READ THE CROSSTABS: WashPost Writer Twists Poll Data to Claim Americans Happier About Biden Economy

March 6th, 2024 10:01 AM

The Washington Post economics columnist Catherine Rampell seemed to forget a rule of thumb when analyzing polls: read the crosstabs. Either that or she deliberately twisted data to make it seem like Americans are happier with President Joe Biden’s decrepit economy than they actually are.

Rampell’s blaring March 5 headline would make one believe that Americans did an about-face in their view of Bidenomics: “Americans are happier about the economy. Why are they crediting Trump?” Rampell declared, “The good news for President Biden: Americans are finally starting to appreciate the strength of the U.S. economy.

She pointed to at least four polls to make her point, but ended up butchering the interpretation of the data in order to claim that “In recent months, public perceptions of the economy seemed to be catching up to how good the economy looks on paper. Sure, views of the economy might not be rosy just yet, but they’re definitely rosier.” Her primary issue, apparently, was that Americans still preferred the Trump economy, and she wound up undercutting her own story by whining how “[t]hrough most of this period, though, Americans have been incongruously grumpy.” [Emphasis added.]

Oy vey, where to begin?

Rampell first cited a February Wall Street Journal poll showing that 31 percent of respondents said “the economy had gotten better over the past two years, which is 10 percentage points higher than was the case in December.” But she failed to mention that this same question found that a majority, 57 percent of respondents, said it was getting worse, which was only a slight improvement from the 58 percent that responded the same way in Aug. 2023, when consumer price inflation would post its biggest monthly increase for the year at that time. When a majority of respondents are still saying things are getting worse, “happier” isn’t the description that accurately reflects the position of the population. But there’s more. Rampell didn’t even bother mentioning another question asked by The Journal, probably because the results of that inquiry ended up blowing apart her narrative.

(Related: Bidenomics after 36 Months: Six Charts the Media Don’t Want You to See)

When The Journal respondents were asked how they would “rate the strength” of the U.S. economy —the very thing Rampell literally claimed Americans were appreciating more in her first paragraph — the numbers were damning. A whopping 61 percent of respondents answered “Not so good/Poor,” and only 38 percent responded “Excellent/Good.” To put that into perspective, those results were worse than March of 2022, when America was grappling with a sky-high 8.5 percent inflation rate, the fastest pace since 1981 at the time. In addition, 68 percent of respondents still concluded that inflation was headed in the wrong direction while only 28 percent held a positive view, nearly identical to The Journal's December 2023 poll figures (68% "Wrong" direction; 26% "Right" direction). No wonder Rampell didn’t bother mentioning any of this. 

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

She also trotted out surveys “from CBS News, YouGov and the New York Times-Siena College,” in an apparent attempt to bolster her point about “improvements in perceptions of economic conditions,” but she missed the mark here too. On the question of the “condition” of the U.S. economy, The Times reported that only seven percent of its respondents said “Excellent” and 19 percent answered “Good,” which on its face looks like an upward trend from the 2 percent (“Excellent”) and 18 percent (“Good”) from the previous Times poll conducted in July 2023. But not so fast: The percentage of respondents who answered “Poor” also worsened. A majority 51 percent of respondents now say the “condition” of the U.S. economy is “Poor,” which is worse than the 49 percent who responded the same way in the July 2023 survey. 

In fact, just the number of people who responded “Poor” in The Times’s more recent survey dwarfed the combination of respondents who responded either “Excellent” or “Good” (26%).

(Source: The New York Times)

When the same question was asked, CBS News found that a majority 57 percent of its respondents concluded the “condition” of the economy to be “Fairly Bad/Very Bad” while only 39 percent said “Fairly Good/Good.” YouGov wasn’t much better. On the question of whether the economy was getting better or worse, a sizable plurality of 47 percent responded “worse” and only 25 percent responded “better.” None of these numbers indicate that Americans are clearly “happier” with Biden’s economy. But for someone who shows no problems with twisting stats to serve a political narrative, butchering survey results is par for the course.

As the old saying goes: “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Conservatives are under attack. Contact The Washington Post at 202-334-6000 and demand it tell the truth about how the American people feel about Biden’s faltering economy.