Dilbert’s poll of economists on Obama vs. McCain

by on September 16, 2008 at 10:56 am in Economics | Permalink

Obama wins, 59-31 percent, here is the story.  The individuals responding to the poll had this distribution of opinion:

48 percent — Democrats

17 percent — Republicans

27 percent — Independents

3 percent — Libertarian

5 percent — Other or not registered

In other words, Obama didn’t do as well as I would have expected, relative to the survey group.  There is much more information in the article, such as this:

On the issue of international trade, only 42 percent of our Democratic economists support Obama’s plans, with 34 percent favoring McCain. Independents favored McCain on this question by 63 percent to 16 percent, while favoring Obama overall.

Another indicator of objectivity is that the income levels of the economists have little impact on their opinions. The economists with lower incomes are no more likely to favor taxing the rich than the rich economists favor taxing themselves.

Likewise, economists in the academic world were largely on the same page as the nonacademic types in predicting which candidate would be best for the long term.

I thanks Alice Miller for the pointer.  And if you do leave a comment, note that the marginal return to being partisan in this setting is very low or even negative.

1 me September 16, 2008 at 11:03 am

The most surprising finding to me initially is the disproportionate representation of Democrats among academic economists.

2 Tom Kelly September 16, 2008 at 11:17 am

I suspect that economists don’t support the candidate that is best for the economy, rather, just like other occupations, they support what they perceive to be best for economists.

3 Butch September 16, 2008 at 11:29 am

Oh come now. The vote was pretty much along party lines, the same way it stacks up in articles in professional journals. It proves and discloses nothing.

4 David R. Henderson September 16, 2008 at 11:36 am

Tyler,
Here’s the problem with the part of the survey about priorities. Some of the priorities are specific policies, such as eliminating the death tax. Others are categories such as education. So I might think education is very important because we should get the government out of the business of compulsory schooling. If I rank education as important, it is taken to mean that I want government to spend more on it. I, knowing that that’s how it will be taken, game the system, not to deceive, but so as _not_ to deceive.
Best,
David

5 brian September 16, 2008 at 11:58 am

bla bla said… the survey shows economists as favoring Obama’s approach on health care; why would any economist have that preference?

Most economists I’ve met have been in favor of single-payer health care because it solves the potentially ruinous problems of adverse selection and moral hazard in the health insurance market. Even if single payer is not their #1 choice, it’s relatively easy to favor Obama over McCain, whose plan consists largely of creating new taxes on health care.

Further, while I think you’re absolutely right about certain issues (like NAFTA), I don’t think that you’re right to imply that economists oppose progressive taxation–most do.

These positions were actually pretty predictable; Bryan Caplan found the same results in his analysis economists’ positions in The Myth of the Rational Voter.

Also, as an aside…
Tom Kelley said… I suspect that economists don’t support the candidate that is best for the economy, rather, just like other occupations, they support what they perceive to be best for economists.

Since economists tend to be relatively high income individuals, wouldn’t that bias them in favor of McCain?

6 Horatio September 16, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Since economists tend to be relatively high income individuals, wouldn’t that bias them in favor of McCain?

Not when you consider that Democrats are more likely to create more demand for economists to manage the sectors of the economy they place under greater government control. The full report does show economists making over $200k supporting McCain the most, but those in the $100-200k group support McCain less than those below $100k.

Has anyone found the actual breakdown of responses by academia/finance/consulting etc.? I looked in the ppt and cannot find it.

7 a student of economics September 16, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Tyler, you say “In other words, Obama didn’t do as well as I would have expected, relative to the survey group.”

However, the survey group appears to be a roughly random sample of economists, so their preference for Democratic policies should not be discounted away. On the contrary, it’s some of the most important information in the survey.

Also, note that Obama did better among Democratic economists than McCain did among Republican economists. Obama also did better among the independents. So what’s the basis for your comment?

Despite McCain’s comments about not caring for the judgments of what he calls “so-called economists” and his self-professed weaknesses with the topic, it’s important for those of us who DO respect economists to take note of their views.

8 liberty September 16, 2008 at 2:01 pm

“Has anyone found the actual breakdown of responses by academia/finance/consulting etc.?”

I’d also be interested on the breakdown by economic school – neoclassicals, Keynesians, New-Keynesians, Post-Keynesians, New Institutionalist, Austrians, micro versus macro etc.

Though I think the results would be obvious.

