The political leanings of people who go on cruises

Estimated read time 9 min read
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When we ask you to submit the quantitative queries that fuel the machinery here at the Department of Data, we often toss out a few questions to prime the pump. Recently, we mused about the political leanings of people who go on cruises. It struck a nerve. More than a few of you implored us to answer.

Ordinarily, we wouldn’t consider any one mode of travel particularly political. But someone brought to our attention a newsletter writer who characterized Democrats as “snobs” who look down on anyone who “goes on cruises or to all-inclusive resorts.”

Hmm. Is that right? Do cruises and all-inclusive resorts really attract a predominantly Republican clientele?

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We tracked down our friend Carl Bialik at YouGov, a polling impresario who once wrote the (excellent) Numbers column at the Wall Street Journal. Late last year, YouGov asked 1,000 American adults this very question (at least the one about cruises) as a way to gauge how the coronavirus pandemic had changed our behavior.

Bialik found that the partisan gap among cruisegoers doesn’t yawn nearly as wide as some commentators might think. When asked if they’d been on a cruise before the pandemic, 16 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans said yes. That gap looks particularly unremarkable given that the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Slicing the data by the 2020 presidential vote yields a slightly bigger gap: 17 percent of Biden voters and 26 percent of Trump voters said they had been on a cruise at some point before the pandemic.

As you might guess, your likelihood of boarding a cruise ship seems to increase alongside your age, as well as your income. Looking at cruisegoers by other characteristics, Whites (19 percent) were more likely to cruise than Black or Hispanic Americans (12 percent each), while Southerners (20 percent) were more likely than Midwesterners (13 percent).

But there are signs that the covid era has blown the partisan gap in cruising wide open. While about a third (32 percent) of 2020 Trump voters said they would be “very comfortable” going on a cruise right now, only 11 percent of Biden voters said the same. Meanwhile, nearly half of Biden voters (48 percent) said the opposite — that they would in fact be “very uncomfortable” cruising — more than double the rate of unease among their Trump-voting peers. Gaps across regions and races weren’t nearly as wide.

So is it cultural snobbery or covid caution that’s driving the divide? You may recall that cruise ships played a starring role in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. At one point in February 2020, a ship called the Diamond Princess had more covid cases than anywhere else in the world outside mainland China, where the virus originated.

Over 3,700 people were quarantined on a cruise ship after an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Here are some of its passengers’ stories. (Video: Jayne Orenstein, Monica Rodman/The Washington Post)

On its website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still warns that covid “spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships.” And it’s not just covid: More than 300 people were recently sickened by a suspected norovirus on the Ruby Princess, which also made headlines in 2020 as a vector of covid infection.

Looking deeper into the survey results, we find support for the covid caution theory. Because it’s not just cruise ships that make Biden voters nervous. Other activities that require mingling with large crowds in public aren’t quite as polarizing, but they all show growing partisan gaps.

Before the pandemic, Biden and Trump voters were equally likely to have attended a concert or traveled by airplane, for example: Everyone was close to 50 percent. Now, Biden voters are less than half as likely to be “very comfortable” with concerts and plane flights as Trump voters are.

Biden voters are even less comfortable taking public transportation than Trump voters, despite the fact that they were much more likely to ride on public buses and subways before covid hit.

So while there does seem to be a partisan gap on cruising, it looks to us like a manifestation of a larger partisan divide over the need for continued vigilance against covid rather than any elitist disdain for the big boats, onboard entertainment and 24-hour buffets.

Intermarriage among college majors

We all know that theater majors are a special breed. Apparently, they agree: Folks who study drama or theater are more likely to marry each other than people who major in any other subject, tied with music, according to world-class survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

About 12 percent of drama or music majors marry people who studied the same subject — a fact made even more remarkable when you consider they’re pretty small groups. Drama majors rank 53rd out of 72 majors for which we have sufficient data from the past decade, and music majors rank 33rd. Often, folks in smaller majors tend to be less likely to marry one of their own — presumably because there are fewer potential partners to pick from.

