Measuring Press Bias?

Friday, March 10, 2006
Here's an interesting thought:
It occurs to me that the economy is a useful benchmark for interpreting public opinion polling. One of the things that have frustrated us in recent years is the fact that poll respondents consistently underrate the economy, describing it as mediocre or poor, when in fact it's been good or excellent. I don't know how to explain this other than by attributing poll respondents' opinions about the economy, at least in part, to misleading reporting. I think that's true, of course, across a broad range of issues. For example, selective reporting about Iraq has given most people an unduly negative view of our progress there.

What's different about the economy is that, unlike most issues, we have lots of objective data that have been maintained, on a reasonably consistent basis, for many years. So, when inflation is under 3%, unemployment is under 5%, millions of jobs are being created, GDP growth is strong and consistent and incomes are rising, we can say, objectively, that poll respondents who rate the economy mediocre to poor are wrong. That is strong evidence, I think, that incomplete and biased reporting is driving Americans' perceptions down on this issue. It is reasonable to believe that the same thing is happening on other issues where press coverage is relentlessly negative, as well.

Could we match periods of similar economic conditions under Democrat administrations and arrive at a quantative estimate of what the effect is?


terrye said...


I think this is true, repeat something often enough and people believe it.

But I also think that people have forgotten what a bad recession is like. Today people think they are suffering if they can't afford cable.

And people don't believe the stats either, they think people are unemployed but do not get counted, or they think they have jobs but the jobs are bad jobs. etc.

Anymore, if people can't afford what they want..they have been screwed as far as they are concerned.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

I agree with Terrye. It's not just press bias. It's definitely a form of Bayesian reasoning. People are trying to determine what a "bad" economy is based on their own experiences. They mostly remember Reagan's boom and Clinton's big boom. Compared to those periods, we're not doing so well. Microsoft for example only gives raises of 1.4% for promotions and doesn't give stock options any more. What happened to the good old days of instant millionaire-hood for everyone? Obviously the economy is on its last legs.

The question comes down to: do you have everything you want? If not, it's a bad economy. The stats mean nothing.

Seneca the Younger said...

Hmmmm. That's an interesting point --- so people are comparing it to the dotcom boom?

terrye said...


They are comparing it to TV.

Knucklehead said...

There certainly is the element of the MSM constantly screaming about one crisis after another.

But there seems to be other factors in play here. One I think is in play is that the "economy" has become something that is beyond the comprehension of the rank and file. The numbers game doesn't matter to ordinary people.

Stop for a moment and just consider the fact that half of us are below mean intelligence. That is generally a laugh line. But it is also a reality. The average person cannot understand "good" economy vs. "bad" economy. They don't "get it".

Regardless of political rhetoric we are in a transition to an "ownership" society and people don't know what that means. They don't understand how they are ever going to retire. They can't figure out where their medical insurance or pension payments are going to come from.

There is a TON of angst out there. I honestly think a lot of us, and we can't ever fathom this sort of thing until we look at the overall "us", are looking out at a personal economic future we find frightening. Social security payments represent a meager existence in today's world. Americans are becoming afraid of their economic future. They are, even if only briefly and in a muddled way, wondering where they are going to get the money to pay for doctors or health insurance. How are they going to afford housing when housing prices are going bonkers. If they can't afford to retire at 60-whatever how are they going to make a living when they're 70.

There's angst in them thar hills.

Knucklehead said...

OH! Terrye! You've hit on a big piece of it!

They are comparing it to TV.

Nobody on TV lives as if they are going paycheck to paycheck. Everybody's beautiful. Everybody drives a fancy car. Everybody lives in some wonderful place.

The world people "see" does not match the world they live in. And it frightens them.

Knucklehead said...

Give some thought, re: this topic, to the results of this poll. (Not that we should ever put much faith in polls, but still...)

A total of 47 percent of Americans said they have a "great deal" of confidence in the military. Some 38 percent of Americans said they had "only some" confidence and 14 percent said they had "hardly any" confidence in the military.

The military was followed in the poll by small business - a new category in 2005 - with 45 percent of Americans saying they had a great deal of confidence; colleges and universities, 38 percent; the Supreme Court, 33 percent; and Medicine, 31 percent.

At the bottom of the survey, released March 2, were law firms at 10 percent, Congress at 10 percent, organized labor at 12 percent, major companies at 13 percent and the press at 14 percent.

We don't have confidence in the people who make the laws or the lawyers. We don't have confidence in unions or big companies, and we know damn well the press are a bunch of seditionist idiots.

The only people we have confidence in are the ones we send off to do our killing and dying. Sounds like what the people really want is a military coup!

chuck said...

The average person cannot understand "good" economy vs. "bad" economy.

Ah, you consider it a rational belief? I don't. Attitude makes the difference and is not necessarily based on current realities. Also in play are optimism, a sense of one's own virtue, and a feeling of security. Certainly the media has been pushing pessimism and so has the Democratic party and other progressive folks. What they have forgotten in this political ploy is to offer an alternative.

Barry Dauphin said...

I believe that terrye and meaninglesshotair are onto something important. Our society produces incredible wealth and we see it on display in many places. People are often moving the goals posts for what constitutes the good life. This has been observed at least since Toqueville.

From Democracy in America.

"In aristocracies, the poor or lower levels are stuck by birth and are forced to dwell in imagination of the next world. It is closed in by the wretchedness of the actual world but escapes therefrom and seeks joys beyond...Thus when distinctions of rank are blurred and privilege is abolished...the poor can conceive an eager desire to acquire comfort and the rich think of the danger of losing it...In America I have never met a citizen too poor to cast a glance of hope and envy toward the pleasures of the rich or whose imagination did not snatch in anticipation good things that fate obstinately refused him."

I've been putting a book together for sometime that talks about aspects of this. It will be published soon (yay!). Unfortunately, it will be sold as a textbook, meaning too costly for most people. Anyone interested can see a description here-Tantalizing Times. Sorry for the self promotion, but 10 yrs. is a long time to work on something, even as a hobby.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


Thanks for the quotation. That alone was worth the price of admission to Flares today. And, hey, my textbook sells for only $35. What's up with yours?

Eric Blair said...

BD has the sense of it, I think.

People on TV, unless they're in a cop or doctor series, never seem to actually work.

Barry Dauphin said...


I got the word today that it will sell for $70.95-yikes! I didn't write it for captive audiences (AKA make your students buy your book). But the publisher felt it wouldn't sell beyond academics and priced it as they do their texts. I think it could sell outside, but not at that price.

BTW, what is your book about?

Knucklehead said...


Ah, you consider it a rational belief?

No, quite the contrary. If, as I speculate, even a deneralized understanding of the complexities of modern economies - and the US is the largest and most complex to date - there is no way for the great clump of people of ordinary intelligence to develop a rationalized "belief". They are stuck with irrational "beliefs" about economics. They are stuck with superstitions, outmoded notions, and anxieties about things that go bump in the night.

Seneca the Younger said...

Considering how hard it is to get even two economists to agree about economics at any but the most primitive levels, I wonder if there *are* any large-scale rational beliefs about economics.