Feb 23, 2017 10:32 am

Q&A with Solomon Messing of Pew Research Center’s Data Labs

Today, Pew Research Center released the first major report from its Data Labs team, examining the degree to which partisan conflict shows itself in congressional communications – specifically, press releases and Facebook posts. We sat down with Solomon Messing, who directs Data Labs, to discuss the report, the project’s mission and the opportunities and challenges that come with using “big data.” The conversation has been edited for space and clarity.

Solomon Messing, director of Pew Research Center's Data Labs
Solomon Messing, director of Pew Research Center’s Data Labs

First off, what does Data Labs do?

We use approaches from the emerging field of what I would call “computational social science” to complement and expand on the Center’s existing research agenda. What we do generally is collect text data, network data or behavioral data and analyze it with new and innovative computational techniques and empirical strategies.

So this goes beyond the Center’s traditional emphasis on public opinion surveys?

Surveys are a fantastic way to study a wide swath of social science questions. The reason to expand into these new areas might be to study things that you can’t get at using survey data – because you can’t survey a particular group of people, or because you need fine-grained evidence about what people do, which they may be unable or unwilling to report accurately in surveys.

In the context of this report, for example, it’s really difficult to study the substance of congressional rhetoric in a survey: We would have had a hard time getting every member of Congress to take a survey, and even if they did they might have trouble reporting exactly how often they “go negative” in their public outreach.

Another key point here is that these approaches allow us to supplement survey data with additional types of data. People might not know the average income in their ZIP code, but using that data can add another dimension to what we know about public opinion.  Read More

Topics: Research Methods, Congress, Data Labs

Feb 22, 2017 3:20 pm

6 facts about black Americans for Black History Month

Since 1976, Black History Month has been celebrated every February to commemorate the accomplishments of black Americans throughout history. Over the past 40 years, blacks have made progress on several fronts, including educational attainment and representation in Congress. Yet large racial gaps persist in areas such as wealth and poverty, and concerns remain about the state of race relations in the country. Here are six facts about black Americans:

1A growing share of blacks are completing high school and college, yet blacks lag behind whites in college completion. High school dropout rates reached an all-time low in 2014 for black students, and the high school completion gap between blacks and whites continues to narrow. In 2015, 93% of whites ages 25 and older had a high school diploma, compared with 88% of blacks the same age – only a 6-percentage-point difference, roughly half of what it was in 2000. The share of blacks ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree has also trended upward for several decades. In 2015, nearly a quarter of blacks ages 25 and older (23%) had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 36% of whites and 53% of Asians.

Read More

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Education, Immigration, Income, Race and Ethnicity, Educational Attainment, African Americans, Income Inequality

Feb 22, 2017 6:54 am

20 years after Dolly the sheep’s debut, Americans remain skeptical of cloning

Twenty years ago today, the world’s first clone made from the cells of an adult mammal made her public debut. Dolly, a Finn Dorset sheep, was introduced to the public in 1997 after scientists at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland implanted the cell nucleus from a sheep into an egg that was subsequently fertilized to create a clone.

Dolly’s debut set off a firestorm about both the practical value and ethics of cloning, including the possibility of human cloning. Currently, more than 40 countries – including the UK, France, Germany and Japan – formally ban human cloning. In other countries, including the U.S. and China, there is no legal prohibition on it.

On the anniversary of Dolly’s unveiling, here are five noteworthy findings about cloning and public opinion:

1 No one has ever cloned a human being, though scientists have cloned animals other than Dolly, including dogs, pigs, cows, horses and cats. Part of the reason is that cloning can introduce profound genetic errors, which can result in early and painful death. At the same time, labs in a variety of countries have successfully cloned human embryos for the purpose of producing stem cells that can be used in medical therapies.

Read More

Topics: Religion and Society, Science and Innovation, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Bioethics, Emerging Technology Impacts

Feb 21, 2017 2:34 pm

Public divided over Keystone XL, Dakota pipelines; Democrats turn decisively against Keystone

Americans are divided over whether to build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines – issues that returned to the forefront after President Donald Trump signed executive orders to move forward on their construction.

The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines have become touchstones in the debate over energy and the environment. While parts of the larger Keystone pipeline have already been completed, the Dakota Access pipeline is in earlier stages of development.

About four-in-ten (42%) favor building the Keystone XL pipeline, while 48% are opposed, according to a national Pew Research Center survey conducted Feb. 7-12, 2017, among 1,503 U.S. adults. The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada’s oil sands region through the Midwest to refineries on the Gulf Coast, had been blocked by the Obama administration over environmental concerns.

Support for Keystone XL has fallen since 2014, largely because of a sharp decline among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. The share of the overall public favoring the pipeline has fallen 17 percentage points since 2014 (from 59% to 42%). Just 17% of Democrats favor building the pipeline, less than half the share that did so three years ago (44%).

Read More

Topics: Energy and Environment, Gender, U.S. Political Parties, Generations and Age, Business and Labor, Political Polarization

Feb 21, 2017 6:50 am

5 facts about crime in the U.S.

Donald Trump made crime-fighting an important focus of his campaign for president, and he cited it again during his inaugural address in January. With the White House and Justice Department announcing steps to address violence in American communities, here are five facts about crime in the United States.

1Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century. There are two commonly cited measures of the nation’s crime rate. One is an annual report by the FBI of serious crimes reported to police in approximately 18,000 jurisdictions around the country. The other is an annual survey of more than 90,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which asks Americans ages 12 and older whether they were the victims of crime in the past six months (regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police or not). Both the FBI and BJS data show a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since its peak in the early 1990s.

