No, This Isn’t a Recession: Trumpists Worse than Clintonians at Basic Economics

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.

If we agree, in the absence of an official definition of depression, that a depression is a longer, deeper recession, then logically, since we are not in a recession, we cannot be in a depression.

This table of poll results from Suffolk University shows more clearly the breakdown of economic misconception by Presidential candidate preference:

Source: Suffolk University, poll, 2016.09.01, Table Q33, p. 166.
Click to embiggen! Source: Suffolk University, poll, 2016.09.01, Table Q33, p. 166.

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.

23 Responses to No, This Isn’t a Recession: Trumpists Worse than Clintonians at Basic Economics

  1. Darin Larson

    Trump supporters are just as delusional as their candidate. You would have to be delusional to support a guy that changes his position on issues like most people change their underwear. You would have to believe that the sky is falling in order to support a narcissistic, lying, misogynistic, hate-baiting, morally bankrupt, person like the Trumpster. He is trying to appeal to people based upon the idea that “what the hell do you have to lose.” You have to think that things are pretty bad to think that they can’t become worse under Trump.

    How someone can discount Hillary’s history of public service, especially advocacy for women, children and the poor, and favor Trump’s history of discrimination against African-Americans, exploitation of the poor, disadvantaged and immigrants, and opulent, narcissistic lifestyle is beyond me.

    The other thing that plays into this is the wingnuts hate for President Obama. They want and need to paint a terrible picture of the economy and the country, otherwise they would have to admit that Obama has done a pretty good job considering the hole that we were in when he took office.

  2. Trump supporters specifically, and Republicans generally are averse to objective facts. Many on that side simply refuse to believe objective facts, substituting instead a belief in the propaganda spread by right wing media. How can there be a debate if one side refuses to accept facts?

  3. mike from iowa

    Something I have noticed is about once a month some media outlet will bring up all the Clinton scandals from Whitewater to Benghazi-regular as clockwork. Why? This month it is the Atlantic magazine. Heaven forbid anyone could ever forget any, let alone, all scandals.

    I don’t know of any metric a wingnut could use to show the economy is worse now than when Obama took office. The best I can come up with would be someone just rattling off a bunch of false figures and then not being challenged by any host as to the accuracy of their claims.

    One more thing, Comey and the FBI were messing with Clinton’s emails and trying to get her to make false statements about whether the info was classified or not. I have heard Comey has admmitted as much. Would not surprise me a bit.

  4. Seems to me the economy has been doing just what republicans have wanted it to do for several years now, booming, but not trickling down. I guess that’s why they want more tax cuts for the rich, surely that next batch of cuts will trickle down won’t it? The rank and file republican base keeps falling for this line and I have found no way to get them to even consider another opinion, no matter how much fact you use to back that opinion up. In the mean time…emails, Benghazi, foundation, and on and on.

  5. Don Coyote

    “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose your own.” – Harry Truman

  6. imo self deceptive trump is anything but…. he sat out the previous election and watched, saw how much running this time would improve his brand “for free”, and like Lisa Furlong, is making a mockery of the democratic process, much like the Filipino pres. who Obama cancelled on. Act like and idiot, trump, and, not that he cares, its just like 4 bankruptcies his companies took for creditor protection (which college students and credit card holders failed to lobby for their own protection from), but he will likely go down in flames. hahahaha.

    This election seems to be the ultimate example of that. If he loses, he will have gotten a year of the most intense blitz of free publicity anyone has ever gotten. His name has been constantly spoken on every news program, blog and political debate in the country. Which I honestly think was his only real goal to start with.

    “I suspect that Trump never really expected his bid to to this far. He’d run, get some attention and notoriety, then go back to his reality show. Instead, his campaign has taken off….”

    Republican egg on their faces for the next 8 years, is my bet. thank you republicans, for the senate, perhaps the house, the supreme court, and the next elected democratic female president.

    a very wise choice considering the rising seas we are sailing into, the wars we’ll avoid, and the peace and prosperity for the lower and middle classes that we can welcome, and for the relief from republican obstructionist scourge of the last 7 years. what a waste.

