martes, 26 de marzo de 2019

Indian elections nearing amid frustration with politics, concerns about misinformation

Indians try out electronic voting machines in Mumbai in January, ahead of the country’s upcoming general elections. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

As many as 900 million people are expected to vote in India’s national elections in April and May. The elections come amid a recent increase in tensions between India and Pakistan, as well as allegations that mobile applications including WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter are fueling the spread of fake news in the world’s largest democracy.

Two surveys conducted by Pew Research Center in 2018 shed light on how adults in India see their elected officials and their democracy – as well as how they feel about the spread of misinformation via mobile technology. Here are five key findings from the surveys as Indians prepare to cast ballots:

1Most Indian adults see politicians as corrupt and question whether elections are effective. About two-thirds (64%) say most politicians are corrupt, including 43% who very intensely hold this view, according to a spring 2018 survey by the Center. Notably, nearly seven-in-ten supporters of the two major parties contesting the election – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Indian National Congress party – share the view that most elected leaders are corrupt (69% in each party say this). On a related question, only a third of Indians think elected officials care about the opinions of ordinary people in their country.

Meanwhile, 58% of adults in India say that no matter who wins an election, things do not change very much. This again includes a majority of both BJP and Congress supporters.

Despite these negative views, Indians think their country allows other democratic values to flourish. By more than two-to-one, for example, Indians say the rights of people to express their own views are protected and that most people have a good chance to improve their standard of living. A sizable share (47%) also believes the courts treat everyone fairly.

2A little over half of Indian adults (54%) are satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country, but a third are dissatisfied. Men are more likely than women to give Indian democracy a thumbs-up, though one-in-five women decline to offer an opinion. Satisfaction with the state of India’s democracy also differs by party affiliation: Three-quarters of BJP supporters are satisfied, compared with only 42% of Congress adherents.

3Indians largely view Pakistan as a threat and believe the situation in Kashmir warrants more military force. The recent escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack has turned the long-running territorial dispute over Kashmir into a potent campaign issue for Modi. In the Center’s spring survey last year, 76% of Indians said Pakistan is a major threat to their country, including 63% who said it is a very serious threat. This view was shared by people in rural areas and urban centers, supporters of both the prime minister’s BJP and the Congress party, as well as Indians across age groups. Additionally, 65% said terrorism is a very big problem in India.

When asked specifically about Kashmir, a majority of Indians (55%) see the situation there as a very big problem. More than half (53%) say circumstances in Kashmir have gotten worse over the last five years, and a majority (58%) believes the Indian government should use more military force than it uses currently in dealing with tensions in the area.

In the aftermath of the violence in Pulwama, Indian social media platforms saw such an uptick in fictitious or purposely misleading stories related to the attack that the head of Facebook India’s Integrity Initiatives tweeted that he had “never seen anything like this before.”

4Many Indians are using mobile phones to get news, but the public is divided over how these devices have influenced politics. About eight-in-ten Indian adults say they own or share a mobile phone, and most of these users (81%) say their phone has helped them obtain information and news about important issues, according to a separate 2018 survey. However, Indians have mixed attitudes about mobile phones’ overall impact on politics. About four-in-ten say the increasing use of mobile phones has had a good influence on politics. Indians feel similarly about the impact of the internet on politics: Again, about four-in-ten say it has had a good influence. However, only a minority of Indians (38%) currently go online.

Partisanship plays a role in public opinion of the impact of mobile technology. Adults who support Modi’s BJP are more likely to say mobile phones have had a good influence on politics (49%) than those who support the Congress party (33%). Last September, the president of the BJP encouraged the party’s supporters to spread pro-BJP messages on WhatsApp and other social media platforms – whether those messages are “true or fake.”

5Roughly three-in-four Indians (77%) say they are very or somewhat concerned about people being exposed to false or incorrect information when they use their mobile phones, including 45% who are very concerned. Similar shares of both BJP and Congress supporters say they are very concerned. This finding comes amid recent violent attacks attributed to viral WhatsApp hoaxes and concerns about the app being used to spread fake news.

Of the seven social media and messaging apps included in the survey, WhatsApp and Facebook are the most widely used in India – although relatively modest shares of Indian adults (29% and 24%, respectively) report currently using them. While this means a majority of Indians do not use these apps, the 1.35 billion-person country still has the largest number of WhatsApp and Facebook users in the world. In the lead-up to this spring’s election, some mobile apps are taking steps to curb the spread of misinformation. WhatsApp, for example, says it is using artificial intelligence to help spot fabricated news; the company says these efforts have led it to suspend more than 6 million user accounts over the past three months.

martes, 19 de marzo de 2019

Evangelical approval of Trump remains high, but other religious groups are less supportive

More than two years into Donald Trump’s presidency, white evangelical Protestants in the United States continue to overwhelmingly support him, according to a new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data. Other religious groups, however, are more divided in their views of the president.

