Friday, November 11, 2016

Reality Check: In a fact-free era, what can we agree on?

As the whole world ponders the outcome of national elections (a subject which Grits has for the most part dutifully avoided, focusing on my own Texas criminal-justice turf), the big-picture question which disturbs me far more than the temporary resident of the White House is, "How did political discussions in America become so divorced from reality?"

I don't mean reality as in, "the way I see things." I mean reality as in a baseline respect for facts and math. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently published a remarkable poll describing whether or not Americans think progress has been made on different topics during Barack Obama's presidency. Here are the topline results:


I find most of these numbers unfathomable. To take the topic most closely associated with this blog, Crime: By any mathematical measure the nation is better off than in 2008. But only 15 percent think that's true while 57 percent think crime has gotten worse. This is delusional thinking that flies in the face of reality.

Certainly that impression has been exacerbated by the president-elect's stump speech in which he's been going around the country claiming crime is the highest it's been in 45 years, when in fact the exact opposite is true. But that's relatively recent. Long before that, the public believed crime was rising when it was actually falling. I've speculated before on the reasons, but it's a persistent, frustrating phenomenon.

Similarly, 55 percent think the immigration situation is worse than in 2008. But under President Obama, the feds ramped up deportation to highest-ever levels and illegal Latin American immigration precipitously declined.

On the Economy and Jobs, the idea that things are worse now, with unemployment below 5 percent, compared to 2008 at the apex of the Great Recession when the entire global financial system was threatened, beggars belief. Where could such a perception come from? It's utterly divorced from reality.

Of the others, US "standing in the world" and "security from terrorism" are subjective assessments and so those aren't opinions which can be refuted or supported. They're just a function of people's impressions. To me, the metrics say our standing hasn't declined - our military and economic might stand unparalleled and American-generated tech is transforming the globe. And I don't feel less safe from terrorism than when President Bush was prosecuting the Iraq War, which to me was a generator of those problems more than a solution. But because there's no hard metric on which to base an opinion, Grits will let those disagreements pass on the reality-check front.

Race relations is the only area where I can understand the public's view that things have gotten worse. For those judging purely from what one sees in the media from the comfort of one's living room, I'm not surprised most white Americans might think race relations have gotten worse. My own personal view is that recent debates over race and policing merely exposed longstanding problems rather than created them. But there's no doubt race relations remain strained, and those strains are hungrily aired in the media using click-maximizing strategies that gravitate toward the nastiest, most entrenched Culture War debates.

Regardless, that's four of the seven major areas identified by Pew where, objectively, the public's views directly contradict the facts. It's not just that there's countervailing evidence, the public objectively, demonstrably thinks things are true which are false.

I'm not saying this to defend Barack Obama's record. The election is what it is and I don't care a whit about protecting (or harming) the Dems' brand. But how did we get to this place where the majority of the public simply believes big, important things which are not true? And far more important than who is in the White House, how can we change THAT? That's the part of the last year which for me has been unbelievably dispiriting.

15 comments:

Harry Homeless said...

Not as divorced as you think. Take Wells Fargo, for example. Won't show up in your crime stats but that's years of criminal behavior if not illegal behavior. People (rightly so) do not bother to make that distinction because the final effect is the same. This behavior is rampant in corporate offices around the country. I see it every day. People don't bother using guns anymore for their theft and treachery.

The unemployment number is also not honest and can be reformulated to show it to be twice as high. Regardless, the numbers for inequality really are irrefutable. Also, the jobs that were created were mostly crap jobs. People know when they are being squeezed because they live it. Whether or not that's quantified by a certain group of outside statistics is irrelevant.

Corporate rule will not lead this country to justice and equality. No major party is standing in the way of that. Not hard to see where this is going. No nation has a future without justice and equality. That's the only fact that matters.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Harry, when people say "crime" is rising, they're not talking about Wells Fargo. You know this. Burglaries, thefts, assaults, murders all happen less often than in 2008, even though the population is larger. Crime is down. If you think it's up, you believe a false thing.

And let's grant that UE can be "reformulated to show it to be twice as high." Then, once reformulated, compare the reformulated rate to 2008 and it's declined significantly since then. To pretend otherwise is to lie.

Lindsey Linder said...

I'm wishing I hadn't deactivated my Facebook account yesterday so that I could share this. Such a great post!

Anonymous said...

I don't really agree with all your assertions without proof and the thing is, while you may be able to supply facts and figures supporting your propositions, so can I with mine. Higher crime rates? Depends on where you look. Unemployment? Please, it is common knowledge now, the books have been cooked. You don't really believe we're at 4.9% do you? Not while 96M Americans aren't even on the rolls.

