Americans’ Political Persuasions ~ Based More on Myth than Fact

Like flies attracted to garbage, it seems that we Americans have less time for the real issues and for digging out the facts than we have for listening to unsubstantiated claims and political slogans… 

September 13, 2008  —  The latest hullabaloo over Barack Obama’s use of the “lipstick on a pig” phrase during a recent campaign speech is clear evidence to me that Americans are less interested in facts and issues and more impressed with myth and even outright lies told by the party of their particular persuasion.

Com’on, folks… Obama wasn’t alluding to Governor Sarah Palin and the pit-bull joke she made at the Republican national convention. Her’s was a great speech that resonated with millions of like-thinking voters and helped to give a significant “bounce” in the polls for the Republican ticket this year. There’s no denying that. But, if you listened to Obama’s speech, you would know that he was talking about Senator McCain’s proposed economic policy when he uttered this common phrase. He wasn’t talking about Governor Palin.  This same phrase, by the way, was used by Senator McCain no less than three different times in his campaign earlier this year when speaking about Senator Clinton’s proposals for a national health care program.

Like flies attracted to garbage, it seems that we Americans have less time for the real issues and for digging out the facts than we have for listening to unsubstantiated claims and political slogans like No Child Left Behind, Straight Talk Express, and Change Is Coming. Gee, that one sounds familiar.

Many of us, it seems to me, care more about wedge-issues like gun control, immigration, abortion, or the gender, race or religion of a candidate than we do about larger the issues like the economy and national security. We support whichever party claims to champion our heart-felt causes, usually the same party our parents have supported, then we believe unfailingly in whatever other claims our parties make. According to the Pew Research Center, social status and religious backgrounds influence American political persuasions more than reason.

I don’t often read articles in the ContinUUm, a magazine that my alma mater, the University of Utah, sends to me every month hoping that I will contribute to their Alumni Fund. But the most recent edition had some interesting articles in it about the state of our nation’s health care system. Thumbing through the pages one morning this week while sipping my first cup of coffee, one particular article just jumped out and grabbed me. It was written by a fellow alumnus, Carl R. Summers. Carl, who graduated ten years after me, is a scientist today working as a researcher with the Defense and Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Center at Walter Reed Hospital. But his article wasn’t about brain injuries. It was about political myths. His hobby being statistics, he decided that a scientific look at real numbers might help to substantiate or debunk some of our two major parties’ basic claims… Interesting. Very interesting indeed.

You can find more on the actual numbers that Carl crunched and the methodologies he used on-line in a series of articles he has published at OutsidersDC (www.outsidersdc.com).

We are told that the Republican Party is the party of business and small government, lower taxes and reduced government regulation. The Democratic Party, we are reminded over and over  again by Republican Party politicians and right-wing pundits like Rush Limbaugh, is the party of big government, high taxes, big give-away spending, and bleeding-heart, wasteful social programs for the down and out. Right? Well, if this is true, would it not follow then that the nation’s growth in output of goods and services, the real (adjusted for inflation) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be higher year after successive year during Republican rather than Democratic administrations? Wouldn’t it also follow that average taxes paid would be lower during Republican administrations and in years that Congress was controlled by the Republican Party? After all, Congress, not the President, has the most to say about taxes and spending. Shouldn’t we also expect less government spending by conservative lawmakers?  In as much as every Republican administration since Reagan has embraced some form of the “trickle-down,” supply-side economic theory in formulating tax policies, shouldn’t everybody be better-off with more after-tax income to spend and shouldn’t there be more and better jobs?

Asking himself these questions, Carl looked at readily available data and scientifically compared the performance of Republicans and Democrats occupying the White House every year since 1950. He also looked at records on taxing and spending when each party had control of the Senate and House of Representatives. What he found was surprising, even to me, a “fiscal” conservative and teacher of economics.  He discovered that the average real increase in GDP for Republicans was 2.8 percent per year. The average increase for Democrats was 4.4 percent. So, despite claims to the contrary, business performed 57 percent better on average under Democratic administrations than under Republican administrations.

