Why polling on the economy--or much else--means almost nothing now
When one-third or so of the country is immersed in an authoritarian cult, polls are never about issues--and always about Dear Leader.
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We’ve been saturated with polls that the corporate media, always yearning for a horse race, loves to use to tell us about elections and what they claim is happening—and could happen.
Biden is too old, they tell us, but Trump somehow isn’t—even though he’s only three years younger. The economy is sailing along, but Biden, somehow, just can’t seem to "break through" with that message, according to the polls.
And of course there are the head-to-head general election match-ups—which mean nothing a year out—in which Trump is tied with Biden or up by a point.
On this one, media pundits are absolutely aghast, with George Stephanopoulos in total shock last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” about a Wall Street Journal poll published that day (though he either didn’t know about, or care to report, that one of the chief people behind the poll was Trump’s 2016 pollster, Tony Fabrizio, who is currently working for a Trump super PAC).
But a prominent economist blew the lid off of media polling on issues last Sunday—and CNN in particular, on its own air—pointing out that polling people on the economy, for example, is now completely useless. University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers told anchor Boris Sanchez:
I will tell you, as an economist, that I believe the hard numbers. The hard numbers tell us that the economy is growing and that it's growing at a healthy rate. If you’d fallen asleep in 2019 and woke up in 2023, you’d discover pretty much the sort of economy you’d have expected. And you wouldn’t think to ask, Hey, was there a global recession and a global pandemic in between?"
And I think that’s really the president’s great claim: that things are as good or better than they would have been without a pandemic…
...I’ve been happily coming on CNN [for the past couple of years] and telling you there is no recession. What there has been is a lot of depressed people. And this is where this disjunction between reality and perception occurs. It’s as large as I’ve ever seen in my career.
The poll you were just describing asked people if the economy has gotten better or worse in the past two years—there’s no question on this one, by the way. Unemployment is down. Inflation is down. Economic growth is up. Real wages are up. Everything has gotten better over the past two years. Two years ago, that was 2021, it was a miserable time. Yet, only 28% of people say that things have gotten better over the past two years.
A big part of that is this enormous partisan gap. It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost pointless to ask Republicans about the economy. Only 7% of them were willing to admit that the economy had gotten better over the past two years.
So I think when we ask these questions, people are no longer telling us how they feel about the economy. Really, they’re telling us how they feel about the president.
There you have it. When people are in the grip of an authoritarian cult, being fed propaganda and disinformation from outlets they willingly, solely watch, and believing insane conspiracy theories and lies about Democrats and President Biden, even their own lived-world experience will be tainted.
They’re going on trips, buying cars, eating out, and paying down the mortgage—and yet, they truly believe the economy is bad because it has to be bad because a Democrat is in office. I do believe the corporate media, as I’ve said many times, isn’t emphasizing Biden’s accomplishments on the economy—bowing to GOP haranguing and pressure. But the MAGA base, in the authoritarian grip, is already preconditioned to believe it’s all bad, and the polling shows that.
The same thing is happening with polling about the age of the candidates. On this one, Democrats—not in the grip of a cult—are actually being honest, while Republicans are not, and instead are expressing hatred of Biden. As in the results on the question in the Wall Street Journal poll, those in an Associated Press poll from last week that focused on the age of the candidates mysteriously believe in large numbers that Biden is too old but Trump is not, even though the men are three years apart and Trump has shown a lot more physical and mental decline and, visually, is not the picture of a healthy and fit person.
But MAGA’s own eyes don’t matter. When you break down the poll, there’s a reason why 77% of voters polled said Biden is too old to be effective for four more years, while only about half say that of Trump.
Among Democrats, 69% said Biden is too old (they weren’t asked if they’d withhold their vote because of that, and we know the answer to that is overwhelmingly no), and about the same percentage of Democrats, 71%, said the same of Trump.
But among Republicans, 90% said Biden is too old, while only 28% said Trump is too old. Among independents, the gap was narrower but still out of whack from what Democrats believed—probably reflecting the inclusion of both Republican-leaning independents and Democratic-leaning independents—with 74% thinking Biden was too old and 48% thinking Trump is too old.
Again, the question means nothing, as we know Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are voting as if their lives depend on it—because they do—and will vote for the 80-year-old whose accomplished an enormous amount for the American people in a short time over the 77-year-old criminal and threat to democracy.
But it just shows you that polling on these issues means absolutely nothing when a large portion of the electorate is in the grip of a twisted cult.
And that is something the corporate media doesn’t want to admit.
Putting aside problems with the Wall Street Journal poll and potential bias, the fact that Trump and Biden are tied, even though, again, general election polls this far out mean nothing, had Stephanopoulos floored. And even if general election polls this far out are not predictive, it’s jarring to see Trump, under four indictments and twice impeached, getting any kind of support.
But it’s not surprising—if you admit that a large portion of the country is immersed in an authoritarian cult and ready to give themselves and others over to fascism. And corporate media people simply won’t admit this. How many times have you seen them ask, "Are you actually saying almost half of the country is racist? Honestly, half of the country would support fascism? Come on."
The answer, of course, is yes. And it’s happened many times before in history, sadly, as we’ve seen massive populations, sometimes even the vast majority of citizens, devoted to a dictator or a wannabe dictator. But for those in the media, admitting this would infuriate massive numbers of voters—their customers, after all—as well as the GOP.
So they just feign shock and act bewildered.