By most standard measures, the American economy is going gangbusters. GDP grew at a nearly 5% annualized pace in the third quarter, the best since late 2021. Unemployment sits at just 3.9%. Inflation, which had peaked at a 7.5% annual rate in January 2022, has fallen to 3.2%. Joe Biden can trumpet the fact that just under 14 million jobs have been created since he took office, a record for an American president. Over the comparable period in Donald Trump’s term — before the Covid-19 pandemic — fewer than 6 million jobs were created.
And people are certainly acting like the economy is good: Consumer spending is strong, and Americans are starting new businesses at the highest rates since the Census Bureau began tracking this data in 2006. Yet when pollsters ask people how they think the economy is doing, they don’t just express concern. They say the economy is terrible.
It’s hard to know whether Republicans actually believe this.
Every day, more ink is spilled exploring this “disconnect,” this “mystery,” this “puzzle.” Many of the factors analysts suggest as they try to explain are perfectly reasonable, and probably contribute to dim views of the economy. But most of the time, the most obvious and important explanation is overlooked: The polling data doesn’t show that Americans think the economy stinks so much as it shows that Republicans say it stinks.
It’s hard to know whether Republicans actually believe this. But it’s beyond doubt that partisanship plays a key role in what people tell pollsters about the economy.
Some partisanship has always existed in polling about the economy: When there’s a Democrat in the White House, Democrats are more likely to say the economy is good than Republicans, and both sides change their opinions when the White House changes hands. But this difference has grown in recent years — and grown unequally. A pair of economists who examined decades of polling data concluded, “While both Republicans and Democrats view the economy more favorably when their party controls the White House, the magnitude of this partisan bias is roughly two and a half times larger for Republicans than for Democrats.”
We can see how that is playing out right now. In….