Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Questions About Partisan Perceptions of the Economy

Over at the Monkey Cage, John Sides directs our attention to an unsurprising Gallup finding: partisan-influenced perceptions of the economy.  

As someone who follows voters a lot less carefully than John does, I'm still fascinated by this, and left with a whole bunch of questions. Note: it's possible that some of these have been studied and answered. But I'll lay them out there, and see if someone knows more than I do -- or if not perhaps someone might think about finding out the answers.

1. One interesting thing is that unlike, say, whether scary weapons were found in Iraq, perceptions of the economy could be based on personal experience as much as they are based on national information. Do we know whether there's any reason to believe that partisans actually experience a different economy? After all, there are both geographic and other demographic differences between Democrats and Republicans (I'm pretty sure the answer is no, that this is entirely driven by partisanship, and that it flipped some time in early 2009. But is there anything to the other possibility at all?).

2. Do we know to what extent there perceptions are driven by pure partisanship vs. partisan sources of information? That is, if Fox constantly says that the economy stinks when Obama is president, but not when Bush is president, then anyone who watches will believe that...and since more Republicans than Democrats watch Fox, it will produce a national split. On the other hand, it might be be that Republicans automatically switch to believing the economy has tanked as soon as a Democrat becomes president, and vice versa. 

3. In the fourteen months or so covered by the chart John reprints, Democrats seem to be much open to changing their opinions than Republicans; the total range for the Democratic line is 54 points, while the Republican line has a range of 31 points. The implication is that Democrats are responding to news events, while Republicans are just certain that the economy is lousy no matter what happens (or, perhaps, that they're hearing bad new no matter what happens). Does that flip when a Republican is in the White House? That is, is it caused by partisan differences, or electoral context?

4. Does partisan polarization about the state of the economy also affect perceptions of personal economic circumstances?

5. And finally: are these just survey answers, or do they reflect some underlying beliefs that might actually translate into behavior? That is, do the perceptions of many Republicans that the economy is horrible actually lead them to behave as if the economy is horrible?


  1. "It's just partisanship" is the short answer to all of your questions. Toss in a little cognitive dissonance, and you've got it all.

  2. I think you might also find that the economy is acting differently in partisan areas, as well.

    The Bay Area - third largest urban area in the US, deeply liberal - is having growth. The Inland Empire - behind the Orange Curtain in the LA urban area, second largest in the US - is staunchly conservative and still contracting.

    Is that partisan?

  3. I have a question, sort of about partisonship, sparked by your post. It's a "this is my perception, is it borne out by the facts?" kind of query:

    My perception, from talking to people over the last 3+ years, is that very few Democrats voted for McCain in 2008, and that very few Dems plan on ditching Obama in 2012. On the other hand, I've talked to a number of Republicans and/or conservatives who admitted (seriously, it was kind of like a whispered confession with some of these folks) to voting for Obama in 2008, some with regret, a spare few with grudging regard for the Prez. Either way, it was a secret shared with me, as an understanding progressive, by folks who said things like "I'd never tell my family, but..." or "All my friends/family are really pissed at me because I voted for Obama."

    This indicates to me the type of person who would say to a confidant "hey, I broke ranks and did this thing that would piss off those closest to me if they only knew" but NEVER confess it to a pollster.
    And, I perceive a partisan gap: Dems aren't really secretly pining to vote for Romney (or any other GOP possible, excepting Ron Paul), but there have to more than a few who, though conservative in bent, would never vote for Romney. I like to think of them as The Sensible Republicans, or the Logical Blue-Dogs, but whatever they may be, their choice is (1) to vote for an obvious Hack of their own party's choosing, (2) vote for a flawed but at least sensible incumbent president, who tries hard but doesn't represent a conservative position, (3) cast a protest vote for an ideal represented by... Ron Paul? *sigh* And of course, (4) the saddest vote of all: not checking a single box, or writing in a favored political celebrity, or a fantasy candidate from sci-fi, a past political era, or a cartoon character.

    But that's just my perception. Does any of this come close to statistical reality?


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