    But thanks, Daugaard, Rounds, Thune and Noem for showing loyalty for true idiocy.

  7. Cory,

    I’d challenge you to look at that survey from a different perspective.

    If what the media tells me is correct, that Trump is appealing to a lot of Reagan Democrats and the like of people who’ve been marginalized and downtrodden, or unable to adapt post-recession, then it doesn’t surprise me those respondents might think the US is in a recession or depression.

    For some, there was no recovery. From their perspective, it’s tough to find good paying work, everything has been shipped overseas, etc. So they may not be accurate from an economics perspective, but they may be calling it as they see it from where they stand situationally.

    There’s also the challenge of understanding while GDP has grown consistently since 2009, the distribution of wage growth has not. The 1% like Hillary and Trump have done very well for themselves, while the rest of us have struggled on.

    I doubt highly either of them really care about “the little guy” enough to actually do anything tangible for us once they’re in office.

  8. Darin Larson

    Wayne, the Republicans have fought Obama tooth and nail against any initiatives to favor the middle class and poor over the rich. Their answer, like Grudznick would say, is to go get another job. They are not interested in funding student loan improvements like lowering interest rates, or in education funding, or in job training programs, or helping working families through tax policy, or having the wealthy who are prospering pay more in taxes to reduce our debt, and I could go on and on

    Republicans in Congress are interested in reducing corporate taxes, reducing taxes on the wealthy, maintaining the low tax rates for capital gains and wall street investment bankers, continuing the fallacy of trickle down economics, undermining public education funding with vouchers to favor private schools, taking away Obamacare protections for those with preexisting conditions and those with chronic medical conditions, restricting women’s access to healthcare and abortion providers, and opposing any initiatives to reduce gun violence.

    People forget that Obama only had two years with a Democratic controlled Congress to get anything done. After that, the Republicans were intent on trying to make Obama a one-term president by obstructing any and all legislation. When that failed, they went with the government shutdown tactic instead of compromising and working with Obama and Democrats to get things done for the country.

  9. I’m well aware of the politics and recent history. But currently, more people are voting against someone than they are voting for someone… and that’s a pretty sad commentary on this election.

    Should I run the list of actions I find objectionable of Democrats as of late? Will that make this discussion better? Fact is, the white working class has been neglected by the Democratic party; they took their votes for granted, and now the party may pay for it.

    I’m just offering an alternate hypothesis for why people surveyed might think the US is in a recession, rather than simply being economically illiterate.

  10. One party champions policies for the working class. The other party champions policies for the 1% while appealing to working class voters to focus on abortion and guns instead of their own economics.

    Anyone who looks at Trump’s actions rather than Trump’s ever-changing words will see that he’s not on the side of the working class.

  11. Wayne, looking at the survey “from a different perspective” sounds like an excuse for hyper-relativism. Recession isn’t perception: it’s economic fact. A recession isn’t what a group of people think. A recession is an objectively measurable phenomenon, like a heat wave or a hurricane.

    I recognize the fact that different people have benefited to different degrees (and some not at all) from the economic recovery that has taken place since 2009. Donald Trump had a bankruptcy in 2004, but that doesn’t mean we were in a recession.

  12. I’m not pushing for hyper-relativism, Cory, but there’s a reason those folks responded the way they did. It could be they’re just economically illiterate. Heck, I graduated high school without knowing the definition of recession as being two quarters of back to back constriction; it took Econ 101 for that definition to come up.

    But it could also be that their response is colored by where they live and what they experience. Since the definition of recession is based upon the nation writ large, it’s entirely possible for regions to be experiencing a localized recession or even depression while portions of our nation are growing large & fast enough to silence that dead weight. There are many places that haven’t recovered from the 2008. I’d call that a depression.