The major least likely to marry within its own ranks is, perhaps unsurprisingly, family and consumer sciences. About 1 percent of students in that major (formerly known as home economics) marry other home economists. That makes sense given that 92 percent of them are women, and a majority of American marriages are heterosexual.

The special-needs education major is also dominated by a single gender — it’s 88 percent women. They, too, are extremely unlikely to marry within their major (2 percent).

Drama and music students gain an edge in the marriage department from their fairly even gender balances: They are 61 percent and 51.5 percent women, respectively. But the gender trend breaks down from there, and it doesn’t seem to explain the rest of the marriage distribution among majors.

Of course, we’re only looking within married couples: If you’re married, how likely is it that your partner shares your major? If we look more broadly at marriage rates by major, we find music majors marry at below-average rates, and drama and theater folks are less likely to get married at all than almost any other major. Only film majors rank higher.

Top destinations for medical travel

When people get sick — like, life-threatening sick — they tend to seek the best possible care. And in the United States, that often means traveling far from home. A new analysis of 229 million Medicare claims found that almost a quarter of the care we get from physicians, in dollar terms, comes from outside our home hospital regions.

Verdant and placid Rochester, Minn., home of the Mayo Clinic, may be the nation’s top medical destination. It’s the only area in America that produces more than twice as much Medicare health care as is used locally.

But midsize Rochester is an outlier. This new analysis by University of Chicago economists Jonathan Dingel, Joshua Gottlieb, Maya Lozinski and Pauline Mourot calculated which areas medical travelers flocked to for physician services, and which ones they passed over, and found that bigger cities typically have the most desirable hospitals.

According to their analysis, Medicare heavyweight Phoenix has the highest-quality hospitals, while Los Angeles, the nation’s largest hospital referral area, ranks second. Their calculations imply that someone would be willing to travel about three times farther to get to a hospital in L.A. than they would for a hospital in an average city.

As in L.A., the highest-scoring hospitals tend to be in referral areas with lots of Medicare patients, and thus endless opportunities to develop expertise. (Hospital referral regions are similar to metro areas, but they include rural hinterlands. Their boundaries are defined by markets for medical care, rather than commuting and population patterns.)

Physicians working with Medicare have no reason to compete on cost since the government-run insurance program for the elderly reimburses all providers at roughly the same rate (this data comes from traditional Medicare, not Medicare Advantage). So they have to compete on convenience and quality of service, the authors write. As a result, areas with the most potential patients will tend to have the best providers slugging it out for business, especially when it comes to the most specialized conditions.

“Competition can work, even when prices are regulated,” Gottlieb told us. “Bigger markets can produce more efficiently, and competition for patients forces them to translate that efficiency into the quality that patients demand.”

“The benefits of scale are big enough that they get shared beyond their home markets, through patients traveling for care,” he said. “Medicare patients can travel around the country to find the care they need.”

Medicare patients most often travel for cancer and heart or circulatory care, the largest major spending categories of 21 tracked. But pound for pound, the issues prompting the most travel relative to their prevalence are congenital, a category that includes issues present at birth, particularly heart and nervous system defects.

But cancer ranks second. Cancer is so costly, so common and so serious that it accounts for almost a fifth of all medical spending outside your home hospital area. Almost half of those with eye cancers had to travel in 2017, the year for which we have data. It was also common to travel for sarcomas, pharyngeal and fallopian-tube cancers.

It’s also common to travel for mental and behavioral disorders, particularly eating disorders and drug abuse-related conditions.

Hello! The Department of Data wants to know what you’re curious about. When did America’s working-horse population peak? What U.S. roads see the highest average speeds? At the current jersey-retirement rates, when will major sports leagues run out of jersey numbers? Just ask!

If your question inspires a column, we’ll mail an official Department of Data button and ID card. To get every question, answer and factoid in your inbox as soon as we publish, sign up here. This week’s buttons go to Meg Friedman in New Haven, Conn., who asked about differences in health-care quality between metros, and cruise-question-askers Marilyn Berner of Venice, Fla., Jean Morra of Falls Church, Va., and Sandra Dumas of Silver Spring, Md.

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