Friday, January 15, 2016

What, me worry?

When I turned on the Republican debate yesterday, one of the moderators was asking a question that noted the fall in stock prices during the past couple of weeks, and continued "if this escalates like it did back when Barack Obama first assumed the presidency, what actions would you take......"   As Paul Krugman observed, the question was misleading on several levels, one of which is that stock prices have risen substantially during Obama's time in office.  Krugman goes on to say "It would be interesting to poll Republicans about what happened to the stock market under Obama; my bet is that many, perhaps a majority, believe that it went down."  Of course, there's a general tendency to perceive the facts in a way that supports your preconceptions, so it would be even more interesting to compare the perceptions of Republicans and Democrats over Republican and Democratic administrations, and I set out to do this.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any questions about how people thought that the stock market had done, but an NBC/Wall St Journal poll taken on September 19-22, 2008 asked "Thinking ahead to a year from now, do you think that the value of the stock market will be much higher, somewhat higher, about the same, somewhat lower, or much lower than it is today?"  This was just the time when the financial crisis was getting serious.  It hadn't yet affected stock prices, but it was about to:  the Dow dropped 25% between September 22 and October 22.

The survey asked the question only of people who said they had at least $5,000 invested in stocks (about half of the respondents).  Of those, 42% expected stocks to be higher, 29% about the same, and 22% lower--7% said they weren't sure.  As it turned out, the Dow was about 10% lower on Sept 22, 2009 than on Sept 22, 2008, and the Nasdaq composite index was about 2% lower.

The survey also asked about vote intentions.  A comparison of expectations by voting intention:

                              Higher         Same         Lower
McCain                     55%             31%          14%
Obama                      36%             31%          33%

Expectations are a combination of two things--what people think about the chances of each candidate winning, and what people think will happen if each candidate wins.  The survey didn't ask about those, so it's not possible to say why expectations were different.  But for whatever combination of reasons, McCain supporters and conservatives were more optimistic about the stock market.  This didn't reflect demographic differences between McCain and Obama supporters:  men were a little more optimistic than women, but there were no clear differences by education, income, age, or race.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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