Roughly seven-in-ten white evangelical Protestants (69%) say they approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, according to the Center’s latest polling in January 2019. This is somewhat lower than Trump’s approval rating in the earliest days of his tenure – when about eight-in-ten white evangelicals (78%) approved of his job performance – but is in line with most polls conducted by the Center since the inauguration.

White evangelicals’ support for the president has been consistently high, and many prominent evangelical leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Jr. – the president of Liberty University – have steadfastly stood with the president.

White mainline Protestants and white Catholics are less approving of Trump’s performance than are white evangelicals, but more approving than religiously unaffiliated Americans – that is, those who identify as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular.

In most of the 11 surveys conducted by the Center since Trump’s inauguration, between 46% and 55% of white mainline Protestants have approved of the president, including 48% in the January 2019 survey. Around half of white Catholics have approved of Trump in these surveys, including 44% in January.

Religiously unaffiliated Americans consistently express among the lowest levels of approval of Trump’s performance, ranging from 17% to 27% across the polls the Center has conducted since the president assumed office. Most black protestants and nonwhite Catholics also have disapproved of the way the president handles his job.

While white evangelical Protestants generally give Trump high approval ratings, that does not mean they have no reservations about him. An August 2018 survey found that roughly half of white evangelicals do not think that Trump has set a high moral standard for the presidency since taking office. Some prominent evangelical leaders, such as Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, have expressed ambivalence about Trump and concern about some of his policies. Others, such as Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, openly oppose the president.

Still, white evangelicals make up a staunchly and increasingly Republican group that generally backs Trump and his policies. In the January 2019 survey, for instance, nearly three-quarters of white evangelicals expressed support for substantially expanding the wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

White evangelical Protestants who regularly attend church (that is, once a week or more) approve of Trump at rates matching or exceeding those of white evangelicals who attend church less often. Indeed, in the first few months of Trump’s presidency, white evangelicals who attended church at least weekly were significantly more likely than less-frequent churchgoers to approve of Trump’s performance (79% vs. 71%). In the most recent period analyzed – from July 2018 to January 2019 – 70% of white evangelicals who attend church at least once a week approve of Trump, as do 65% of those who attend religious services less often.

Among white Catholics, there have also been differences in presidential approval between those who attend Mass weekly and those who do not. In the early months of Trump’s presidency, weekly Mass-attending Catholics were 12 points more likely than less-regular attendees to approve of Trump’s performance. There was an 11-point gap between these groups in the first half of 2018. In the most recent period analyzed, 52% of white Catholics who attend Mass weekly approve of Trump, as do 45% of those who attend services less often.

Among white mainline Protestants, approval of the president is not meaningfully different between weekly attenders and those who attend less often.

Smaller religious groups such as Mormons and Muslims cannot be reliably analyzed from a single poll because of the limitations of sample size. But the views of members of smaller religious groups can be assessed by combining results from all 11 Pew Research Center polls conducted between February 2017 and January 2019. Looking at the period of Trump’s presidency overall, about half of Mormons (52%) approve of his job performance, while smaller shares of Jews (24%) and Muslims (18%) say the same.

lunes, 18 de marzo de 2019

What Europe’s Populist Right Is Getting Right


Authoritarian nationalists such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán win support not only by attacking immigrants, but also by delivering economic policies that benefit the poor and middle class. Western analysts and, more important, Western leaders need to learn this lesson before it's too late.

PHILADELPHIA – On March 20, the European People’s Party, the conservative bloc in the European Parliament, will decide whether to expel Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz. The EPP has been slow to censure Fidesz and Hungary’s autocratic prime minister, Viktor Orbán, for its assault on democracy and rule of law. Yet, Orbán’s Western critics have been equally slow to understand the social and economic policies that underpin his popularity.

Consider the bold set of family policies that Orbán announced on February 10. So far, the verdict in the West on these policies, which are aimed at addressing the country’s low fertility rate and further reducing immigration, has been thunderously negative and all but blind to their effectiveness in entrenching Orbán’s support among Hungarian voters.

Western analysts fail to recognize that authoritarian nationalists such as Orbán win support not only by attacking immigrants, but also by delivering economic policies that benefit average people. Mainstream political parties in the West need to learn this economic lesson fast if they want to compete against their own populist challengers.

Orbán is keen to connect his nationalist message to generous and popular social policies, while encouraging Hungarian women and families to have more children. Hungary’s current fertility rate of 1.45 children per female is below replacement rate. And its population has been shrinking since 1989, mirroring declines in other former communist countries that used to provide extensive social support to families.

The plan’s centerpiece is a lifetime exemption from personal income tax for women who bear and raise four or more children (Orbán and his wife have five). This and other policies in the new package will have a real impact on all families in Hungary. Women under 40 who marry for the first time and have worked for at least three years will be eligible for a $36,000 “childbearing” loan at a discounted rate, which will be forgiven as they have children. Larger families can apply for an $9,000 government grant toward the purchase of a seven-seat automobile. Grandparents taking care of children will be eligible for leave from work and benefits. And the government will create 21,000 new subsidized childcare places.

