Sunday, June 24, 2012

Americans don't realize economy is bad, still vote based on it

Aparently, Americans are relatively okay with the local economy--whatever locale they happen to inhabit.  On the other hand, they're extremely gloomy about the national economy.  If you follow the link, you'll see that Republicans are a lot more worried than Democrats or independents, but nobody is exactly buzzing with optimism here:

So, I find this graph... problematic.  

I've always assumed that the incredible power of economic conditions to drive election outcomes is because the actual economy transmits information to a wide audience with an alacrity that the political economy can't hope to match.  No matter what Mitt Romney or Barack Obama say or do, the majority of Americans will never hear their platforms in full, will never be able to recite their talking points, and will never know who bested whom in the daily rough-in-tumble of campaign politics.  But virtually everyone is at some level an economic actor, and when the economy tanks, tangible effects ripple out almost immediately to even the most parochial or low-information voters.

But I find it difficult to square this view with the findings here.  The seemingly-widespread belief that the economy is really, really bad right now seems to be grounded in people's evaluation of national conditions--conditions with which they have little firsthand experience.  Conditions they can only know about through the same unreliable news reporting that struggles to transmit political messages.  

How does this work?  Imagine a hypothetical world where the economy was exactly the same, but news organizations for some reason neglected to report any bad economic news.  Every day, the newspaper and television was filled with glowing reports of booming industry and rising employment.  Would people continue to honestly rate local conditions as being mediocre, and if so, still vote against the incumbent in large numbers?  Or do people need to have, I don't know, an 80% confidence rate in the local economy before incumbency becomes safe?  Maybe the transmutation of economic performance into political effects is so subtle that it's literally unconscious.

And if concerns about the nation at large are, in fact, important, why do they seem to matter so much more than political considerations, which get, if anything, larger amounts media coverage and emphasis?  Does Joe Schmoe, watching the nine o'clock news, space out during political segments and then perk up for the monthly unemployment figures?  Something in this picture doesn't really make sense.

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