What about unemployment?  Remember, Democrats are supposed to be the party of the working class. Carl discovered that the average unemployment rate under Republican administrations has been 6.1 percent. That’s what the Bureau of Labor Statistics is currently reporting. Under Democratic administrations, the average was 5.1 percent. So, the Democratic claim is substantiated.

Carl asked himself — If the trickle-down theory has any validity, if lowering business taxes, capital gains, and individual income taxes on the wealthiest of Americans encourages investment and creates jobs (a rising tide lifting all boats), then shouldn’t this raise the value of corporations? Shouldn’t this be reflected by gains in broad stock indexes like the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) and the Standard and Poor’s 500? To answer this issue, he looked at respected business data over the years and concluded that the average change, or increase in stock prices grew 7.4 percent during Republican administrations. Not too shabby, you say?  Well, stock prices grew 10.4 during Democratic administrations. Furthermore, he noted that during Democratic years, the Dow showed relatively small, somewhat consistent ups and downs, what economists call normal business cycles.  During Republican years, the Dow was, in his words, “… like a roller coaster ride with large, unpredictable peaks and valleys.”

On the issue of which party favors low taxes and which party favors high, Carl normalized “federal receipt” data by comparing it over the years as a percentage of real GDP. He did this to compen- sate for variations in the economy like inflation, population growth and tax policies. What he found out was that when Republicans were in the White House, government taxed at the rate of 18.9 percent of real GDP while, when Democrats were in the White House, government taxed at 19.1 percent. Yes, Democratic administrations did tax at a slightly higher rate, but the two-tenths of one percent difference, he says, is statistically too close to call. But remember, it is Congress, more so than the President, that controls our nation’s purse strings. In the years that Republicans controlled the Senate, government collected 18.5 of real GDP compared to 17.7 percent when Democrats ruled. In the House of Representatives, when Republicans ruled, government collected 18.7 compared to the same 17.7 percent when Democrats were in control.  This difference is statistically relevant and it means that, after all these years of Republican claims about Democrats raising taxes, the reality is that taxes are almost exactly the same regardless of the President’s party, but they are actually higher when Republicans have control of the House and/or Senate.

Ok, you say, but what about spending? Well, treating expenditures the same way he did revenues, as a percent of our nation’s real GDP, Carl discovered that Republican administrations spent 20.2 percent while Democratic administrations spent significantly less, 19.2. This is a 5.2 percent difference, folks!

So, now you know. Based on fact rather than myth, the real tax-and-spend party has been… well, its mascot, like Pinocchio, has a prominent proboscis.

I invite your comments, pro or con.

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Published in: on September 13, 2008 at 10:45 am  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Kent, thanks for the wonderful blog. It was an eye opener. I really get tired of the ole rhetoric that democraats just tax & spend. There is one thing that I have learned over the past 15 years that thas is taxes are needed to shore-up our infrastructure, keep our educational system up, take care of those in our country who are less fortunate than some of us are, keep us up-to-date on research in many areas (including battling some of the most horrific diseases), etc.

    I really did not think that Palin speech was so great inasmuch as she denigrated those who go to college even if it is an Ivy League institution. After all, my late husband & I did a bit of sacrificing to get our child through college & university and worked with the school system to help others. I am not saying this to make us look different, this is who we were and are—giving back to the community. When I go out on volunteer assignments, I do not feel that it is nothing. I feel that it is what Christ has taught us to be–SERVANTS for His sake. I was so angry over what she (Palin) said on that subject that I refused to discuss it for days. But then, I just sucked it up and considered the source. I also heard McCain on television the other night stating that he would share our education with others wishing to come to our country to learn our technology and then he stated further that he (McCain) would issue as many work permits that were requested to get these students to work here in the USA. Well, what about our own students and their education and jobs after they finish college?

    It is no wonder that our reasoning is broken. We refuse to think outside of our own narrow box—much to our sorrow. All I can say is that we are sorry lot.

