less likely to be found in the highest-status and highest-salaried occupations in the UK’s top class: for example, while about 35% of UK workers have working-class origins, and about 18% of those in top jobs overall come from these backgrounds, only 5% of doctors, and only about 10% of CEOs, are what we call long-range socially mobile into these positions.

But these differences between the mobile and the intergenerationally stable in top jobs still leave a substantial class pay gap – that £7350 or so mentioned above – unexplained. Drawing on other research we and others have done, we’d argue that there are many further likely explanations. As Lauren Rivera’s excellent book Pedigree demonstrated in a US context, and Louise Ashley has shown in the UK, class-linked differences in cultural capital, such as private and elite schooling and comfort with dominant cultural norms and tastes, certainly play a role. So too does social capital, having connections to people who can help advance one’s career. It is likely also that parents who are higher professionals or managers provide direct economic help to that can advance their children’s careers, such as by housing costs so that their kids can take unpaid internships in London.

There are other mechanisms that are less well-documented (so far) but also likely play a role: working-class origin people may specialize in less-lucrative areas of their chosen fields, either because these appeal to them more, or because they didn’t have the familiarity with the field to understand the pay and prestige differences between, say, plastic surgery and general practice in medicine, or economics and sociology in academia. And last but certainly not least, it is likely that some of the pay gap we find is simply due to discrimination: that privileged origin people may not hire or promote working class people simply because of prejudices towards or dislike of working-class origin people, or a general sense that they just don’t “fit in” to their firms.

We are not suggesting here that the class pay gap is new. As our results show, individuals tend to always carry – at least in some shape or form – the symbolic baggage of the past. Moreover, the imprint of this history can have important consequences for both how people act in the present, and – perhaps more importantly – how they are evaluated by others.

We think this analysis highlights the need for research into intergenerational transmission of advantages that moves beyond single-variable definitions of “class position.” Class is clearly not only one’s occupation, however measured or aggregated, nor is it only one’s earnings or education. All of these combine with other kinds of resources (or capitals), many of them gained (or not) in growing up a certain class, to determine one’s life chances and social position. As we say in our article, a “Glasgow-based lawyer earning £50,000/year whose parents were factory workers is not meaningfully in the same class destination as a City of London lawyer earning £75,000, raised in a family of lawyers.”

Worried about the election? Some tips

posted Nov 1, 2016, 11:46 AM by Daniel Laurison   [ updated Nov 1, 2016, 12:14 PM ]

(this will be on the Policy Trajectories blog at some point, but in the interim, I'm putting it here)

Many of us have been glued to election coverage, wondering and worrying about who will be our next President. The news features pundits and journalists speculating endlessly about the key “moments” of the campaign: who “won” or “lost” a debate, the effect of Clinton’s comments about the “basket of deplorables,” or how many potential Trump voters might be turned off by his Access Hollywood bus “hot mic” bragging about sexually assaulting women. 

But despite what the horserace coverage of the election might lead you to believe, after the conventions there’s rarely a strong relationship between what happens in the back-and-forth of a general election campaign and the ultimate outcome of an election[i]

In fact, there is little evidence for the direct effects of most of what campaigns do.  While ads or other campaign events can sway people’s vote intentions, the effects are usually very short-lived.  Truly persuadable voters are rare, and partisan attachments are strong: even voters who say they are independent and undecided tend to come out for the party they usually vote for.  And, since campaigns on both sides are about evenly matched, anything one side does that might persuade some people is countered by an equally effective message from the other side.

Instead, election forecasting research (see the latest issue of the journal PS: Political Science and Politics for the 2016 forecasts) shows that most Presidential election outcomes can be predicted well in advance simply by knowing the number of terms the incumbent party has been in office and a few things about the state of the economy.  When, on occasion, the outcome has diverged from the one predicted by these “fundamentals,” it has been due to a failure of the favored party’s campaign to deliver a message emphasizing the economy, according to political scientist Lynn Vavreck.

The last big reason that most of what campaigns do may not matter much is low voter attention: although many blamed Romney’s “47%” remark, caught on secret camera, for his loss, a third of potential voters didn’t even know who said it, and there was little evidence any votes changed because of it[ii]. Most major campaign events (whether “gaffes” or deliberate messages) can only be accurately described to pollsters by about half the potential electorate, and have no measurable effect on the outcome.

So, what we know about Presidential elections in short is that most people’s minds aren’t changed in the course of the campaign; we mostly vote our partisan attachments, or whether we think it’s “time for a change.”  That may be somewhat different in this election, as many things are. 

What does vary substantially from one election to the next, and what will certainly matter for this one as well, is how many eligible voters actually turn up to vote.  And that – much more than beliefs about the parties or the candidates, let alone the values and group attachments that undergird them – is something absolutely all of us can have a role in. 

So if you want to affect the outcome of this election, I have two suggestions for you. 

First, reach out to any friends or acquaintances who you think might not vote.  There are people who rarely or never vote in all groups, but as I explained in a previous post on inequality in political participation, people who are younger, with less education, lower incomes, or jobs outside of the professional and managerial spheres are less likely than others to vote.  Asian-American, Latinx, and white people all vote at lower rates than otherwise-similar Black people in this country.  I believe this is in large part because members of these groups have less connection to politics: they’re less likely to have politicians or party activists in their networks[iii], they are less likely to be contacted by campaigns, and they’re less likely to feel that politics is something they’re expected or entitled to do.

While campaigns mostly ignore people they think are “unlikely” voters – those who never or rarely vote – an encouraging message from someone familiar or socially close has a much stronger impact than one from a stranger, increasing the probability that someone who’s never voted turns out by up to 10%.[iv]  Social pressure (letting someone know you will notice care whether they vote) and asking people to make specific vote plans (where and when they will vote, and how they will get there) are some of the most effective ways to encourage voting.

Second, volunteer for GOTV (get-out-the-vote) operations for your favorite candidate. If you don’t love your party’s Presidential candidate, volunteer for a local race – it’s likely the people you turn out will vote for the same party up and down the ballot. Calls and door-knocks from strangers are less effective than nudging from friends, but can still make a difference in the aggregate.  A big part of getting people out to vote is simply inviting them to do so, letting them know their votes matter to others, and that’s something we can all help with.

[i] Erikson, Robert S., and Christopher Wlezien. The Timeline of Presidential Elections: How Campaigns Do (and Do Not) Matter. University of Chicago Press, 2012.


[ii] Sides, John, and Lynn Vavreck. The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013. Page 152-3.


[iii] Rolfe, Meredith. Voter Turnout: A Social Theory of Political Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.


[iv] Bedolla, Lisa Garcia, and Melissa R. Michelson. Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate Through Get-Out-the-Vote Campaigns. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.


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