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  • Why Most of Us No Longer Read The Economist

    Posted by Jonathan on October 2nd, 2008 (All posts by )

    I just received a press release promoting The Economist‘s new survey of academic economists about McCain’s and Obama’s respective economic programs. Here are the results:

    What’s going on here?

    This is a junk survey. Look at the data. Now look at the article.

    Here’s The Economist‘s explanation of how they generated a survey sample:

    Our survey is not, by any means, a scientific poll of all economists. We e-mailed a questionnaire to 683 research associates, all we could track down, of the National Bureau of Economic Research, America’s premier association of applied academic economists, though the NBER itself played no role in the survey. A total of 142 responded, of whom 46% identified themselves as Democrats, 10% as Republicans and 44% as neither. This skewed party breakdown may reflect academia’s Democratic tilt, or possibly Democrats’ greater propensity to respond. Still, even if we exclude respondents with a party identification, Mr Obama retains a strong edge—though the McCain campaign should be buoyed by the fact that 530 economists have signed a statement endorsing his plans.

    The stuff about 683 research associates and the NBER is meaningless. What matters is that this was an Internet poll arbitrarily restricted to academic economists and with a self-selected sample. This is a problem because:

    -Academic economists are likely to be more leftist than economists as a whole.

    -Only 14 out of the 142 respondents identified themselves as Republicans.

    -There is no way to know why only 10% or respondents identified as Republicans, but several possibilities implying gross sampling error are obvious. In other words, either most academic economists lean as far to the Left as do other academics, which seems unlikely and would impeach the survey results, or the sample is unrepresentative and impeaches the survey results.

    -The labels “Democratic economist”, “Republican economist” and “unaffiliated economist” are self-selected and may be inaccurate. My guess is that most of the unaffiliateds usually vote for Democrats even if they are not registered Democrats. In this regard I am reminded of media people who claim to be independent even though everyone knows they vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.

    So this is a worthless survey for research purposes. It is not, however, worthless, for business purposes, as I am sure it will generate a lot of discussion and outraged debunking by bloggers, and therefore a lot of traffic for The Economist‘s Web site. It may also help to get Obama elected, and perhaps that is part of the plan.

    Where have we seen this kind of politically driven statistical analysis before?

    UPDATE: The vagueness of the self-reported categorizations, “Republican”, “Democrat” and “independent” is obvious. One wonders why the survey did not also, or as an alternative, ask respondents to report for whom they voted in recent elections.

     

    20 Responses to “Why Most of Us No Longer Read The Economist

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      It’s an English thing.

    2. Jose Angel de Monterrey Says:

      It’s a “politically correct” poll for a typical European magazine.

      And these are supposed to be some of the most level headed guys in european media…

    3. Helen Says:

      I reject that blanket accusation. It is not an “English” thing. Rubbish. The Economist has always been more widely read in America and the rest of the world than Britain (or even England). So you could argue that is the audience they are aiming at.

      I stopped reading the Economist many years ago (as have most of my “English” friends) when I realized that they were wrong on every subject I knew the least little bit about, reasoning that they must be wrong on the others as well and, therefore, I should not get my information from them. Even the presence of Edward Lucas who writes excellently about Russia, has not changed my opinion. Americans (see, I can generalize, too) have never understood this. I am very glad you guys are catching up with what we, in England, have known for some time.

    4. Reid of America Says:

      I stopped subscribing and reading The Economist about 10 years ago mostly due to their thick anti-Israel bias.

    5. fred lapides Says:

      Does this mean that The Economist is a flaming leftist weekly? wow. When did they become commies?

      why not simply list economic advisers for McCain and compare with economic advisers for Obama and make your own judgement? These listing are readily available.

    6. Jonathan Says:

      why not simply list economic advisers for McCain and compare with economic advisers for Obama and make your own judgement?

      Because that’s not what this post is about.

    7. Vince P Says:

      When I lived in Hong Kong 10 years ago, I would read Economist all the time.. but like Reid of America said, their Anti-Israel bias was too much for me and I stopped.

    8. Tatyana Says:

      lapides-Hill The masochist

    9. Mrs. Davis Says:

      It’s probably the last time the MSM will be able to influence an election. Let them enjoy it.

    10. Obloodyhell Says:

      > It’s probably the last time the MSM will be able to influence an election. Let them enjoy it.

      If Obama wins, assume that there will be no more conservative talk radio. THAT will start the ball rolling.

      Assume there will be more Missouri “Truth” squads (in a former time, this form of “Truth” was called “Pravda”)

      The internet will become your only argument place against the MSM, and, thanks to the “Truth” squads it will be dangerous to post, because I’m quite willing to bet that anonymity constraints will be strongly reduced in the name of
      a) Protecting artists from piracy
      b) Protecting “the children” from the millions of pedophiles out there.
      That such anonymity is critical for whistle blowing’s exposure of TRUTH isn’t going to be even vaguely relevant.

      We live in interesting times… your children’s lives will likely be absolutely fascinating.

    11. anon Says:

      When the Economist is seen as liberal and biased….gee, what print media are not perceived as liberal and biased? maybe the national review and a few others?

      Unless I have misunderstood, all 600+ NBER research associates had a chance to respond. So the results indicate that the NBER research associates tend to be pro Obama, albeit the response rate was low. Unless there is evidence that the pro McCain ones chose not to respond – ie there was a systematic response bias. You may not care what NBER research associates think, however. Indeed it’s misleading that the chart says “Economists” and not “NBER Research Associate Economists.”

      The Economist obviously thought that was a good population to sample. I wonder how a poll of the American Economic Association or some other professional body would differ. I think the poster’s ire was aroused at the thought that professional economists could be said to prefer Obama’s policies….since many on this site consider themselves (nonprofessional) economists.