  2. It seems that the only progress comes by the political parties moving against their traditional pre election positions and interests. The Republicians can tax and spend and the Democrats can cut taxes and be a friend of business in keeping with the quip “Only Nixon could go to China. “

  3. I am one who pays no attn to gossip,runors and such. But the fact is all major networks favor O Bama. Soft questions,wishywash,blah-blah. Bill O’Rielly was point blank but fair.
    It’s not fair to bring up the fact that Sara Palin’s husband had a DUI 22yrs ago and not talk about O Bama drinking,smokeing pot and cocain 22yrs ago. A big difference. But what the heck they were young and trying to “find themselves” But what is fair for one,why not the other.
    Too much is unknown about Obama’s real feelings inside his heart.
    I hear what he says but ??? I just don’t trust him.
    I know about MacCain, 90% Bush. But I trust him to change and be his own Man. I know MacCain is a true American. I don’t know that about Obama.
    “Guilty by association” Obama’s associates is his ruination.
    It will be a close race. MacCain will barely win.

  4. Think about it, John. Just imagin that you are the boss… which team would you hire?

    With America facing historic debt, multiple war fronts, stumbling health care, a weakened dollar, all-time high prison population, skyrocketing Federal spending, mortgage crises, bank foreclosures, etc. etc., this is an unusually critical election year.

    Let’s look at the educational background of your two options:

    Obama:
    – Occidental College – Two years.
    – Columbia University – B.A. political science with a specialization in international relations.
    -Harvard – Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude

    Biden:
    – University of Delaware – B.A. in history and B.A. in political science.
    – Syracuse University College of Law – Juris Doctor (J.D.)

    vs.

    McCain:
    -United States Naval Academy – Class rank 894 of 899

    Palin:
    -Hawaii Pacific University – 1 semester
    -North Idaho College – 2 semesters – general study
    – University of Idaho – 2 semesters – journalism
    -Matanuska- Susitna College – 1 semester
    – University of Idaho – 3 semesters – B.A. in journalism

    Now, which team are you going to hire…the choice is yours!!!

  5. Kent,

    I did a Google search to try to find an unbiased historical perspective on both parties and was DELIGHTED to find your blog! Wonderful information. I’d like to pass it along, including posting at websites which may generate quite a bit of traffic. Is that okay? Feel free to email me for more information if you’re wondering at which sites I would like to share.

    Many thanks in advance. I look forward to reading all the entries, as they all have tremendous value. Yay!

    🙂

  6. Mr. Garry,

    Before I comment on this I have to mention that in the most part of the election I really can’t care who wins because I hate both canidates. However, I would want the democratic party (not just to kiss some butt) to win because it seems, IF this evidence is quite true, this country was and will be ran better by the democrats than the republicans. Don’t get me wrong, some things done by republicans were okay (don’t ask me to recite any because I couldn’t tell you LOL) but the democrats have this country hands down. As of now with rising gas prices and hurricanes hitting like snakes attacking rodents we’re bound for bankruptcy but who is going to help dodge that? To get one thing straight I doubt we can dodge it, not to mention we might have a second Great Depression, but hey, that’s life, I guess? I know you people (whoever reads this INCLUDING you, mr. garry) are more than delighted to sit and watch political election speaches and what not, but I can’t stand listening to such lies, SURE you will help us, SURE you can say all these nice sparkling words to assure our ears and brains that you’re going to ‘help’ america. ARE you really going to? How will we know, how do we know who is right. That’s the gamble, and we’re going to have to live with our choices. Besides, the government really is ran by the congress, so it’s not only the ‘president of the free country America’ pull our strings but the congress pulling the ‘presidents’ as well. Maybe that would be something to think about? Plus we have many enemies who would love to see us fall, but hey, as churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

    Sincerly, ץÑĞΈϞѨ× ᶆΎ ğØÐ ČãŔŘÎÉÐ Á ĦàṃṃẼӶ ҰӨҶr ĜÔÐ ĎÎĒÐ ṆḁḯḶḕḎ Ṫṏ а ҭґєё¡ ●Âńŷ QÛ£şŦĭōŊŠ??●

  7. Mr. Garry,
    First I must admit that I have no real interest in politics, even though it is important to be informed of the process. I do, however, like the statistics that you offered because you never hear about those numbers and facts and if those were made available, it would certainly help to put things in some kind of balance. I would then take a better interest.