    Rather than pointing & giggling at people producing the wrong answer, I’d prefer we let curiosity explore why that answer was given. It doesn’t hurt to remember 2/3 of Americans think we’re on the wrong track.

    In case it needs being stated, I’m not a Trump supporter or apologist. I certainly don’t think Trump is the answer to our economic woes.

  13. I’m not giggling. I am sternly correcting… and noting that the failure to understand a simple economic concept seems more prevalent among supporters of the candidate who seems to fail to understand or willfully disregard many concepts and facts.

    I do agree that the wrong-track responses are important and warrant an intelligent discussion. Of course, the first step to intelligent discussion is understanding what words mean so we can use them to intelligently identify the problems that signify our wrong track and talk about what the right track would look like.

  14. Do you by chance have access to the actual survey language?

  15. Yes: see the image from the poll results above in the original post or the link to the Suffolk University results page.

  16. Darin Larson

    Wayne, you have a point as it relates to individual people that were affected by the Great Recession and its aftermath and we still have more to do in that regard. The Republican party line is way more broad than that. They do not acknowledge the recovery that President Obama presided over and seem to forget the hole we were in when Obama took over. It is like they handed the keys to a burning house to Obama and then after Obama gets the fire out, they complain that there is still smoke damage.

    Then there was the obstruction by the Republicans in Congress. While the house was handed over to Obama while it was on fire, and Obama was trying to put out the fire, the Republicans in the House were trying to shut off the water.

  17. Darin,

    You seem to forget the genesis of the 2008 housing crisis was subprime loans, pushed by the federal government since the Clinton administration and continued by Bush. Blaming one party for that is revisionist history.

    Blame Bush for the rampant military spending and simultaneously reducing taxes, ballooning our deficit & debt.

    Blame the Republicans for a host of issues. They’re definitely obstructionist when it comes to Obama, but so many freshmen legislators were elected on that platform following the ACA, so it’s not a surprise. When America is tired of it, they’ll elect someone else.

    But don’t give sole credit to the Great Recession to the Republicans.

    As for the recovery, 93% of US counties haven’t recovered fully. 16% of counties haven’t recovered on any of the four indicators enumerated in the link I provided. 27 states haven’t had a single county reach pre-recession levels.

    So yes, we are technically recovered and have had years of “solid” growth, but just like wealth and income gains, the distribution is horribly skewed to a few regions.

  18. Darin Larson

    Wayne says “You seem to forget the genesis of the 2008 housing crisis was subprime loans, pushed by the federal government since the Clinton administration and continued by Bush. Blaming one party for that is revisionist history.”

    I thought we were talking about Obama and the conditions that existed when he was elected and the efforts that have been made to right the ship since he was elected.

  19. Ah, I see. I thought we were talking about why survey respondents would incorrectly believe the nation is in recession.

    You open the door when you use the burning house metaphor. Sorry you didn’t want to acknowledge who all helped start the fire in the first place, and forget the bipartisan efforts to put out the fire as well, which imploded once it was revealed how badly the policies were being implemented.

    As far as the efforts made to right the ship (houseboat?), I’m not convinced we put the fire hose in the right place.

  20. Darin Larson

    Wayne, the house was on fire when Obama took over. We can agree on that or not? I don’t believe I even discussed the causes and responsibilities for why the house was on fire. In case you are wondering, I acknowledge there was some blame to go around.

    I thought I was speaking to the issue of Obama’s job as President and why blaming him for slow growth is like complaining about the smoke damage for the fire that Obama didn’t start but had to put out.

    I recall the bipartisan failures that caused the Great Recession. What I also recall is a failure of President Bush’s policies and leadership. Can you imagine what the Republicans would say about Obama if he had been President during the Great Recession? Worst president ever? Oh wait, that is what they are already claiming about Obama.

