Perceptions of Economic Fairness

By Will Bordash ’18 and Brayden Zimmerman ’20

Over the past two months we have analyzed economic optimism from many perspectives, including race, gender, education, age, locality, party identification, ideology,  and favorability of the major candidates from the 2016 Presidential election. We now turn to a broader topic: perceptions of economic fairness. This issue is widely important in understanding elections, ideologies, and policy preferences.

Similar to the other reports, we use data collected from a national survey of 1200 adults conducted over the summer of 2016 by Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) in conjunction with YouGov. Before we begin, it is important to mention that scholars have found a link between judgements of fairness and values of the respondents. Liberal respondents were found to be the most responsive, leading the scholars to conclude that their thinking about fairness is, “particularly complex,” (Rasinski and Tourangeau 1991). 

To do our analysis, we use responses to the question, “How fair do you think the US economic system is?” We find the mean rating of the fairness of US economic system by coding the response of “basically fair” as a “1”, and  “basically unfair” as a “0”, meaning any value over 0.5 shows that the majority in that category believe the system is “basically fair”. The higher the rating, the greater the prevalence of respondents who believe the system is fair.

First, we show the breakdown of our respondents.

 Figure 1: Count of Opinion of Economic Fairness in U.S. by Party Identification

 As shown above, perceptions of the fairness of the economic system were deeply divided by party. Democrats largely viewed the system as unfair, while Republicans viewed the system as fair.

We begin by analyzing perceptions of fairness by gender and race. We find that the mean rating of fairness was higher for males than females, and lower for Asians than Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics. This is a very interesting finding that speaks to some of the inequalities in our society.

Figure 2: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Gender

Figure 3: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Race

Income and age, of course, could also effect ones perception of the fairness of the US economic system. We find, as expected, that those who make more money rate the fairness higher than those who make less. We don’t find any strong relationship between age and rating of fairness, as the second graph below shows no significant pattern (the y-axis shows birth year).

Figure 4: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Family Income

Figure 5: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Age

 

We now turn to some really interesting questions. We analyze perceptions of fairness by beliefs about the reasons people are in need. Respondents were asked what factor laziness or lack of will power plays on those who are in need. They were also asked if being unlucky is a reason people are in need. We find a very interesting relationship. The mean rating of fairness was much higher for those who believe being lazy is part of the reason people are in need than for those who don’t. The opposite is true for the belief that those who are in need are, because they are unlucky, namely that the mean rating of fairness was much lower for those who believe being unlucky is part of the reason people are in need.

Figure 6: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Factors of People in Need: Laziness

Figure 7: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Factors of People in Need: Unlucky

We would predict that perceptions of the fairness of the economic system would differ between those who support free trade and those who don’t, but in fact we find that is not true. As shown below, we find that there is no difference of perception of fairness among those with differing opinions of the effect free trade agreements would have on overall economic growth. We do find a difference in perception of fairness among those with differing opinions of the effect new immigrants would have on overall economic growth, though. We find that those who think new immigrants would have a positive impact on economic growth tend to think the US economic system is fair much less often than those who think new immigrants would have a negative impact.

Figure 8: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Impact of Free Trade Agreements (Overall Economic Growth)

Figure 9: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Impact of New Immigrants (Overall Economic Growth)

Finally, we look at what role perceptions of the fairness of the economic system may play on views of policies about undocumented immigrants. Respondents were asked, should undocumented immigrants be, “Offered a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for citizenship or deported back to their native country.” As shown below, we find that the mean rating of fairness of those who believed that undocumented immigrants should be deported was much higher than the mean rating of fairness of those who believed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship.

Figure 10: Perceptions of The Fairness of The US Economic System by Opinions of Undocumented Immigrants

 These interesting findings conclude our discussion of perceptions of the fairness of the US economic system. In our next report, which is the last of the semester, we plan to look at the overall themes that have been proposed in our previous reports, tie them together by looking at the social results, and look ahead to the future!

Works Cited:

Psychological Aspects of Judgments about the Economy Author(s): Kenneth A. Rasinski and Roger Tourangeau Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Mar., 1991), pp. 27-40 Published by: International Society of Political Psychology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3791344 Accessed: 29-03-2017 01:45 UTC

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