9 aaron September 16, 2008 at 2:21 pm

I’m suprised it is not more even. Given the current state of thing, economists should know that we’ll get nothing but populist BS from either candidate.

10 BoscoH September 16, 2008 at 2:47 pm

This is like releasing the pre-season AP poll before the bowl games start. I bet the results would be substantially different if the questions were asked today. Scott Adams has been teasing this since before either convention, before the VP picks, and before the latest meltdowns on Wall Street. It is literally old news the day it’s released.

11 Anonymous September 16, 2008 at 3:16 pm

Nobody in their right mind would consider economists to be people.

I mean, read this blog.

12 aaron September 16, 2008 at 4:12 pm

I have to agree with CJS. Some elements of the plan are creepy. I’d highlight 1,2,4, and 5. You’ll never get healthcare costs down without increasing supply. Prevention proved to be a pipe dream over the past decade. The others go without saying, just bad, bad ideas.

13 aaron September 16, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Except number 5. I’m not quite sure what that means.
Euthanasia I think.

14 Libertarian September 16, 2008 at 4:42 pm

A recent WSJ article revealed entirely different results. In a December 2007 survey business economist went more than 2 to 1 for the GOP:

Economists Go for Republicans

Economists may not have picked a horse in the 2008 presidential race, but they do appear to prefer the Republican breed, according to the latest WSJ.com forecasting survey. Asked which presidential candidate would be best for the economy, only half responded but most threw their support behind Republicans. Thirty-five percent said Rudy Giuliani would be best, while 19% chose John McCain and 15% picked Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton got the support of 8%, while John Edwards was the only other Democrat to register with 4% of the vote.

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2007/12/10/economists-go-for-republicans/

15 MarkJ September 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Most economists I’ve met have been in favor of single-payer health care because it solves the potentially ruinous problems of adverse selection and moral hazard in the health insurance market. Even if single payer is not their #1 choice, it’s relatively easy to favor Obama over McCain, whose plan consists largely of creating new taxes on health care.

Hmmm. Something tells me “most economists” have never bothered to talk with all those Canadians stuck in interminable waiting queues for various surgical procedures. The Canadian model has supposedly “solved” various problems…only to create new, and sometimes worse, ones. As the old saying goes, “If you think health care is expensive now…just wait until it’s ‘free.'”

16 CG September 16, 2008 at 6:45 pm

JJ,

Perhaps these people support Obama because he will fund education.

17 Chuck E September 16, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but 42% of democratic economists favored Obama on trade!? I understand that people honestly disagree on which candidate is better (and I don’t have an axe to grind here), but this is shocking. Maybe the economists were swayed by Obama’s statements about trade instead of looking at his voting record. His voting record indicates that he is strongly protectionist. McCain’s voting record is the opposite.

And maybe I’m just being weird for looking at what politicians do instead of what they say.

18 lerxst September 17, 2008 at 12:51 am

Tyler,

The notion that this should be discounted due to party affiliation is committing the fallacy of trying to “control” for an endogenous outcome.

In other words the fact that in a random sample the party affiliation is higher for Dems is exactly the point!

19 indiana jim September 17, 2008 at 1:01 am

The VP nominees had apparently not been selected at the time of the survey; on can only wonder how the addition of Biden and Palin (night and day?)would have altered results.

20 Andrew September 17, 2008 at 4:58 am

“What concerns me the most is that 71% ranked education as extremely important”

I’ve long considered the libertarian red pill to be the epiphany that you can think something is important while at the same time not thinking that the government should be acting on it. This of course sounds basic, but I think it is fundamental.

Most people have no Chinese wall between their personal priorities and their government preferences. I wonder if Dilbert Guy’s data shows that economists are like most people here.

21 Tom September 17, 2008 at 9:02 am

“Obama may not be an economist but at least he curious aboutthe subject and takes it seriously (which could be seen by looking at his team of economic advisors). McCain on the other hand has confessed ignorance of the subject.”

At least McCain doesn’t have to have his advisors go around after him telling everyone not to worry, he’s won’t really do the stupid things he said he would.

I see nothing wrong with McCain saying he doesn’t know much about econ. I just wish Obama would be honest enough to admit the same. But then again maybe Obama thinks he does, which show him to be more ignorant than McCain on the subject.

22 Lord September 17, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Have to wonder how many of those Independents were previously Republican? It is hard to see how anyone would think a continuation of the policies of the last 8 years would be good.

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