Sneak Peek at the 2010 General Social Survey
Raw data from the 2010 General Social Survey have been released, giving the latest update to a nearly 40-year longitudinal study of public attitudes towards government spending on social problems. I’ve never really been satisfied with media reporting of GSS results (high on histrionics, selective focus on individual data points, little attention paid to trending), and the data are quite voluminous. It seemed a perfect opportunity to tinker with some data reduction, including playing with my new favorite toys, sparkbars and sparklines.
For a quick recap, the GSS asks whether the government is spending “Too Much”, “Too Little”, or “About Right” on a variety of social issues. In the graphs below, I’ve collapsed the data into a single ‘Spending Support’ variable by subtracting the “Too Much” percentage from the “Too Little” percentage for each issue. (Some other minor processing and cleanup of the data is noted at the end of this post).
Notable features of the 2010 GSS:
- Solid and sustained support for Education spending (always perplexing given how little influence the Federal government has here)
- Significant downturn in net support for both Health and the Environment. In both cases, it is hard to see the changes (especially when viewed historically) as anything other than major backlash against recent public policy initiatives in these areas.
- Recent decreases in support for spending on Urban Issues, Social Security, Racial Inequality, and Welfare, as well as International Aid. As fiscal austerity looms, social spending does not seem well favored.
- A somewhat surprising uptick in support for Defense spending – surprising in that the most recent defense downturn has only just started, and not yet cut very deeply.
For kicks, the graph at left also composites (adds) the “spending support” for all 15 issues (equally weighted). This yields a crude proxy for the public “appetite for government” over the last 40 years. The results seem to track intuitively, even down to the 1994 Republican congressional takeover and concomitant budget tightening focus. It is notable that this year’s composite score is as low as the 1994 score.
- The sparklines above represent (Percent Responding “Too Little” minus Percent Responding “Too Much”) spending.
- All graph y axes above are normalized to span 100 percentage points. The y=0 axis is offset but the dynamic range is preserved between graphs to allow accurate intercomparison.
- In years between biannual General Social Surveys, data have been interpolated. (1979,1981,1992,1995,1997,1999,2001,2003,2005,2007,2009)
- Yearly data have been partially smoothed to highlight trends. The smoothing kernel is: ((0.5* [Year -1]) + (1.0*[Year]) + (0.5*[Year+1]))/2.0, and the first and last data points are unsmoothed.
- Data are from the Berkeley/SDA database and include the Berkeley compwt [Nadults, Oversamp, Formwt] weightings, except for 2010, which is comprised of raw data from NORC, and 2009, which is interpolated between 2008 and 2010.
- All data are from the Social Problem Spending (Variant 1) Group of Attitudinal Measures – National Problems. Variant 2 / Version Y of some topics/questions are not included.