Friday, April 17, 2009

A Society of Partisan Hacks

An interesting discussion at FiveThirtyEight:

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.

Views 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 hawkish.

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 polls, 20% of Democrats but only 10% of Republicans expressed satisfaction.

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