Here’s a new twist to an age old problem. The problem is that when you ask people how the economy is doing, their answer has more to do with whether the president is currently from the same political party they are, than it does with objective reality. When the president is a Republican, then Republicans think the economy is doing well, and likewise for Democrats.
It is as if you are asking them to name the best football team. Of course it is going to be their team, reality be damned.
So is there no objective reality we can agree on? If not, this is bad news for democracy.
But two studies show that there is an objective reality. In the first study, they asked the same question about the economy, but told the respondents that they would get two dollars if they got the right answer. There was still some political bias, but it was mainly from people who didn’t know enough to be sure of an answer.
So in the second study, they gave people a dollar if they got the right answer, but gave them 33 cents if they said “I don’t know”. And just like that, all political bias vanished.
When people have some skin in the game (even a small amount), they actually think about their answer and give a good answer.
However, if you mentioned a politician by name in the question, then partisan bias crept back in. For example, these are factually the same question:
- Is the unemployment rate lower or higher than it was seven years ago?
- Is the unemployment rate lower or higher than it was when Barack Obama became president?
But if you ask the latter question, partisan bias reappears.
There are other examples of how when money is at stake, people do understand (and act according to) actual reality. For example, the recent news that oil companies, even while they were completely claiming that climate change was not a problem and even strongly donating to politicians who also denied that it existed, nonetheless were internally making plans to deal with the reality of climate change. Another example is Obamacare, where many Republicans will say that it is terrible, but will still take advantage of it to get health insurance. Or Republican politicians who expanded Medicaid in their states, even though they voted against the ACA.