...or just a United States of America economy?

This interesting post up a FiveThirtyEight (via Alex Tabarrok) offers some evidence about the way partisanship influences our perceptions of the economy:

A good example comes from the research of Larry Bartels. He analyzed a 1988 survey that asked “Would you say that compared to 1980, inflation has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” Amazingly, over half of the self-identified strong Democrats in the survey said that inflation had gotten worse and only 8% thought it had gotten much better, even though the actual inflation rate dropped from 13% to 4% during Reagan’s eight years in office. Republicans were similarly biased about the Clinton-era economy: in 1996, a majority of Republicans thought that the budget deficit had increased. This partisan filter was also evident after the Democrats’ retaking of Congress in 2006. Research by Alan Gerber and Greg Huber shows that Democrats became much more optimistic, and Republicans more pessimistic, about the national economy.

I guess it's not so surprising. Most people would be hard-pressed to tell you the inflation rate or the size of the budget deficit at any given time (I'd bet a significant number would struggle to even define those concepts). And if you don't follow the data very closely (or at all), there are only so many things that can shape your perceptions, one of which is likely to be who's in charge. (Another of which is obviously how you're doing personally, though perception can dominate reality even there, leading to distorting feedback.) Still, the speed with which these perceptions change along with a transfer of power says something telling about partisanship.

Also telling/interesting: "[T]he extent of the differences in perceptions between Democrats and Republicans has increased in the past thirty years, according to the research of Joseph Bafumi in his Ph.D. thesis on 'the stubborn American voter.'" That seems to coincide with a rise in partisanship over the same time.

--Noam Scheiber