Saturday, January 14, 2012

I don't think that graph means what you think it means

Since I don't think I'll find many opportunities to disagree with political scientist legend Larry Bartels, I'll use my feeble blog to briefly do so now. Bartels posts the graph below to argue that Mitt Romney might have a sincere wealth problem:

As Bartels explains, this graph demonstrates average ratings on a 100-point “feeling thermometer” for a variety of social groups. He adds, "A rating of 50 is supposed to reflect neutral feelings about a group, so numbers between 50 and 100 reflect varying degrees of net favorability". These ratings are from the 2004 National Election Study survey. We see "Big Business" at the very bottom, even lower then "People on Welfare" and "Labor Unions". So does this mean that Americans really hate the big bad businessman? I think this survey question says nothing of the sort. Or rather, I suspect this survey question doesn't tell us anything about the mindset of the American voter. First, very few Americans aspire to join a labor union (speaking anecdotally as a union member, even my fellow union members can view their own unions as wasteful and untrustworthy). Second, no American aspires to join the welfare ranks. But how many people aspire to join the ranks of business tycoons? A substantial majority I suspect. All those favorably viewed "working class" and "middle class" people would trade positions with Mitt Romney in one second. Furthermore, most Americans, rather naively I would suggest, believe they will join the ranks of the super wealthy, believing unequivocally in the myth of economic mobility in the United States (in reality we trail most developed western economies on measures of economic mobility). I mean, did you know that 2 out of every 10 Americans (20%) think they will be millionaires in ten years? Compare that to the reality that only 1 in 20 HHs (5%) in 2010 were millionaires. This sort of economic optimism is clearly ludicrous but also, and I would argue unfortunately, an essential component of the "American Dream". Despite Bartel's interpretation, I don't think this specific graph is ultimately a condemnation of Romney's electoral perceptions. I think he's much more perceptible to the attack that he is of inherited wealth and that he is a "vulture capitalist," rather than abstract feelings about "Big Business" in America.

And I'll end this post by saying that none of this shit matters and the winning candidate will entirely be a reflection of the growing or stalling economy. The end!

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