Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does the Public Read? Sadly, No. . .

A recent CBS-New York Times poll finds that only 6% of Americans believe that the $787 billion stimulus package actually created new jobs. Of course, the poll, echoing other recent surveys, also indicates deep disapproval of Congress, disapproval of President Obama (much less than Congress, however), and widespread anger about the direction of the country.

The low number of Americans who believe in the effectiveness of the stimulus shows that skepticism does not correlate with party affiliation. A wide cross-section of Americans doubt that the stimulus has created jobs.

The public's deep skepticism regarding the success of the stimulus, however, conflicts with most of the published reports by analysts who have studied the effectiveness of the spending package. According to a New York Times article, prestigious economic research firms such IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s estimate that the stimulus package has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs to the economy and that it could ultimately create up to 2.5 million jobs. In addition, the NYT reports that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office "considers these estimates to be conservative."

What Explains the Disconnect?
A number of factors could explain the disconnect between public perception and reality. Although the stimulus has created jobs, unemployment remains very high at 10%. Also, many families are still struggling to pay their expenses.

But these factors, as significant as they are, cannot possibly account for the absolute inaccuracy of public opinion. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the public does not take the time to research issues before forming opinions. Furthermore, while the news media happily report the anger and skepticism of Tea Party participants and other "angry" segments of society, they rarely critically engage the ill-founded claims of these groups.

The blog Outside the Beltway has an even less generous view of voters, contending that:
These sorts of polls are annoying. Most people simply have no basis for making judgments on technical matters like this; indeed, economists can only take a very educated guess. So, asking Joe Public about such matters is not very helpful.
I agree that the public, as the data demonstrate, lacks knowledge about basic facts related to the stimulus. Nevertheless, I believe that the public can and should educate itself on important social issues. At the same time, however, the news media has the solemn responsibility to inform voters rather than simply creating and reporting political division. Both camps have failed miserably in terms of public education.


Elizabeth said...

I suspect that a lot of the public does not take the time to research issues before forming opinions.

Darren, you suspect...? ;)

BTW, when I saw the title of your post, I was reminded of Dubya's famous question, Is our children learning?

The answer was/is the same.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Elizabeth: Sometimes I'm too diplomatic! It's the academic in me!

PS: How did I miss that atrocioius Bushism: "Is our children learning"?

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