Typical opinion polls reported in the news average a response rate of under 20%, and some observers speculate that the real response rates for some prominent surveys may be as low as 1% of the people they contact. The General Social Survey, on the other hand, usually averages about a 70% response rate, the highest in the industry for a large-scale survey of the general U.S. public.
The most recent survey for which results were available when I began this project a few weeks ago was the 2008 survey. (For an updated analysis that includes more recent data, see the Author’s Update on the last page of this editorial.) It asked the question:
Some people think that the government in Washington is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private businesses. Others disagree and think that the government should do even more to solve our country’s problems. Still others have opinions somewhere in between.
Where would you place yourself on this scale . . . ?
1— I strongly agree the government should do more
3— I agree with both
5— I strongly agree the government is doing too much
Thus, those who agree that “the government is doing too much” would choose 4 or 5.
And what is the result of this survey?
Social scientists usually measure traditional racism against African Americans by looking at the survey responses of white Americans only. Among whites in the latest General Social Survey (2008), only 4.5% of small-government advocates express the view that “most Blacks/African-Americans have less in-born ability to learn,” compared to 12.3% of those who favor bigger government or take a middle position expressing this racist view (Figure 2). We social scientists sometimes like to express things in relative odds, especially for small percentages. Here the odds of small government whites not expressing racist views (21-to-1 odds) is three times higher than the odds of big-government whites not being racist (7-to-1 odds).
But advocates of smaller government can be found among Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans. What happens if we compare Republicans who think Washington is doing too much with those who think that government should do more or take a middle position? The relationships I’ve just described only get stronger.
Figure 3 shows that, among whites, Republican advocates of smaller government are even less racist (1.3% believing that blacks have less in-born ability) than the rest of the general public (11.3% expressing racist views). Thus, in 2008 Republicans who believe that the government in Washington does too much have 10 times higher odds of not expressing racist views on the in-born ability question than the rest of the population (79-to-1 odds v. 7.9-to-1 odds).
What about conservative Republicans more generally, not just the ones who want a smaller government? Surely they must be more racist. Actually not. In 2008, only 5.4% of white conservative Republicans expressed racist views on the in-born ability question, compared to 10.3% of the rest of the white population.
As Figure 4 shows, this same pattern holds for white Democrats compared to white Republicans: in 2008 12.3% of white Democrats in the U.S. believed that African Americans were born with less ability, compared to only 6.6% of white Republicans.
[…]Data from self-reports in the General Social Survey appear to support the notion that those who oppose income redistribution are somewhat more altruistic in their behavior than redistributionists (e.g., donating money, looking after pets or plants while friends are away), a conclusion also reached by the economist Arthur Brooks.
Click through for the charts and more analysis.