    12. Anon [Sean F.] Says:

      Unfortunately for (American) conservatives, belief in an unfettered free market as the panacea to economic problems is falsifiable.

      Unlike, say, religious faith. See, there are still some things to be thankful for.

      Amusing: that Jonathan tagged this “Anti-Americanism”. I assume you vote Republican, Jonathan? How would you like it if someone asked you why you clearly hate America so much?

    13. LotharBot Says:

      Anon,

      you’re quick to ascribe motives to the OP that aren’t there.

      The problem many of us have isn’t with the idea that economists could possibly support Obama, but with the way the JUNK data is used to support that conclusion. If a broad sample of economists, including a fair number of Republicans and McCain supporters, concluded Obama’s economic policies were better, that’d be news. But a sample of economists that (for whatever reason) self-identify strongly Democratic who happen to think the Democrat has the better plan? That’s not news, that’s not journalism, that’s not sound economic analysis, that’s just worthless crap.

    14. kurt9 Says:

      The Economist was excellent in the late 80’s, when I discovered it and started reading it. It began to decline around 1995 or so, when Bill Emmott took over as the Editor in Chief. It has been going down hill ever since.

      The thing is, the Economist today is not so much leftist as it is fashionable. The writers seem to parrot whatever seems to be the fashionable thing, whether it be climate change, alternative energy, or national-socialist health care.

    15. Jonathan Says:

      Anon wrote:
      Unless I have misunderstood, all 600+ NBER research associates had a chance to respond. So the results indicate that the NBER research associates tend to be pro Obama, albeit the response rate was low. Unless there is evidence that the pro McCain ones chose not to respond – ie there was a systematic response bias. You may not care what NBER research associates think, however. Indeed it’s misleading that the chart says “Economists” and not “NBER Research Associate Economists.”

      “So the results indicate…” — No, they don’t. The sample is unrepresentative because it is self-selected. It therefore cannot be used to make reliable inferences about all NBER economists, much less economists in general.

      The Economist obviously thought that was a good population to sample. I wonder how a poll of the American Economic Association or some other professional body would differ. I think the poster’s ire was aroused at the thought that professional economists could be said to prefer Obama’s policies….since many on this site consider themselves (nonprofessional) economists.

      It doesn’t matter what The Economist thought, because it’s impossible to make accurate inferences from the data they used. My ire is raised by hack journalists who, either from ineptitude or political bias, publish junk poll results on the eve of an election.

      What I would like to see is a survey that not only accurately polls economists, but also compares their answers against those of people, both economists and non-economists, with similar/dissimilar voting histories as they have.

    16. Jonathan Says:

      Anon [Sean F.] wrote:
      Unfortunately for (American) conservatives, belief in an unfettered free market as the panacea to economic problems is falsifiable.

      Are you saying that the existence of a belief in an unfettered free market is falsifiable, or are you attacking a straw man called the unfettered free market?

      Unlike, say, religious faith. See, there are still some things to be thankful for.

      I don’t have a clue what this means.

      Amusing: that Jonathan tagged this “Anti-Americanism”. I assume you vote Republican, Jonathan? How would you like it if someone asked you why you clearly hate America so much?

      How would you like it if someone asked you why you clearly can’t write a coherent comment on a blog post?

    17. Ellen K Says:

      I wonder if the media will ever take a moment to analyze the true gravity of Biden’s following commentfrom the debate last night:
      “we should be allowing bankruptcy courts to be able to re-adjust not just the interest rate you’re paying on your mortgage to be able to stay in your home, but be able to adjust the principal that you owe, the principal that you owe. That would keep people in their homes, actually help banks by keeping it from going under”

      Now I am just a high school teacher, but to me that says that borrowers can expect to have reduced interest rates and principles on all loans if they will simply go delinquent in their payments. Maybe I am wrong, but I thought that interest was the money paid to a bank for use of funds and that profits made were used to meet payrolls, keep the lights on and give depositors some return on their money. but obviously, the media knows better and that’s why we have a ridiculously overblown bandaid fix for the economy that will probably be replaced by an even larger fix in two years due to bank failures for lack of payment of loans due.

      This is NO way to run any business, and certainly no way to run a bank. But then again, we are talking about Congress where all evil is attached to Bush, even though the problems at Fannie and Freddie predate his inauguration. I don’t want ANY of them to win. Can we clean house and start over with real people?

    18. Ginny Says:

      Ellen K,
      On a personal level, does that mean I don’t really have to pay the mortgage on our home improvements – the government will just knock down the principal? Of course, that also means that any amount we get when we sell our house is likely to be a temporary amount – one we might expect to be lowered in the inflationary future?

      I’ve got to admit I didn’t pick up on this when I heard the debate and then thought that you might have exaggerated. I google it and place after place is talking about the speech you quoted. Thanks for your comment – although, I’ve got to say, I think I could have lived without knowing that Biden said that and he is on the ticket that now is at 67 in the Iowa Trades. (And how did we get to the point where these guys are even the nominees for president/vp – let alone the ones likely to win?)

    19. sr Says:

      Ginny: now you are getting it. Just what the heck is Obama’s “economic plan” anyway, and how does any economist think it will be good for the economy? Eurosocialism is not exactly powering the EU member economies (except Ireland which doesn’t subscribe to Eurosocialism).

    20. Ellen K Says:

      Frankly, given the nature of the programs Obama and Biden are locked into providing, I predict that we will be seeing another major bail out in two years. Luckily by that time, people will have become more aware at the limitations of our economy and the prevailing party will cease to be the majority party. Frankly, if there was ever a case for developing a viable third party, this election is the impetus. The Whigs went away, maybe it’s time for one or both of the current major parties to do so as well.