    The other thing to remember, if we are assigning blame, is how intransigent Republicans tried to undermine Bush’s efforts to get the economy going again. Had it not been for Democratic support for Bush’s efforts, the Tea Party Republicans could have succeeded in letting the Great Recession become the Great Depression of the 21st century. Back to the burning house analogy, these Republicans were trying to cut off the water and were fanning the flames. They wanted to burn it all down and dance by the fire light.

    So, when the Republicans continually blame Obama for slow growth, the perception of people is going to be affected, which is part of the disconnect between fact and belief as to how well the economy is doing. I also said that I agree with you in that there are many people that have fallen through the cracks in the economy. What I also was getting at is Obama has had little to no help from the Republican Congress to try to improve conditions for the people falling behind the rest of our citizens. Giving the wealthy another tax break is not the answer to every question, but it seems to be the answer provided by congressional Republicans.

  21. Darin, I think you were the only one bringing up Obama’s job as President, and the tea party, etc.

    I certainly didn’t.

    I appreciate your acknowledgement of bipartisan failures leading to the Great Recession.

    There’s no denying the Bush administration fouled things up.

    There’s no denying recalcitrant wingnuts cried foul and did nothing to help.

    But there’s also no denying that the Obama administration continued the wrong-headed policies started under Bush, funnelling unfathomable sums of money to Wall Street and leaving Americans in crisis to sink. The only reasons Democrats signed on to TARP was because it had allocations to help homeowners who were underwater, and barely any went to them.

    So, when the Republicans continually blame Obama for slow growth, the perception of people is going to be affected, which is part of the disconnect between fact and belief as to how well the economy is doing.

    Except for 93% of counties, the economy isn’t doing as well as the news tells us.

    Let that sink in. It’s not a perception problem. It’s a problem with aggregated data.

    “Americans don’t live in a single economic place,” said Emilia Istrate, the association’s director of research and outreach and one of the study’s authors. “It tells you why many Americans don’t feel the good economic numbers they see on TV.”

    Imagine a neighborhood with 50 households

    27 of those households have lost most of their income – they’ve lost their jobs in the recession of 2008 and still haven’t gotten back on their feet. Maybe they’re stringing together 3-4 part time jobs to make ends meet.

    3 of those households are thriving – they’re making more now than they did prior to the recession.

    The remainder are muddling along, not quite back to pre-recession levels.

    But the average household income is net positive thanks to those three households, and thanks to their amazing gains and hard work, over the past 5 years, the neighborhood shows a net increase in income year over year. Ask those three households and everything is shiny. Ask the 27 households and they say they’re stagnant, in recession, or worse.

    But you ask the households that are muddling along, or the ones who’re struggling to make ends meet, and it sure looks like a recession to them.


    The question asked survey respondents:

    “When it comes to the economy, do you think we are in…?”

    I’d say that’s poor language. What does “we” mean? The nation? The state? The neighborhood?

  22. mike from iowa

    How did the financial cluster wingnuts gave America become bi-partisan in nature?

  23. Wayne, on parsing the question and defining the scope of “we”: preceding questions in the survey ask about the direction of “the country”, about the ability of the Presidential candidates to “handle the economy… national security… Supreme Court nominations” and other national issues, and which candidate “would do a better job in helping to create good jobs for Americans.” The preceding questions appear to put the respondents in a national mindset. The recession question in context thus suggests the surveyor is asking about the national economy. (Not a slam-dunk interpretation, I will grant, and not exclusive of the possibility that a respondent might think immediately of her own personal/local economic situation, but there’s no text in the survey that would drive respondents toward that assessment.)

    If any respondents were commenting on sub-national economic situations, most of those crying recession at the state level would have been wrong, too. Only seven states report GDP shrinkage from Q1 2015 to Q1 2016. Those seven states—Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming—do not constitute enough of a percentage of the population to explain the high number of Trumpists who think they are in a recession.

    Pew Research says personal income has shrunk over the past year in only four states—North Dakota, Alaska, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, all states where the petrodollars are drying up. Personal income has grown in every state since the end of the Great Recession.

    Read full survey tables here: