Looking at the world through politically coloured glasses

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There are facts but your perception of these facts differs depending on your values and beliefs. There is nothing new or startling about this observation, except the perception divide is becoming more apparent every day:

The online poll, by data firm Morning Consult, asks the same five core questions as the University of Michigan’s well-known consumer sentiment survey, and for nearly two years has been collecting about 210,000 responses a month, compared to 500 or so each month for the Michigan survey.

It also includes questions about the respondents’ political leanings, and an initial set of results released Wednesday showed a stark division that may make it hard to interpret how the economy’s performance will play out in 2020 presidential voting.

American voters face the same set of economic facts, from low unemployment to the risks from a trade war, but the survey’s index of overall sentiment – at 108 just above the 100 line that separates positive from negative impressions of the economic outlook – masked the huge divide between those who approve of Trump, whose views measured a far rosier 136, and those who disapprove of the president, with a reading of 88.

The results, weighted by factors like age, race and sex, to be nationally representative, were similarly skewed based on media consumption. Viewers of conservative-leaning Fox News registered 139 for current sentiment about the economy; viewers of MSNBC, an outlet often critical of Trump, registered 89. Readers of the New York Times sat in the middle at 107, near those who get their news from Facebook (110) and Twitter (112).

It’s almost like there are two completely different realities out there; no wonder that it’s increasingly difficult to reach any consensus or achieve a common ground if people out there can look at the exact same data and draw diametrically opposed conclusions. Facts and figures, of course, are always open to interpretation and different weight can be assigned to particular pieces of information, but it’s disheartening to see the extent of the divide.

Just to illustrate the indicators we are talking about, I’ve borrowed some graphs from “The Financial Times”:

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The economic growth is not spectacular – but it’s higher than that of the OECD area, the EU and the rest of the G7 economies.

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The investors remain cautious – perhaps they read “The New York Times” rather than watch either MSNBC or Fox.

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Labour market is breaking records in terms of overall employment, the unemployment rate as well as the unemployment rate for particular sections of the community, such as African-Americans and Latinos. The wage growth is not spectacular, but the trend is up.

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Slow – but on the up.

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Pretty low and falling.

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Continue to be pretty low, making investment more attractive.

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Again, the trends are moving in positive directions.

The sad thing is, if a Democrat was in the White House at the moment, the perception would have been likely reversed, with the MSNBC crowd talking up the economy and the Fox viewers seeing only dire signs. In that regard, the economy remains a hostage to partisan and ideological desires – those in power hope for the best, those in the opposition for the worst. As Charles Dickens wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. He didn’t mean it like that; we make it instead “A Tale of One City” – but two different books.

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