The latest USA Today/Suffolk poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by seven points, whether we include Gary Johnson and Jill Stein or not. It also finds Clinton supporters leading Trumpists in understanding of basic economics:
Her supporters tend to have a sunnier outlook on how things are going. A 59% majority of Clinton backers say the economy is in recovery; just 7% of Trump backers agree. Instead, a 52% majority of Trump supporters say the country is in a period of economic stagnation, and another 37% say the economy is in recession or depression [Susan Page, “On Labor Day, a Tie Between Candidates on Creating Jobs,” USA Today, 2016.09.05].
Recession is popularly defined as two consecutive periods of declining gross domestic product. The National Bureau of Economic Research defines a recession as the period between a peak and a trough in the business cycle, which may, as was the case in the December 2007–June 2009 recession, include brief upticks in GDP that don’t reverse a larger and longer downward trend.
By neither definition are we currently in a recession. GDP has grown every quarter since Q3 2009 except for Q1 2011, when GDP growth hit was zero but not negative. The U.S. economy has added jobs every month since October 2010. We’ve returned to near-full employment more quickly after the Great Recession than historical examples would have predicted. Consumer confidence is at an eleven-month high. We may argue that wages, jobs, and other economic indices aren’t growing enough, but there is no metric showing that the economy is shrinking. There is no recession.
This table of poll results from Suffolk University shows more clearly the breakdown of economic misconception by Presidential candidate preference:
Only 7% of Clinton backers make the mistake of calling the current U.S. economic situation a recession, and only 2% go further and call it a depression. Among Trump backers, those percentages are 22% and 15%, respectively. Johnson and Stein voters seem to be even more rooted in fact: add them to the poll, and voters mistakenly crying recession and depression make up one percentage point more of the remaining Clinton and Trump backers.
Over a third of Trump backers are willing to call the current economic situation something that it isn’t. That’s not a far cognitive step from the constant excusifying Trumpists must make to convince themselves that Trump is not what his words and deeds clearly show he is. Like Trump himself, Trump voters have to be good at self-deception.
We all want a better economy. We can find plenty not to like about the current economy. But we don’t make any progress by calling things what they aren’t. Those of us who appreciate facts and accuracy must not let those who don’t decide the Presidency.