Leading Western media, analysts, and politicians have been almost universally critical of the plan, thereby falling right into Orbán’s trap. The Economist, a longtime advocate of the free-market economic policies that have impoverished many in Eastern Europe while producing great wealth for a few and higher living standards for a middle-class minority, predictably criticized Orbán’s plan for being too expensive. The new measures are “unlikely to give birth to a baby boom” and could “swell an economy that is close to overheating, and inflate house prices.”

Journalist Adam Taylor echoed these sentiments in The Washington Post, arguing that Orbán’s policies will “barely move the needle on birthrate and may represent a poor return on investment.” We have heard this same Western critique for decades: helping people is too expensive and does not work, paying for houses will only make them pricier, and it’s better to rely on markets than on public policies.

But Orbán’s critics ignore the examples of Poland and Russia, which also have implemented natalist policies in recent years. Russia’s fertility rate is up to 1.75 children per female, from a low of 1.17 in 1999, partly owing to a grant program for new parents. Poland, too, has achieved higher birth rates since 2015 after introducing the massive Family 500+ initiative, which enables parents to pay for school supplies, clothes, and vacations. Both schemes were criticized as being too expensive, but Poland’s public deficit has fallen, not risen. Rather, these policies have stimulated economic growth while dramatically reducing child poverty and increasing school enrollment.

Although free-market attacks on bold new social programs are no surprise, some of the sharpest criticism of Orbán’s policies has come from the left. Progressives strongly dislike the fact that many of his proposals target women in a way that seems to advance a conservative, pro-family agenda.

To The Guardian’s Afua Hirsch, for example, “the idea that assistance for those in poverty is conditional on obedient reproduction is verging on the dystopian.” Similarly, Princeton professor Kim Lane Scheppele, interviewed on Public Radio International, warned that, “Women are going to bear the burden of Orbán’s failed economic policies.” And Swedish Social Affairs Minister Annika Strandhäll said that, “This kind of policy will harm the autonomy for which women have struggled for decades.”

These analysts are right that Orbán’s policies are designed to encourage women to marry, buy houses, bear more children, and stay in Hungary. But their criticism misses the mark in important ways. Overall, these proposals are not coercive. Nor do they seek to keep women barefoot and homebound. Instead, Orbán’s plan is designed to help women manage their work-life balance. For that, it should be celebrated, not excoriated.

Consider the lifetime income-tax exemption for women with four or more children. The primary beneficiaries of this program will be women who work, because those with no income will gain no advantage. In two-parent families where both partners have similar or equal earning potential, it may make sense for the woman to work tax-free, or run the family business, while the man stays at home with the children.

Likewise, giving grandparents childrearing benefits helps women to enter the labor force. So does subsidized childcare. And although the new loan programs do encourage women to have children, they also may enable them to buy a home. In short, these policies provide state support for women’s unpaid labor.

Like it or not, some of Europe’s boldest new social-policy initiatives are coming from its most illiberal governments. The negative reactions of mainstream opinion leaders in the West show how unprepared they are to do battle with Orbán and others for voters’ hearts and minds. The populist right is pressing the rhetoric and policies of social democracy into the service of authoritarian nationalism. If the West cannot see or understand the appeal of this, it will be unable to fight back.

sábado, 16 de marzo de 2019

An AI for generating fake news could also help detect it

Sometimes it takes a bot to know one

by Karen Hao

Last month OpenAI rather dramatically withheld the release of its newest language model, GPT-2, because it feared it could be used to automate the mass production of misinformation. The decision also accelerated the AI community’s ongoing discussion about how to detect this kind of fake news. In a new experiment, researchers at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and HarvardNLP considered whether the same language models that can write such convincing prose can also spot other model-generated passages

The idea behind this hypothesis is simple: language models produce sentences by predicting the next word in a sequence of text. So if they can easily predict most of the words in a given passage, it’s likely it was written by one of their own.

The researchers tested their idea by building an interactive tool based on the publicly accessible downgraded version of OpenAI’s GPT-2. When you feed the tool a passage of text, it highlights the words in green, yellow, or red to indicate decreasing ease of predictability; it highlights them in purple if it wouldn’t have predicted them at all. In theory, the higher the fraction of red and purple words, the higher the chance the passage was written by a human; the greater the share of green and yellow words, the more likely it was written by a language model.A reading comprehension passage from a US standardized test, written by a human.
HENDRIK STROBELT AND SEBASTIAN GEHRMANNA passage written by OpenAI's downgraded GPT-2.

Indeed, the researchers found that passages written by the downgraded and full versions of GPT-2 came out almost completely green and yellow, while scientific abstracts written by humans and text from reading comprehension passages in US standardized tests had lots of red and purple.

