“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Mark Twain probably wasn’t the first to say it, but his name is often attached to it, and as it is sagacious and witty we will give him this pithy description about the way statistics are often used to shore up an otherwise weak argument.
But no matter how spurious statistics out of context can be, when all the polls are saying the same thing, it’s probably time to listen.
Results of the 15th annual Arkansas Survey, released by the University of Arkansas, recently showed that Arkansans are pessimistic about the future.
The poll, which was conducted during the recent federal government shutdown, found that just 14 percent — an all-time low — said they were better off financially than a year ago, according to an Arkansas News Bureau story. That’s down 9 percentage points from last year.
Just 18 percent said they expected their financial situation to improve in the coming year, also an all-time low.
Janine Perry, the UA political science professor who conducts the poll, explained the pessimism this way: “Given there’s really nothing dramatically different from past year in the broader environment, the recent federal government shutdown seems like the obvious culprit.”
Richard Wing, a political science professor at Arkansas State University, also said conducting the poll during the shutdown could have “compromised” results, according to the ANB story.
The results are certainly extreme, but they do not contradict other recent surveys.
Those results were in keeping with a University of Michigan national survey, which showed 7.8 percent decline in consumer confidence from June to September.
A Rasmussen Reports survey released last week showed an uptick in consumer confidence week over week, but also indicated an 8 percentage point decline over last month and over last quarter. The Rasmussen Investor Index showed a comparable decline of 9 points over last month. It also noted that 53 percent of adult consumers and 48 percent of investors believe the United States is currently in a recession.
Consumer and investor indices are by their nature subjective; they don’t measure dollars and cents spent or jobs created or widgets produced. But they are important nonetheless. They are predictors of spending, predictors of capital improvements, predictors of production.
Across the board we see consumer confidence down, and if the decline started before the government shutdown, it correlates well enough with the national nightmare that was the leadup to the shutdown, a time of posturing by politicians and doomsaying by pundits.
The American public will be reaping the whirlwind sowed in those days of “political squabbles” for some time to come. We hope a look back on those days will not yield a book titled: “How To Stop a Recovery Without Even Trying.”