Power & Market

Krugman Ignores Inconvenient Data

About a month ago, I called out Paul Krugman for blaming economic pessimism on Republicans. He compared the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index to what he sees as a “surreally good” economy and came to the conclusion that the survey respondents must be warped by partisanship. Instead of honestly reporting about their views about the economy, Krugman thinks the survey respondents are biased against the existence of a Democrat in the White House.

I looked “under the hood” of the Consumer Sentiment Index and found that Krugman’s thesis lacks evidence. You would think that any political tribalism would be channeled through the survey questions about the trajectory of the economy over the next year. While the responses to that question did indicate a lot of pessimism around the time of the covid crisis, it abated some by the time of Biden’s election, meaning that anti-Biden bias isn’t the main driver of poor economic sentiment.

In fact, the answers to the question about whether now is a good time to buy major household items saw the largest increase in pessimism in 2020 and the following years. It is not likely that this survey item is channeling partisan bias, and so Krugman’s story is dubious at best.

But now Krugman has found another measure of economic sentiment, and he is using it to double down on his claim that partisanship is driving a wedge between sentiment and reality.

The measure is from Civiqs. Krugman likes it because it uses “fairly sophisticated methodology” with “a bigger sample plus statistical wizardry.” Here is what the overall picture looks like:

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Civiqs Overall
Source: “National Economy: Current Condition,” Civiqs. Survey question: “How would you rate the condition of the national economy right now?”

Krugman then applied political party filters to the data and concluded once again that Republicans are throwing a partisan wrench into the survey mechanics.

Here are the Democrat-filtered survey results:

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Civiqs Democrats
Source: “National Economy: Current Condition,” Civiqs. Survey question: “How would you rate the condition of the national economy right now?” refined by party: Democrat.

And here are those dastardly Republicans:

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Civiqs Republicans
Source: “National Economy: Current Condition,” Civiqs. Survey question: “How would you rate the condition of the national economy right now?” refined by party: Republican.

The latest results indicate that Democrats have a rosy picture of the economy while Republicans are very pessimistic. Krugman says that the political bias is asymmetric – Democrats are less susceptible to political bias than Republicans.

Fortunately for us, we can filter out both Republicans and Democrats, leaving only self-identified independents in the sample. Here’s what that looks like:

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Civiqs independents
Source: “National Economy: Current Condition,” Civiqs. Survey question: “How would you rate the condition of the national economy right now?” refined by party: Independent.

Independents’ pessimism is not as severe as Republicans, but you can clearly see why Krugman explicitly ignored these results. Those that don’t claim either party, and so are likely not as swayed by which party is in power, are very pessimistic about the economy. They are the closest thing we have to an impartial judge in this debate over “true” economic sentiment.

Yet Krugman wants us to ignore them: “What about independents? Never mind. True independents, voters without partisan leaning, barely exist; data for independents is basically an average of voters who think like Democrats and voters who think like Republicans.”

That is all he had to say about this subsample. In his column, the “barely exist” text is a hyperlink to a 2019 Pew Research article that highlights the way independents lean toward one party or the other.

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Pew graph of independent leanings

Source: “Political Independents: Who They Are, What They Think,” Pew Research Center.

But why is this a reason to exclude them from analysis about economic sentiment? The Pew data shows that this group is fairly balanced – if anything, the most recent picture shows that they lean more toward the Democrat side than the Republican side. If Krugman is correct in saying that both Republicans and Democrats are biased in their reports on the economy (even if Republicans are more biased), then those in the middle should not be excluded from analysis. If anything, they should be given more weight in figuring out the truth.

Krugman’s claim that independents “barely exist” also doesn’t make much sense. They make up 33% of the Civiqs survey sample and 38% of the Pew data that Krugman cited. While I agree that the political tribes have become more polarized over the years, it doesn’t mean that a middle group doesn’t exist and can be swept under the rug if they are telling an inconvenient story.

Once again, it is Krugman’s partisanship on display, driving him to make disingenuous claims and deceitful conclusions. He doesn’t ignore independents because they are merely redundant to the overall average between Republicans and Democrats. He doesn’t ignore independents because they somehow “barely exist.” He ignores them because he has a story to tell and their data contradicts it.

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