But not so fast. Janelle Shane, a researcher who runs the popular blog Letting Neural Networks Be Weirdand who was uninvolved in the initial research, put the tool to a more rigorous test. Rather than just feed it text generated by GPT-2, she fed it passages written by other language models as well, including one trained on Amazon reviews and another trained on Dungeons and Dragons biographies. She found that the tool failed to predict a large chunk of the words in each of these passages, and thus it assumed they were human-written. This identifies an important insight: a language model might be good at detecting its own output, but not necessarily the output of others.

The 10 worst technologies of the 21st century: we all make mistakes sometimes

By MIT Technology Review

You’d think it would be easy to come up with a list of bad technologies from the past couple of decades. But we had a hard time agreeing: What makes a “bad” technology?

After all, technologies can be bad because they fail to achieve admirable aims, or because they succeed in wicked ones. The most useful technologies can also be the most harmful—think of cars, which are crucial to the modern world yet kill over 1.25 million people a year. And when well-intentioned technologies fail, is it because they are fundamentally flawed or just ahead of their time?

Take the Segway. Inventor Dean Kamen hyped it as a device that would transform cities and transportation. It turned out to be an expensive scooter that makes you look silly. Hoverboards were similarly all the rage until their batteries started exploding. But now (smaller) scooters and (safer) powered skateboards are increasingly popular.

If Google Glass had been developed by a lesser company, we probably wouldn’t pick on it so much. But Google should have known better. It made the wearer appear elitist and invasive. Then again, like Segways and hoverboards, this was a failed product, not a failed technology; augmented-reality glasses and heads-up displays are finding their public.

Some technologies are well-intentioned but solve no real problems and create new ones. Before electronic voting, automated tabulating of paper ballots left an auditable paper trail. Now elections are more vulnerable to hacking.

Some failures apply a technological fix to what is really a social or political problem. Take One Laptop per Child, which set out to solve inequality in education with a new gadget. But was it simply too early? Commercial laptops, tablets, and—above all—smartphones have since inundated the developing world.

Indiscriminate uses of technology worry us. Sometimes this is because regulations are flouted. Gene-editing techniques like CRISPR may one day cure all manner of diseases, but right now we don’t know if CRISPR is safe to use in humans. That’s why the CRISPR babies born in 2018 make our list.

Other times, it’s because technology has outpaced regulation. Data trafficking, the sharing and remixing of people’s data without their control or awareness, has contributed to the undermining of personal liberty and democracy itself.

Some technologies are just misapplied. So far cryptocurrency looks mainly like a way for a handful of speculators to get very rich while a lot of other people end up poorer. But the technology underlying it, blockchain, could yet be transformative in other areas.
Sign up for the The Algorithm
Artificial intelligence, demystified

Still, there are a few inventions we could agree have no redeeming features. Juul and other e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation to nicotine, through a loophole that allowed them to escape public health regulations meant to discourage cigarette smoking. Plastic coffee pods save half a minute in the mornings but produce tons of hard-to-recycle waste. And as for selfie sticks … need we say more?

jueves, 14 de marzo de 2019

Political Independents: Who They Are, What They Think

Most ‘lean’ toward a party; ‘true’ independents tend to avoid politics

Independents often are portrayed as political free agents with the potential to alleviate the nation’s rigid partisan divisions. Yet the reality is that most independents are not all that “independent” politically. And the small share of Americans who are truly independent – less than 10% of the public has no partisan leaning – stand out for their low level of interest in politics.

Among the public overall, 38% describe themselves as independents, while 31% are Democrats and 26% call themselves Republicans, according to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2018. These shares have changed only modestly in recent years, but the proportion of independents is higher than it was from 2000-2008, when no more than about a third of the public identified as independents. (For more on partisan identification over time, see the 2018 report “Wide Gender Gap, Growing Educational Divide in Voters’ Party Identification.”)

An overwhelming majority of independents (81%) continue to “lean” toward either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party. Among the public overall, 17% are Democratic-leaning independents, while 13% lean toward the Republican Party. Just 7% of Americans decline to lean toward a party, a share that has changed little in recent years. This is a long-standing dynamic that has been the subject of past analyses, both by Pew Research Center and others.

In their political attitudes and views of most issues, independents who lean toward a party are in general agreement with those who affiliate with the same party. For example, Republican-leaning independents are less supportive of Donald Trump than are Republican identifiers. Still, about 70% of GOP leaners approved of his job performance during his first two years in office. Democratic leaners, like Democrats, overwhelmingly disapprove of the president.

There are some issues on which partisan leaners – especially those who lean toward the GOP – differ substantially from partisans. While a narrow majority of Republicans (54%) opposed same-sex-marriage in 2017, nearly six-in-ten Republican-leaning independents (58%) favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally.

Yet independents who lean toward one of the two parties have a strong partisan imprint. Majorities of Republican and Democratic leaners have a favorable opinion of their own party, and they are almost as likely as Republican and Democratic identifiers to have an unfavorable opinion of the opposing party.

