Years ago I read about an experiment to see whether college students were receptive to supposed evidence (in reality made up for the study) contradicting their existing beliefs (credulous or not) about paranormal phenomena. Skeptics proved more willing than believers to change their minds, something that might surprise those imagining skeptics to be closed-minded. But the skeptics also tended to be fans of science, and the founding principle of science is basing conclusions on evidence.
I was reminded of this when reading about some recent polling results that have nothing to do with paranormal activity but plain old politics and the economy.
Back on April 5 Kevin Drum pointed out that since the financial crisis of 2008, a growing percentage of Americans, including both Republicans and Democrats, have rated the state of the economy as “good.” This is based on a Pew Research survey) conducted every spring. But until recently a lot more Democrats than Republicans rated the economy as “good”:
Here’s the interesting part. It’s normal to assume that people think better of the economy when one of their own is president. But is it true? During the recovery from the Great Recession, Republicans consistently rated the economy worse than Democrats. When Trump took over, their views suddenly skyrocketed, with a full 61 percent now having a positive view of the economy. Apparently Republicans do indeed view the economy through a partisan lens.
If Democrats followed that pattern, their view of the economy would have plummeted in 2017. But it didn’t. It went up again, at about the same rate as previous years. Democrats, it turns out, don’t view the economy solely through a partisan lens.
In another blog post April 14 Drum referenced a similar partisan difference noted by Jeff Stein at Vox: The number of Democrats favoring air strikes on Syria is essentially unchanged since 2013 according to Washington Post polling, 38 percent then and 37 percent now. (In both cases the Syrian government had recently been accused of using poison gas against civilians.) But Republican support for air strikes jumped from 22 percent in 2013 when Obama was president all the way up to 86 percent now. Breanne Deppisch of The Washington Post and Steve Benen of MSNBC made similar points.
Craig Gilbert of The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel published an article April 15 that underscores particularly sharply the partisan difference in perception.
Trump’s election did more than change the expectations of Republicans and Democrats about the economy’s future performance.
It altered their assessments of the economy’s actual performance.
When GOP voters in Wisconsin were asked last October whether the economy had gotten better or worse “over the past year,” they said “worse” — by a margin of 28 points.
But when they were asked the very same question last month, they said “better” — by a margin of 54 points.
That’s a net swing of 82 percentage points between late October 2016 and mid-March 2017.
What changed so radically in those four and a half months?
The economy didn’t. But the political landscape did.