Archives for: May 2012, 07
President Kennedy remarked privately to aides on the structural unfairness of the Gallup Poll. Gallup would conduct polling over a three day period. The first day's results would tend toward Republicans, as conservatives were the easiest to reach. Gallup would continue polling, calling back working class Democrats until they came home, walking to the homes of those who didn't have telephones. Everyone, or nearly everyone, in a random sample was eventually reached.
At each poll, Gallup would publish the first day's results, the results that were disproportionately Republican. They would be accompanied with analysis about how this newest result reflected a new downturn. Later revisions would be published, but they were no longer news.
So each month, an artificially low polling number for President Kennedy would provoke minor headlines about a dip in popularity. A quiet revision would then update the number upward. The next month a new artificially low number would be compared with the previously higher revised number. And so it went. The public was forever being reported as growing disenchanted with the popular President.
I thought about John Kennedy's wry observation when the latest jobs report came out. April figures showed a smaller gain than was hoped, more than was feared. Unemployment dropped. A number of factors affected that.
It was the warmest April in recorded history. Never, ever, had there been an April that averaged a higher temperature in the United States. It is part of a trend. The warm winter was remarkable. A milder winter and a warmer spring means a higher level of economic activity. So there was a higher previous rate of economic activity to compare April with.
A growth in private activity was partially offset by a reduction in public sector jobs. Most of that happened at state and local levels. That is where firefighters, police officers, and teachers are employed. This reduction is Republican driven. Efforts to provide federal funds to help with these areas have been blocked by a conservative Congress. So, to some extent, Republican crowing over what GOP politicians call a failure of Obama policies is the equivalent to an appeal by a murderous child. Could Lyle and Erik Menendez have asked for mercy because they are orphans? Only if they had been Republicans.
But I find one aspect, albeit an more minor one, notable. So, what the heck! Let's note it. From Associated Press, as reported in countless publications:
The 115,000 jobs added in April were fewer than the 154,000 jobs added in March, a number the government revised up from its earlier estimate of 120,000.
In fact, the number of jobs added in February had also been revised upward after initial reporting. It is a trend in itself that extends back to the beginning of the recovery. The low, unrevised, March 120,000 figure had been compared to February after February had been revised upward. The initially lower February had been compared with higher revised figures from previous months.
It was just the opposite when there was no job growth and the numbers were heading in the opposite direction. When President Obama took office, the economy was shrinking at an annual rate of 3.8 percent. That's a lot of shrinkage. That's why the administration pushed an economic program designed to stimulate the economy. Employment, growth, and job creation estimates were based on that horrible decline. It was the amazing shrinking economy.
3.8 percent shrinkage. That's close to 4 percent. Wow. We weren't comparing one level of growth to another to see if the rate of growth had gone up or down. Throw all that out the window. The economy was shrinking at ... 3.8 percent.
But that was before the revisions set in. It turned out the economy hadn't been shrinking by 3.8 percent after all. The real figure was 8.9 percent.
So Obama takes office while the economy is actually shrinking at a whisker from 9 percent. 9 percent shrinking. 4 percent shrinkage to 9 percent is one HELL of a revision.
President Kennedy looked at bias in polling as a harmless annoyance. It was no more a matter of concern for him than the hunt for bin laden later become for Republicans. Popularity in polls reflects, it does not produce, popular opinion.
All this economic revisionism is less a factor in coming election than it might seem. Or so it strikes me. People vote on the basis of the well being they experience, either themselves or vicariously through those they know: neighbors, co-workers, relatives. Economic indicators do measure something that will affect the November election. But the numbers themselves will not change how votes will be cast. Under or over report them as you will.
The talented Mr. Romney promises an unemployment rate of four percent, a number that, as President, he will revise upward. He is nothing if not flexible, his views not bound by verifiable reality.