Independents stand out from partisans in several important ways. They less politically engaged than Republicans or Democrats – and this is especially the case among independents who do not lean to a party.

In a survey conducted last fall, shortly after the midterm elections, partisan leaners were less likely than partisans to say they registered to vote and voted in the congressional elections. About half of Democratic-leaning independents (48%) said they voted, compared with 59% of Democrats. The differences were comparable between GOP leaners (54% said they voted) and Republicans (61%).

Those who do not lean toward a party – a group that consistently expresses less interest in politics than partisan leaners – were less likely to say they had registered to vote and much less likely to say they voted. In fact, just a third said they voted in the midterms.

In addition, independents differ demographically from partisans. Men constitute a majority (56%) of independents. That is higher than the share of men among Republican identifiers (51% are men) and much higher than the share of men among Democrats (just 40%).

Among independents, men make up a sizable share (64%) of Republican leaners and a smaller majority (55%) of independents who do not lean. Democratic leaners include roughly equal shares of men (51%) and women (49%).

Independents also are younger on average than are partisans. Fewer than half of independents (37%) are ages 50 and older; among those who identify as Democrats, 48% are 50 and older, as are a majority (54%) of those who identify as Republicans.

Democratic-leaning independents are younger than other independents or partisans. Nearly a third (31%) are younger than 30, compared with 21% of Republican-leaning independents and just 19% and 14%, respectively, among those who identify as Democrats and Republicans.
Trump divides partisans and partisan leaners alike

As Pew Research Center reported last year, Donald Trump’s job approval rating during the early stage of his presidency is more polarized along partisan lines than any president in the past six decades. In addition, Trump’s rating has been more stable than prior presidents.

During his first two years in office, Trump’s job rating among members of his own party was relatively high compared with recent presidents. In 2017, 85% of those who identify as Republicans approved of Trump’s job performance, based on an average of Pew Research Center surveys. His job rating among Republicans was about as high (84%) in 2018. Trump’s early job rating among members of the opposing party (7%) was much lower than those of three prior presidents (Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton).

Trump’s job rating among independents for his first two years in office also was lower than his recent predecessors; his average job rating among independents was 34% in both 2017 and 2018. Obama’s average rating was 50% during his first year (2009); it fell to 42% in his second year.

Trump’s early rating among independents is closest to Clinton’s, whose job approval averaged about 42% during his first two years in office. Bush, whose overall job rating approached 90% in his first year following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, had approval ratings above 60% among independents in his first two years.

Trump’s job rating among independents, like his overall rating, breaks down along partisan lines. His rating among GOP-leaning independents (72% in 2017, 69% in 2018) was not markedly different from Obama’s and Clinton’s ratings among Democratic-leaning independents during their first two years in office (though much lower than Bush’s among Republican leaners).

Yet Trump’s rating among independents who lean to the opposing party – like his rating among members of the opposing party – was much lower than recent presidents’. In fact, his rating among Democratic-leaning independents during his first two years was about as low as his rating among Democrats (7% in 2017, 9% in 2018).

Trump’s rating also was low among independents who have no partisan leanings. Only about quarter of non-leaners approved of Trump’s job performance during his first two years, while about six-in-ten (58%) disapproved.
Independents’ views of U.S.-Mexico border wall, other key issues

On most issues, independents’ attitudes mirror the views of the overall public. Independents who lean toward a party are usually on the same side as those who identify with the same party, but the level of agreement between leaners and partisans varies depending on the issue.

By a wide margin (62% to 36%), independents oppose Trump’s signature policy proposal, an expansion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly oppose the border wall (95% disapprove), as do Democratic identifiers (92%).

Republican-leaning independents favor expanding the border wall, though by a smaller margin than Republicans identifiers. GOP leaners favor substantially expanding the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by roughly three-to-one (75% to 23%). Among those who affiliate with the Republican Party, the margin is nearly eight-to-one (87% to 11%).

Independents also have a negative view of increased tariffs between the U.S. and its trading partners (53% say they will be bad for the U.S., 36% good for the U.S.). Independents’ views on the 2017 tax bill are more divided: 34% approve of the tax law and 43% disapprove.

As with the border wall, Democratic-leaning independents are more likely to view increased tariffs negatively (75% say they will be bad for the U.S.) than Republican-leaning independents are to view them positively (66% say they will be good). On taxes, two-thirds of GOP leaners approve of the tax law, while an identical share of Democratic leaners disapprove.

Overall, independents are divided in preferences about the size of government and views about government regulation of business.

Republican-leaning independents largely prefer a smaller government providing fewer services; 78% favor smaller government, compared with just 17% who favor bigger government with more services.

The views of GOP leaners are nearly identical to the opinions of those who affiliate with the GOP (74% prefer smaller government). Like Democrats, most Democratic-leaning independents prefer bigger government.