Using the FBI numbers, the rate fell 50% between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available. Using the BJS data, the rate fell by 77% during that span. It’s important to note, however, that the FBI reported a 3% increase in the violent crime rate between 2014 and 2015, including a 10% increase in the murder rate. (The BJS figures show a stable violent crime rate between 2014 and 2015, but they do not count murders.) Some experts have projected that the 2016 FBI data will show another increase in the violent crime rate – including another rise in the murder rate – when they are released later this year.

Read More

Topics: Criminal Justice, State and Local Government, Violence and Society

Feb 17, 2017 6:56 am

For election news, young people turned to some national papers more than their elders

Younger Americans have long been less likely to read newspapers than their elders. But a Pew Research Center survey has revealed a significant twist, at least for certain newspapers with a more national focus: When we asked people if they regularly got news about the 2016 presidential election through either the print or online version of four specific U.S. newspapers, three of these papers – The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal – attracted more adults younger than 50 than 50 and older as regular readers. As for the fourth – USA Today – younger and older Americans regularly got election news there at about the same rate.

This reinforces earlier findings that when asked about reading, watching or listening to news, younger Americans are more likely than their elders to prefer reading it – though they overwhelmingly prefer to do this reading online. And the new data suggest that the digital outreach efforts for these national newspaper brands may have attracted enough younger online readers to overcome a long-standing age gap for newspapers.

By contrast, this shift is not evident for local newspapers. Older adults were much more likely than younger ones to regularly get election news from their local daily papers, according to the survey, conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 12, 2016, among 4,183 adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.  Read More

Topics: Media Performance, News Sources, Generations and Age, Election News, Newspapers, News Media Trends, Older Adults, Media Economics, 2016 Election

Feb 16, 2017 2:29 pm

A basic question when reading a poll: Does it include or exclude nonvoters?

The early days of a new presidential administration produce not just a blizzard of news but a blizzard of numbers. Pollsters of all stripes race to get and report Americans’ first impressions of their new president. But, frustratingly, those reports don’t always match up as precisely as the Type A among us might wish.

Take the past three weeks of polling on President Donald Trump. Depending on the poll, Trump’s approval rating between Feb. 5 and 13 could have been as high as 53% or as low as 39%. So which was it?

There are a number of possible reasons for polls arriving at different estimates – from the mode used to collect data to how people are selected for a survey – but here we’ll tackle one of the most basic: Did the poll include or exclude the 45% of adult Americans who didn’t cast a vote last November?

Typically, polls in the U.S. are designed to represent one of three populations. The broadest is the general population of all adults (GP). Surveys based only on adults who are registered to vote (RV) apply a narrower lens on the public. Narrower still is the filter applied with surveys that interview only registered voters who are deemed likely to vote (LV). Many pollsters might conduct surveys of all three, depending on where they find themselves in the election cycle.

In non-election years like this one, most pollsters survey all adults, but not all follow this convention. A number of pollsters continue to do surveys of registered or even likely voters. Why does this matter for Trump’s approval ratings? It’s about demographics. Voters as a group skew older and whiter than the general public. And older Americans, as well as white Americans, tilt more Republican than other groups. So, voter-only polls tend to get somewhat more favorable views of a Republican president or candidate and less favorable views of Democrats. This pattern was evident during Barack Obama’s presidency, with his overall ratings tending to be somewhat higher among the general public than among registered or likely voters.  Read More

Topics: Research Methods, Political Attitudes and Values, Polling, Telephone Survey Methods, Web Survey Methods, Donald Trump

Feb 16, 2017 12:09 pm

More favor than oppose Gorsuch nomination to Supreme Court

A few weeks after President Donald Trump’s announcement of Neil Gorsuch as his nominee to the Supreme Court, 44% of Americans say they favor the Senate confirming him to the high court, while 32% are opposed; roughly a quarter (24%) offer no opinion.

Initial reactions to past Supreme Court nominees have tended to be more positive than negative, though many of the justices were not well known by the public at the time of their nominations.

Overall views of Gorsuch’s nomination are similar to views of Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland nearly a year ago. Last March, 46% favored Senate confirmation of Garland, 30% were opposed and 24% had no opinion.  Read More

Topics: Political Attitudes and Values, Supreme Court, Political Party Affiliation, Criminal Justice, Donald Trump

Feb 16, 2017 7:35 am

Millennials in many countries are more open than their elders on questions of national identity

Across a number of countries that are wrestling with the politics of national identity, younger people are far more likely than their elders to take an inclusive view of what it takes for people to be truly considered “one of us” – whether the measure is being born in their country, sharing local customs and traditions or being Christian.

Among 18- to 34-year-olds in European Union countries surveyed, a median of 23% say being born in one’s country is very important to national identity. Four-in-ten of those ages 50 and older agree, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last spring. The divide between the young and the old over birthright nationality is quite wide in certain European countries: 21 percentage points in the United Kingdom and 16 points each in Greece and Spain.

Read More

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Religion and Society, Generations and Age, North America, Social Values, National and Cultural Identity, Millennials

Feb 15, 2017 5:08 pm

U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries

How do U.S. students compare with their peers around the world? Recently released data from international math and science assessments indicate that U.S. students continue to rank around the middle of the pack, and behind many other advanced industrial nations.

One of the biggest cross-national tests is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which every three years measures reading ability, math and science literacy and other key skills among 15-year-olds in dozens of developed and developing countries. The most recent PISA results, from 2015, placed the U.S. an unimpressive 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. Among the 35 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which sponsors the PISA initiative, the U.S. ranked 30th in math and 19th in science.

Read More

Topics: Education, Educational Attainment, Science and Innovation