    Right now, It’s all about the rhetoric and the “pig” statements which really turns me off. What does that have to do with helping our current situation? The question I would ask is ‘how can we as new voters, get the real story? It would make a difference in our interest and my Mom keeps telling me that I cannot ignore politics and expect things to change – so what can we do?

    I hope you keep offering these perspectives – and perhaps I can gain a better understanding.

    Thanks for the open minded approach – making economics more interesting.

    Mercedes

  8. I HAVE SEVERAL IDEAS I THINK THAT COULD BENEFIT ALL OF US AS VOTERS.
    WHICH EVER PARTY YOU NOW BELONG TO OR WOULD LIKE TO BELONG TO AND PLAN TO VOTE FOR,SHOULD IN FACT ACTUALLY AND VISUALLY SHOW THESE STATISTICS TO US AS THE AMERICAN VOTER.
    YOU OR I WOULD NEED TO PROVIDE THE SAME IF WE HAD TO APPLY FOR A CEO POSITION FOR A CEO CAREER.
    AND TO HAVE AND SHOW A PLAN FOR THE FOUR YEARS AS TO WHAT,WHEN,WHERE AND HOW, BASED ON CURRENT PUBLIC CONCERNS THAT WOULD BE ADDRESSED. INCLUDING A MARKET PLAN, MAKING SURE OUR NATIONAL SECURITY IS PROTECTED AND THERE REMAINS FREE TRADE AMOUNG THE STATES.
    MY FINAL COMMENT IS IT BOILS DOWN TO YOUR LOCAL AND STATE LEVEL. THE STATE IN WHICH WE RESIDE NEEDS TO ALSO FIND WAYS TO MAKE REVENUE AND NOT RELY AS MUCH ON FEDERAL DOLLARS.
    I BELIEVE THIS WOULD PROVIDE A MORE INFORMED VOTER THAT WOULD ULITAMITLY SUPPORT THE BEST CANNIDATE FOR THE JOB. CONGRESS SHOULD HAVE BIPARTISAN ATTITUDES AND SURRENDER EQUAL AND DUTIFUL INFORMATION AS TO HOW THE FUTURE PRESIDENT OR THE RUNNING PRESIDENT WILL GET ITS SUPPORT FROM CONGRESS. THIS WAY WE WILL AS A NATION-STANDING-TOGETHER-UNITED AND STAYING STRONG. AS AMERICANS WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO BELIEVE THAT HARD WORK AND FRIENDS AND FAMILIES IS WHAT HELPS OUR DREAMS TO COME TRUE.
    ANOTHER IDEA I HAVE IS THIS:
    ALL THIS MONEY WE SPEND ON ADVERTISING ON CAMPAINING ONE WOULD THINK FUNDS WOULD OR SHOULD BE SPENT ON CORRECT ECONOMIC PLANNING AS A WHOLE WHICH WOULD ULTIMATLY SUPPORT OUR VALUES AND FREEDOMS AS AMERICANS.
    IT IS DEFINATLY BROKEN AND IT NEEDS TO BE FIXED.
    I BELIEVE EVERY AMERICAN SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN A CHECK FOR 250,000 AND TO HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO EITHER PAY OFF OUR MORTGAGE OR PART OF ONE OR TO START A BUSINESS AND SHOW ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE FACT.

    THANKS EVERYONE.

    KIM

  9. Mr. Garry,

    My research has shown similar data in dispelling the myth that administrations headed by Republican presidents will result in smaller government, reduced deficits, and a “conservative” approach to spending.

    Quite the contrary, it is Democrats since 1960 that have actually been able to reduce the aggregate size of government and deficits.

  10. […] There’s been a lot of this kind of thing going around, originated by people who sincerely believe that the ends justify the means. However, the “Short Civics Lesson” is most disingenuous. First of all, contrary to the article’s claim, budgets do start with the president then end up back on the president’s desk to be signed into law after Congress has had their way with them. Budgets are, in-effect, collaborative efforts. Yes, Congress always does send budgets (spending bills) back for the president’s signature considerably altered from what he asked for, usually ladened with pork. But Republican-controlled Congresses have historically been more guilty of this than Democrat-controlled Congresses (see my earlier posting: Americans’ Political Persuasions ~ Based More on Myth than Facts). […]


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