Democrats and Democratic leaners are in sync in opinions about whether the nation’s economic system is generally fair. But there are sharper differences in the views of Republicans and GOP leaners.

A 63% majority of those who identify as Republicans say the U.S. economic system is fair to most Americans; fewer than half as many (29%) say the system unfairly favors powerful interests. GOP leaners are divided: 49% say the system is generally fair, while nearly as many (46%) say it unfairly favors powerful interests.

Large majorities of both Democrats (85%) and Democratic leaners (81%) say the U.S. economic system unfairly favors powerful interests. Most independents who do not lean toward a party share this view (70%).
Independents’ views of race, immigrants, gender

Majorities of independents say the U.S. needs to continue to make changes to give blacks equal rights with whites (57%) and that significant obstacles still make it harder for women to get ahead (54%). In addition, far more independents say immigrants do more to strengthen (66%) than burden (23%) the country.

In views of racial equality and women’s progress, the views of partisan leaners are comparable to those of partisans. Large majorities of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the U.S. needs to make more changes to give blacks equal rights and that significant obstacles stand in the way of women. Most Republicans and Republican leaners say the country has made needed changes to give blacks equal rights with whites, and that the obstacles blocking women’s progress are largely gone.

However, Republican-leaning independents differ from Republicans in their views of immigrants’ impact on the country. Among GOP leaners, 44% say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents; 40% say they are a burden on the country because they take jobs, housing and health care. A majority of those who identify as Republicans (55%) say immigrants burden the country.

Views of immigrants’ impact on the country are largely positive among Democratic-leaning independents (88% say they strengthen the U.S.) and those who identify as Democrats (80%).
Broad support among independents for same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization

Public support for same-sex marriage has grown rapidly over the past decade. In June 2017, a majority of adults (62%) favored allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, while just 32% were opposed.

Independents’ views of same-sex-marriage were similar to Democrats’: 73% of Democrats favored gay marriage, as did 70% of independents. Among those who identified as Republicans, just 40% favored same-sex marriage, while 54% were opposed.

In contrast to Republicans, Republican-leaning independents favored same-sex marriage (58% were in favor, 37% were opposed). Support for same-sex marriage was higher among Democratic-leaning independents than among Democrats (82% vs. 73%).

Public support for legalizing marijuana use has followed a similar upward trajectory in recent years. Currently, 62% of the public says the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 34% say it should be illegal.

Majorities of both Democrats (69%) and independents (68%) favor legalizing marijuana; Republicans are divided, with 45% supportive of legalization and 51% opposed. Among GOP-leaning independents, a 60% majority favors legalizing marijuana. And a large majority of Democratic-leaning independents (75%) also favors marijuana legalization.

Independents who do not lean to a party widely favored same-sex marriage (65% favor this), while 70% say the use of marijuana should be legal.
More partisans and partisan leaners embrace ideological labels

As in the past, more independents describe their political views as moderate (43%) than conservative (29%) or liberal (24%). These shares have changed little in recent years.

Since 2000, there have been sizable increases in the shares of both Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who identify as conservative. Today, more Republican-leaning independents describe themselves as conservatives (51%) than as moderates (39%) or liberals (8%). In 2000, GOP leaners included almost identical shares of conservatives (42%) and moderates (43%); 11% described their views as liberal.

Over the same period, there has been growth in the shares of Democrats and Democratic leaners identifying as liberal. Among Democratic-leaning independents, slightly more identify as moderates (45%) than as liberals (39%), while 14% are conservatives. But the gap has narrowed since 2000, when moderates outnumbered liberals, 50% to 30%.

By contrast, moderates continue to make up the largest share of independents who do not lean to a party. Nearly half of independents who do not lean to a party describe their views as moderate, while 24% are conservatives and 18% are liberals. These numbers have changed little since 2000.
How independents view the political parties

In a two-party system, it is not surprising that most Americans view their own party favorably while viewing the opposing party unfavorably. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) view one party favorably while expressing an unfavorable opinion of the other party. About one-in-five (17%) feel unfavorably toward both parties, while 12% feel favorably toward both.

The share of Americans who have a positive view of one party and a negative view of the other has increased since 2015 (from 58%). Over the same period, there has been a decline in the share expressing a negative view of both parties, from 23% in 2015 to 17% currently.

Independents who lean toward a party are less likely than partisans to view their party favorably. In addition, far more independents (28%) than Republicans (10%) or Democrats (9%) have an unfavorable opinion of both parties.

Still, the share of independents who view both parties negatively has declined in recent years. At one point in 2015, more than a third of independents (36%) viewed both parties unfavorably.

Most of the change since then has come among Republican-leaning independents, who feel much more positively about the GOP than they did then. In July 2015, just 44% of GOP leaners had a favorable opinion of the Republican Party; 47% had an unfavorable view of both parties. Today, a majority of GOP leaners view the Republican Party favorably (55%), while just 24% view both parties unfavorably.

