A conundrum: Americans see entititlement programs as growing problem but don’t support available solutions

Gallup reports that a majority of Americans see entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, creating large financial problems for the country in 25 years. Yet, a poll from several months ago showed that Americans did not support some of the main options for helping the finances of Social Security developed by the Congressional Budget Office.

I always find this to be an interesting situation: people agree something should be done but the available options do not appeal to a majority. Looking for and then applying patterns from situations where  solutions are developed would seem to be worthwhile. Are there sociological studies that address this?

Whoever can find a way through this will be deserving of lots of credit. Complicating the issue is the generation gap: issues like Social Security and Medicare tend to fire up older voters, who vote in larger proportions already.

A word cloud as an accurate information graphic

There are many ways to visually present data or statistics. One issue can arise when parts of graphs or images are not displayed in the correct proportions. Does using a word cloud fall into these difficulties?

Gallup has put together a word cloud of American’s perceptions about the federal government. Some phrases, such as “too big” and “corrupt” are much bigger. Some words are on their sides such as “good” and “terrible.”

Overall, I would say the word cloud is probably not the best choice in this situation. It is hard to judge the most popular responses and the relative proportions of each response. While one can quickly pick up that the majority of responses were negative, it is not a very precise graphic.

Disagreement about unemployment figures between government and Gallup

Gallup suggests that the unemployment figures to be released by the federal government at the end of this week are underestimates. While the government figures are expected to be around 9.6-9.8%, Gallup says the unemployment is really closer to 10.1%.

The main issue seems to be that Gallup is measuring through the end of September while the government figures are based on data that ended in mid-September. And Gallup found that unemployment increased quite a bit in the last few weeks of September.

“I was lovin’ it”: battling over fast food

McDonald’s is a favorite target for those opposed to fast-food culture and typical American eating patterns. Amidst discussions in many municipalities about allowing fast-food restaurants, a new advertisement to run in Washington, D.C. adds to the debate:

In the commercial, produced by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a woman weeps over a dead man lying in a morgue. In his hand is a hamburger. At the end, the golden arches appear over his feet, followed by the words, “I was lovin’ it,” a play on McDonald’s longtime ad slogan, “I’m lovin’ it.” A voiceover says, “High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Tonight, make it vegetarian.”

Americans tend to eat a lot of fast food: Gallup found in 2006 that 23% of Americans eat fast food several times a week or more with another 33% claiming to eat fast food about once a week.

Another option being discussed would allow for extra taxes on fast food and soft drinks. In another survey, Harris found “Over half of Americans (56%) are opposed to [an obesity] tax going into effect with two in five (42%) being strongly opposed. Three in ten (31%) support this tax being imposed.” There were some differences: people living in the South and Midwest or with lower incomes or with less education were more opposed to such measures.

On list of generous nations, US ranks 5th

Gallup has released “The World Giving Index 2010” and the United States is tied for fifth with Switzerland and behind Australia and New Zealand (tied for first) and Ireland and Canada (tied for third).

It looks like respondents were asked whether they did three things within the past month: gave money to an organization, volunteered for an organization, or helped someone they didn’t know.

Gallup suggests “the level of satisfaction or happiness of the population is emerging as the key driver for increasing the giving of money.” They also argue there could be “a positive cycle of giving” where happier people give to others who then are more likely to give.

I would be interested to know how much a country’s culture affects this. Are there certain societal traits that lead to more giving? Or are there certain economic and governmental structures that encourage more giving?

Gallup examines the link between religion and income

New figures from Gallup examine the link between religion and income. Based on results from asking the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”, it appears that religion is more important to the daily lives of those in poorer countries:

This reflects the strong relationship between a country’s socioeconomic status and the religiosity of its residents. In the world’s poorest countries — those with average per-capita incomes of $2,000 or lower — the median proportion who say religion is important in their daily lives is 95%. In contrast, the median for the richest countries — those with average per-capita incomes higher than $25,000 — is 47%.

Why exactly this is the case is briefly explored:

Social scientists have put forth numerous possible explanations for the relationship between the religiosity of a population and its average income level. One theory is that religion plays a more functional role in the world’s poorest countries, helping many residents cope with a daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families. A previous Gallup analysis supports this idea, revealing that the relationship between religiosity and emotional wellbeing is stronger among poor countries than among those in the developed world.

However, there are several countries that don’t fit the relationship:

The United States is one of the rich countries that bucks the trend. About two-thirds of Americans — 65% — say religion is important in their daily lives. Among high-income countries, only Italians, Greeks, Singaporeans, and residents of the oil-rich Persian Gulf states are more likely to say religion is important.

Figures like these provide more data to be interpreted within the secularization debate in sociol0gy. Briefly put, the theory of secularization suggests that the importance of religion in institutional life and personal life diminishes as a society or people become more modern. On one hand, this trend Gallup finds seems to support the theory: as countries become wealthier and generally join the industrialized/developed world, the need for religion diminishes. On the other hand, there are countries that don’t fit the trend. The United States is usually discussed as the primary exception but there are other nations with other religious traditions that also don’t fit.

For a graphical representation of the data, check out this New York Times piece.

American drinking rate pretty steady

Gallup reports on the drinking rate in the United States which is up to a 15-year high of 71 percent. The drinking rate appears to be defined by asking whether someone uses alcoholic beverages or is a total abstainer.

While this 15-year high may seem remarkable, looking at the data from today back to 1939, the drinking rate has been “remarkably stable” (in Gallup’s words). Even in complex societies, some behaviors are quite steady over time.

As to what characteristics influence drinking, Gallup notes a few:

One of the most significant predictors of alcohol consumption is church attendance. Those who seldom or never attend church are substantially more likely than more frequent church attenders to say they drink; and those who have no religious identity, Catholics, and non-Christians are more likely to drink than Protestants…

59% of older Americans drink alcohol, substantially lower than the percentages among those who are younger. Additionally, those with the lowest education levels and lowest incomes are less likely to drink than others.

Interesting look at some common behavior. I wish there was a follow-up question (which I am sure is asked in other surveys): why do you or don’t you drink?