I am not lying and I am not pretending, so what is it you're trying to do? If it is to set the record straight, then please do more diligent research.

Anonymous said...

I don't trust any polls or evaluations anymore, but I also think that a large proportion of the population gets their news from FOX and that FOX perpetuates these myths. And I'd wager that all of a sudden things will improve remarkably in their reporting if/when Trump takes office.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Anon 9:59, crime rates don't depend on where you look. They're down if you look at facts and data, up if you look on liars and demagogues on your Facebook feed. Trump says crime is highest in 45 years. All the data says its at historically low rates compared to the last half century. There's a truth vs. perception gap that's yawning.

As for unemployment, rejigger the rate however you want. Then calculate it apples to apples from 2008 until now and it has declined. These are facts. If you are not lying nor pretending then you are ignorant or gullible. And since you won't accept research or data if it contradicts your feelings, it's pointless to heed your call for more of it.

@11:28, your last sentence is correct. The flip side is that MSNBC will begin touting the end of the world, etc..

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, re: crime rate data, here are the numbers for those interested in a reality-based discussion.

Ryan Paige said...

My mother-in-law and I had a similar discussion in which she bemoaned the fact that crime was so much worse now than when my wife and I were kids. But my wife and I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Whatever you think of what things were like in 2008, crime was definitely higher in the early 1990s.

And I've done a lot of research into the unemployment numbers, and while the number of people who have left the job market has been growing, the number of people who are out of the labor pool who say they could actually take a job if offered is a tiny percentage of those out of the labor pool.

Even in terms of manufacturing, manufacturing jobs dropped like a stone throughout GWB's presidency, and certainly though that has reversed course under Obama, many of those new manufacturing jobs have gone to areas outside the Rust Belt (the new Toyota plant is in San Antonio, not Ypsilanti, for example), so it can be hard to see improvement on a personal level.

Given that the economic crisis continued into Obama's presidency so that some people didn't feel the full effects until a year or two into it, I can see associating the 'things are bad' with Obama to an extent, especially if you are in a rural area where improvement hasn't come back.

But, you know, my county voted 60% for Trump, and it's booming here. We can't built stuff fast enough for all the businesses and people who are moving into the county, but I've repeatedly heard from my neighbors when they come over to show me the new car they just bought that things are worse than they've ever been in history.

But, you know, the last several years have been gridlock in Washington, so the free market (and the Fed) have been given most of the reins in terms of improvement in the economy. If it's not good enough, then I don't know how electing people who promise to let the free market fix things is necessarily going to be an improvement.

But, more importantly, crime is down, and if only 15% of people actually believe that, then that's a problem. We can't go about solving problems if we're starting by not believing the data we do have. We have limited capital (political and financial), so if we spend a lot of money and effort trying to solve a crime problem that doesn't exist, we're not going to be able to spend money and effort elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Crime rates in Chicago up or down? I'm guessing up.

The Comedian said...

But Scott, every night our local Houston TV channels have a lead story about a murder, robbery or burglary that occurred that same day so crime must be up, n'est–ce pas? In addition, they tell us fires are breaking out everywhere and you know what that must mean - more arsonists!

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:27

Instead of guessing why don't you look 'em up.
http://www.factcheck.org/2016/07/dueling-claims-on-crime-trend/

sunray's wench said...

Comedian ~ who owns your Houston TV stations?

Gringo said...


Gallup Poll
PRINCETON, N.J. -- Twenty-nine percent of U.S. adults report that they or someone in their household was the victim of at least one form of conventional -- meaning nondigital -- crime in the past year. This is in line with the average 27% over the past four years, but up from an average of 24% in the early 2000s.
And it was the highest in 16 years.

Am I personally worried about crime in my neighborhood? Not all that worried. I take walks after dark, for example. But I don't live in Baltimore or Chicago, both places that have increases in murder rates and also low clearance rates for murders. I am reminded of the only time I got mugged- in Houston's mostly Hispanic East End- by a pair who didn't look Hispanic at all to me. Tall, light complexioned. I had relatives who used to live in the East End, so the muggers may have been in the Anglo remnant.

I don't watch TV, so whatever their biased newcasts say don't affect me.

Interesting posts on how de-institutionalizing juveniles hasn't increased their crime rate.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/197351/americans-reports-crime-victimization-high-ebb.aspx?g_source=Social

Anonymous said...

"You believe it because you want to believe it. There is nothing wrong with that. I do it all the time." Ronald Reagan
I appears the USA has Reagan's disease ... why bother with reality believe anything you want, but reality will get even sooner or later ...

Anonymous said...

I would say the reason everyone believes crime is up is because Obama and the Democrats have been trying to scare people so they can push their gun control agenda for the past 8 years...