Independents who do not lean to a party are most likely to have an unfavorable opinion of both parties (37%). Another 22% have favorable opinions of both parties. Just 11% of independents who do not lean to a party view the Democratic Party favorably, while about as many (9%) have a favorable view of the GOP.
Growing partisan antipathy among partisans and leaners

Over the past two decades, Republicans and Democrats have come to view the opposing party more negatively. The same trend is evident among independents who lean toward a party.

Currently, 87% of those who identify with the Republican Party view the Democratic Party unfavorably; Republican-leaning independents are almost as likely to view the Democratic Party negatively (81% unfavorable). Opinions among Democrats and Democratic leaners are nearly the mirror image: 88% of Democrats and 84% of Democratic leaners view the GOP unfavorably. In both parties, the shares of partisan identifiers and leaners with unfavorable impressions of the opposition party are at or near all-time highs.

Perhaps more important, intense dislike of the opposing party, which has surged over the past two decades among partisans, has followed a similar trajectory among independents who lean toward the Republican and Democratic parties.

The share of Democratic-leaning independents with a very unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party has more than quadrupled between 1994 and 2018 (from 8% to 37%). There has been a similar trend in how Republican leaners view the Democratic Party; very unfavorable opinions have increased from 15% in 1994 to 39% in 2018.

miércoles, 13 de marzo de 2019

Why Urban Millennials Love Uniqlo

Will the rest of America learn to love it too?

Uniqlo was founded in 1984 in Hiroshima, Japan, as the Unique Clothing Warehouse—an ironic name for a manufacturer known for clothing that is in no way unique. A person can dress sock-to-cardigan in the company’s wares without announcing herself as a devotee of the brand. In an industry as label-oriented as fashion, such anonymity would seem to be a detriment to success. Today, however, Uniqlo has more than 2,000 stores in 15 countries. Its owner, Tadashi Yanai, is the richest person in Japan. Its parent company, Fast Retailing, is among the five largest clothing retailers in the world.

Only a small percentage of Uniqlo’s stores are located in the United States. But for a certain segment of American shoppers—young, urban, professional, practical—Uniqlo basics have become a cornerstone of the contemporary wardrobe. In America’s coastal cities, Uniqlo’s stores—on Newbury Street in Boston, in SoHo in New York, in San Francisco’s Union Square—are forever clotted with customers.

Part of the reason is cost: Because of its low prices—jeans retail for $40, a hoodie for $30, one of the brand’s signature down jackets for $70—Uniqlo is often compared to other big brands in the fast-fashion category, such as Zara and H&M. But the term fits those companies more snugly. Zara endeavors to reproduce the latest couture trends for the masses: Balenciaga recently made a platform sneaker that cost $795; a decent approximation of it can be found at Zara for $34.99. H&M is a one-stop shop for hyper-trendy items—velvet pants, a beaded sweater, a sequined halter dress—at prices that make them easily replaceable when they inevitably become passé.

Uniqlo isn’t in the business of chasing trends. Its staples—versatile black pants, reliable oxfords, crisp cotton socks—are available month after month, year after year. A more apt analogue would be the Gap. In its 1990s heyday, the Gap revolutionized American retailing by making basics cool. But the company eventually became a victim of its own success. “When [the Gap] tried to go from having a certain cachet to being in every single mall in every single town in America, the brand lost its edge,” Steve Rowen, a managing partner at Retail Systems Research, told me. Gap clothing became the uniform of suburban moms and dads. Despite the company’s efforts to make its khakis less baggy and its shirts slimmer, no one wants to fall into the Gap anymore—especially when you can get cheaper basics with cleaner lines at Uniqlo.

The question Uniqlo faces now is whether it can inherit the Gap’s empire without repeating its mistakes. To do so, it will have to convince shoppers across the country of a proposition that’s radical for the industry: Fashion can be affordable without being disposable.

Uniqlo has profited from changes in American society, some of which might seem at first glance to be unrelated to fashion. Millennial shoppers entered a job market with fewer jobs, while carrying more student debt, which limited how much money many of them could spend on clothes. (They also entered a workforce that was more amenable than ever to casual attire; where a suit was once called for, chinos and a button-down—or jeans and a hoodie—now suffice.) That austerity contributed to a cultural shift, in which conspicuously expensive clothing fell out of favor. “We went through a period where the logo was dying and nobody wanted to wear a big logo and advertise for the brand,” Jan Rogers Kniffen, a retail consultant, told me. “That’s the Uniqlo customer.”

These shifting mores created an opening in the American market, one that a company as rooted in Japan’s aesthetic history as Uniqlo could ably fill. “Clothing in the West, it’s associated with status, with rank,” Hirotaka Takeuchi, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the brand, told me. In Japan, clothing has traditionally been more standardized. Until the end of the 19th century, when Western influence became more prevalent, kimonos were commonly worn by Japanese people of varying ages and classes. The garment would differ depending on the wearer’s ability to afford fine fabric or embroidery, but compared with the West, where the wealthy telegraphed their status with elaborate styles of dress, such signaling was far more subtle. Takeuchi sees Uniqlo as bringing this old Japanese view of fashion to the U.S. market.

