Partisanship Bias and the Economy

Andrew Gelman and John Sides, writing at FiveThirtyEight, have a very good post on how partisanship biases perceptions of the economy.  It's well known that views of the economy often differ by partisan identification but that could be explained by differences in interests.  What Gelman hammers home is how partisanship can cause people to have views widely at variance with reality (regardless of interest) and how quickly views can change when partisanship changes even when the facts stay the same.

A good example comes from the research
of Larry Bartels. He analyzed a 1988 survey that asked “Would you say that
compared to 1980, inflation has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten
worse?” Amazingly, over half of the self-identified strong Democrats in the
survey said that inflation had gotten worse and only 8% thought it had gotten
much better, even though the actual inflation rate dropped from 13% to 4% during
Reagan’s eight years in office. Republicans were similarly biased about the
Clinton-era economy: in 1996, a majority of Republicans thought that the budget
deficit had increased. This partisan filter was also evident after the
Democrats’ retaking of Congress in 2006. Research
by Alan Gerber and Greg Huber shows that Democrats became much more optimistic,
and Republicans more pessimistic, about the national economy.

about foreign policy manifest a similar bias. For example, from 1965 through
1968, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support the Vietnam War,
but starting in 1969, it was the Republicans who were (slightly) more

Could such biases be a product of the relatively mild economic
conditions of the past twenty years? Early returns from 2008 and 2009 suggest
that partisan biases still operate. According to Gallup Poll data from just
before the November election, 20% of Republicans and 8% of Democrats were
“satisfied with the way things were going in the United States.” Immediately
after Obama’s inauguration, the parties flipflopped: 18% of Democrats and 14% of
Republicans expressed satisfaction. That gap has only grown. In February
, 20% of Democrats but only 10% of Republicans expressed

The same pattern emerges in consumer confidence. ABC News
surveys surveys show that the
views of Republicans became 19 points more negative between October and
mid-April. Meanwhile, the views of Democrats improved by 10 points, even as the
economic news became grimmer.


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