On the Power of Being Awful

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Is it optimism...or demanding they voted the right way?:

The 100-day reviews are in, and they’re terrible. The health care faceplants just keep coming; the administration’s tax “plan” offers less detail than most supermarket receipts; Trump has wimped out on his promises to get aggressive on foreign trade. The gap between big boasts and tiny achievements has never been wider.

Yet there have, by my count, been seven thousand news articles — O.K., it’s a rough estimate — about how Trump supporters are standing by their man, are angry at those meanies in the news media, and would gladly vote for him all over again. What’s going on?

The answer, I’d suggest, lies buried in the details of the latest report on gross domestic product. No, really.

For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data). Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity.

The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?

You can read the rest at the New York Times.

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