This isn’t to say that people who shop at Uniqlo don’t care about how they look. The company realized that its customers might not want to pay top dollar for pants, but they do want them to fit. A pair of Uniqlo slacks is never going to look like a $200 pair from a high-end competitor. But because Uniqlo offers free tailoring, the pants are probably not going to look like you got them for $40, either. The company may be sensitive to customers’ finances, but it’s alive to their aspirations as well. It offers blouses in silk and sweaters in cashmere. In recent years, Alexander Wang, Jun Takahashi, Tomas Maier, and Jil Sander have all partnered with the company on limited-edition designs, clearly hoping to meet their next generation of devotees where it shops now. For Uniqlo, the collaborations provide a frisson of high fashion, a suggestion that the leading lights of couture appreciate its cheap socks and T-shirts too.

Quality isn’t an attribute typically associated with fast fashion, but Uniqlo has also managed to build a reputation for durability. Takeuchi told me the brand that reminds him most of the relative newcomer—Uniqlo opened its first U.S. stores in 2005—is an old American one: L.L.Bean. The association might seem odd, given the venerable Maine retailer’s tradition of outfitting its customers in boxy flannels and duck boots. But in terms of philosophy, if not aesthetic, Takeuchi thinks the comparison is apt. The proposition L.L.Bean has always made to its customers is that they are investing in items that will be with them for a lifetime. Uniqlo can’t promise anything approaching that longevity, but in an era of disposable fashion, a Uniqlo garment, made from hearty materials and cut in a timeless style, can feel like an investment piece. “In a sense, it’s L.L.Bean in modern times,” Takeuchi said.

Like a mountain outfitter, Uniqlo touts the use of a number of signature technologies in its clothing. Puffer coats are insulated with “ultra-light down,” a down fill that purportedly makes jackets less bulky and easier to pack, without sacrificing warmth. HEATTECH, marketed as an innovative insulating system, and AIRism, which is promoted as moisture-wicking, are woven into a variety of Uniqlo staples—socks, underwear, camisoles, leggings, pants—supposedly making them more comfortable and resilient than competitors’ products. Not built for decades of wear on the rocky coast of Maine, perhaps, but more than up to the challenge of a few seasons of service in the cubicle.

In asia, uniqlo is everywhere. More than 800 of the brand’s stores are in Japan—where Uniqlo, by its own estimates, accounts for about 6.5 percent of the total apparel market. Much of the brand’s international growth in recent years has come from other countries in the region, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.

To achieve the kind of dominance in the U.S. that the company enjoys closer to home, Uniqlo will need to grow significantly. A few years ago, Yanai aimed to generate $10 billion in sales from 200 stores in the U.S. by 2020; the company currently operates its 50 or so U.S. stores at a loss. “Compared to H&M or Zara, they have been struggling a little bit in the U.S. market,” says Won-Yong Oh, a professor at the University of Nevada who studies retail companies. “They have less brand awareness.” Many Americans have never heard of Uniqlo, or don’t know how to pronounce it. (It’s you-nee-klo.)

That could be an opportunity to make a good first impression. But as Uniqlo learned when it arrived on American shores, first impressions can be hard to manage. The three original U.S. stores were in New Jersey malls, where the company soon encountered several hurdles, including fit. (American customers, on average, are taller and fleshier than Japanese shoppers.) It closed the stores within a year.

Uniqlo has continued to struggle in suburban markets. Rowen, of Retail Systems Research, said he thinks the company should hew closely to cities, where it has found its greatest success, because that’s where its core customers are. This would also help it avoid the fate of the Gap, which traded its sense of self for growth.

The Gap isn’t the only Uniqlo competitor that has faced challenges in recent years. J.Crew has seen sliding sales as customers complain about strange aesthetic choices and high prices for middling quality; Old Navy (which is owned by the same parent company as the Gap) has strong sales, but its clothes are dogged by a reputation for frumpiness and flimsiness. Uniqlo doesn’t have upwardly mobile city dwellers entirely to itself, however. Madewell and Everlane both offer a relaxed yet refined look, though at a slightly higher price point. For those with a bit more to spend, Fast Retailing’s own luxury brand, Theory, offers simple, well-cut items that call less attention to themselves than do clothes from similarly situated brands.

Given Fast Retailing’s size and international strength, it can afford to not rush things with Uniqlo. “They can do whatever they want,” Kniffen said. “They’re a big, healthy company.” Despite the underwhelming performance of Uniqlo’s American stores thus far, the company’s operating income outside of Japan grew by more than 62 percent year-over-year in 2018, while revenue grew slightly more than 25 percent. From its urban outposts, Uniqlo can slowly upend American ideas about the interplay between quality, style, and status—one basic button-down at a time.