Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

The latest Economist-YouGov national tracking poll includes a few great questions on public trust in government statistics. What’s better is they were previously asked in 2014, which allows for a comparison of views under the Obama and Trump administrations.

Key takeaway: while Republican views on government statistics have evolved – they now have considerably more confidence in the numbers than they had in 2014 – Democratic views have not shifted much at all.

Percentage who say half or more of the statistics reported by the government are reliable and accurate:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 32% 58% +26
Independents 50% 56% +6
Democrats 74% 77% +3
Total 50% 64% +14

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

You see the same thing when the question gets more specific: is the unemployment rate being accurately reported?

Percentage who say there are “More unemployed people” than shown in the numbers released by the government in the most recent employment report:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 76% 48% -28
Independents 64% 46% -18
Democrats 41% 39% -2
Total 59% 44% -15

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

There are similar effects to varying degrees for CBO data on the number of uninsured, US Census data on the population, and NASA/NOAA data on temperature changes.

It’s possible that Democrats’ trust in Trump administration will deteriorate over time. It might even be surprising if that didn’t happen. However, it’s also plausible is that Democrats are, as a starting point, much more likely to be confident in official government information.

In fact, pushing a “both sides do it” frame on this seems forced – and worse, for a blog post, boring. The more interesting theorizing has to do with the question of why Republicans tend to be more epistemologically flexible when it comes to official statistics. My hypothesis is that these people have been forced to choose between political or religious realities and the word of “the BLS” or “the media” or “climate scientists” or “crowd scientists”  in ways most Democrats simply have not (or at least have not had to do so on such a regular basis). As a result, the default position on official and expert data shifts from credulity to something purely conditional. Democrats are surely victim to this in certain ways. But it seems to me that they are not forced to choose between the “official” line and their own moral line nearly as often as Republicans are.

Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

One thought on “Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

  1. robert Bohl says:

    Interesting post, though there’s a few grammatical errors that can make it hard to comprehend the ideas expressed. Please revise


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