Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: How Statistics Frame Presidential Campaigns

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2012 at 5:30 am

The bidding process for the 2012 US Presidency has gone on for at least ten years.

At least that’s how it seems to many people fatigued by incessant news coverage of the topic. In reality the race has extended well over a year, with the vast majority of media attention going to the contenders for the Republican Presidential nominee. In the time various candidates have vied for the (still ongoing) Republican nomination, they’ve utilized a wide suite of statistics and figures on domestic policy issues to either bolster their own argument or decry their opponents. Most of these figures pertain to joblessness rates, economic growth, consumer buying trends, and so on, as the US economy has become more or less the central issue of this election cycle.

What’s interesting is that multiple candidates cite the same statistics, and each one seems to find a way to frame that statistic to his benefit. The relativity with which these candidates approach the same statistic is remarkable in this election cycle, and it warrants a closer look.

Hard numbers in 2011

2011 was arguably a great year to be a candidate for the Republican nomination. Daunting statistics popped up every month – numbers which made many analysts fret over the economic direction of the country. Tepid jobs reports, high unemployment rates, hedged forecasts of long-term economic growth, and low Presidential approval ratings gave Republican candidates plenty to talk about. Less than a year ago, in July 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.2%; it was a time when many Americans questioned whether or not the economy would ever recover from the housing market meltdown that occurred several years ago.

The data was unavoidable, and it seriously improved the prospects of many candidates running for the Presidency. People were looking for someone who could bring the economy back around, and many politicians answered that call. Several candidates enjoyed moments in the sun, where their popularity rose with each promise to fix the economic mess. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachman were just a few of the candidates to enjoy such popularity.

Putting a negative spin on encouraging statistics

However, the U.S. economy has shown improvement over the past few months. The national average unemployment rate still hovers around 8%, but recent studies have shown that that rate could decline further in coming months. More companies are hiring, and more consumers are spending; it seems like things are starting to change for the better in the country.

Of course you wouldn’t know that the economy was recovering if you listened to the remaining candidates for the Republican nomination. They’ve interpreted the growth of the US economy as insufficient for the standards of the country, and they blame President Obama for mishandling the recovery effort. They rarely touch upon the fact that the economic disaster unfolded long before President Obama’s term; they only stick to statistics that could be spun to disparage his leadership. Positive economic numbers aren’t necessarily a success story for President Obama as much as they are a reason for his opponents to say that he hasn’t done enough. It’s all a matter of framing.

The elasticity of statistics in US politics

As you’ve probably heard, a statistic is only a number. What matters about statistics is the context in which they are mentioned. In the political sphere, the same statistic can hinder and support the same person depending on who’s doing the talking. Never has that been clearer than in this election cycle, with political pundits, economic analysts, and the media scrutinizing every number released concerning the US economy.

Take the most recent job numbers report for example. While the numbers were nothing to write home about, they still showed that the country is hiring people. Democrats will definitely jump on the small number as a sign that the economy is further down the road to recovery, while Republicans—and presidential contenders in particular—will use the figures as a clarion call for new leadership. Again, it’s all about the perspective from which you view the numbers.

The presidential race is still too far away to call, and with candidates still vying for the Republican nomination, there are still many more debates over economic statistics. The important thing is that Americans inform themselves about vital economic data before they listen to the spin from politicians.

Author Bio:

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, online degrees etc. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.