Politics affects how you feel about the economy

Gallup editor-in-chief Frank Newport discusses how your interpretation of economic news varies depending on your political orientation.

Consumer confidence was up last week, suggesting that Americans are seeing positive signs in the economy. Especially if they're Democrats. Polls from Gallup and the Pew Research Center have found that how you interpret economic news varies with your political orientation.

"Republicans are depressed in general," says Gallup director Frank Newport.  "Democrats say, hey things are going alright because we have a Democrat in the White House."

The economy isn't the only seeming non-partisan sphere that can become politicized. History shows that violence aimed at Americans abroad, like the protests at U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt and Yemen this week, can influence public opinion about domestic politics.

"In certain instances, there are what we call rally events." Newport said. "Regardless of who the President is, people tend at least temporarily to rally around the President."

But that effect may not necessarily last.

Kai Ryssdal: The Gallup Economic Confidence Index was up last week. It's now at a high for the year, which is promising. But as always with economic indicators., what the numbers say needs a little interpretation. Frank Newport is the editor-in-chief of Gallup. And seeing as how they're his numbers, we thought we'd ask him what they mean. Frank, good to talk to you again.

Frank Newport: Good to be with you.

Ryssdal: So what's going on with these numbers? We are getting increasingly confident, you tell us.

Newport: What's going on is politics at this time of year, when you ask somebody how's the weather, they're going to answer based on their political orientation. Certainly when we measure consumer confidence, we're seeing the same thing. The numbers shot up last week. That was concomitant with the Democratic Convention. Obama was getting a bounce and sure enough when we look at our data, Kai, it's Democrats most of all who increased their economic confidence last week, Independents a little less, and Republicans? Flat as a pancake.

Ryssdal: Let me read between the lines. Are you telling me that people's political views influence how they view what would otherwise be objective economic news?

Newport: That's right. When you ask somebody about the economy, you don't mention politics at all. And yet, particularly in the political season, people see that as a referendum on the president in particular. If they're a Democrat, they say yeah, things are going well. If they're a Republican, they say absolutely not, I can't think of anything that's positive with a Democrat in the White House.

Ryssdal: Isn't that a little depressing. I mean, honestly?

Newport: We certainly know, speaking of depressing, that when you ask people how's economic news these days, Republicans -- and this was in a Pew study that they just put out -- Kai, 60 percent said that the news that you're hearing about the economy recently has been bad, only 15 percent of Democrats said that. So Republicans are depressed in general because of their political orientation, Democrats say things are going well because we have our person in the White House.

Ryssdal: One of the things that I want to ask you about, Frank, and it is political. It's become a political issue here. It's the violence in the Middle East and both the president and Gov. Romney have been going back and forth at each other about this one. Do events like this tend to influence political opinion in this country?

Newport: They do. In certain instances, they're what we call, Kai, "rally event." And regardless of who the president is, people tend -- at least temporarily -- to rally around the president when things happen. The biggest rally event in our history was 9/11. Bush's job approval ratings shot up by 35 points after that. Then we had a Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, hostages were taken in Iran and his job approval rating in the short term went up and there are a lot of other examples in similar ways.

Ryssdal: And does proximity to an election factor in? I mean we're what, 60 days away.

Newport: I would say in general they can be short-lived. Jimmy Carter's job approval shot up. But then it had fallen down the next year as he was running for president then, into the 20's and he lost. So I think they can be short-lived. Again, it depends on what happens in the weeks thereafter, but they're not permanent.

Ryssdal: Frank Newport. He's the editor-in-chief at Gallup. Our segment with him that we do every week is called "Attitude Check." Frank, thanks a lot.

Newport: My pleasure.

About the author

Frank Newport, Ph.D., is the editor-in-chief at Gallup and appears regularly on Marketplace.

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